Photographic umbrellas are the simplest and most inexpensive form of light modifier available and that makes them the most popular, too. Photographic umbrellas look and act just like rain umbrellas except they’re reflective and light is bounced into or shot through them, creating a big, soft light source that’s aimed at the subject. And size does matter. As photographers we live by a few important lighting rules: the closer and larger a light source is to a subject, the softer the lighting effect will be. Conversely, the smaller and further away a light source is from the subject, the harder the lighting becomes. That old lighting rule that “size matters” is important here because a large umbrella is going to produce broader, softer light for your portraits.
Rime Lite (www.rimeliteusa.com) monolights are manufactured by Hyundae Photonics Co., Ltd., a company that’s been building high-quality studio lighting gear in Korea since 1981. They’re now being distributed in the U.S.A. by Dynalite (www.dynalite.com). The Fame Monolights are available in three different models that deliver 200, 400, and 600 watt-second output. (To see technical specifications on the three Fame monolights, go to the Instant Links section of our website, www.shutterbug.com, for this issue.) The monolights feature a circular Xenon flash tube and a modeling light that’s protected by a hard vented glass cover that easily screws on or off. Two knobs on the back of each light allow you to continuously vary the output for either the flash or the modeling light. A cluster of four LED-illuminated buttons let you turn on (or off) sound, the modeling light, the built-in slave, or the ubiquitous “test.”
It’s called “continuous lighting” because it’s on continuously, much like a light bulb or the sun for that matter, enabling you to use your in-camera meter to measure the light falling on your subject. Continuous lighting lets you see how all of the light—shadows and highlights—is falling on your subject, but continuous sources sometimes use quartz or photoflood bulbs that can be hot, even dangerously so, leading to the use of the term “hot lights” to describe them. An increasing number of continuous lighting tools are now being made using other kinds of light sources, even LED, producing cool “hot” lights. And that brings us to the subject of this review—the Calumet (www.calumetphoto.com) Pro Series LED Panel Light.
One of the most interesting promotional items created for my long out-of-print book The Photographer’s Digital Studio was a cartoon drawn by the brilliant artist John Grimes (www.grimescartoons.com) which showed trays of developer, stop, fix, and wash with floppy disks being dipped in and out of each one. The caption: “A common mistake in digital photography.” Years ago I labored many hours in a wet darkroom to produce a composite image showing what an historic statue would look like when moved to a different location. Digital imaging software would have let me do a better job in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have had to spend time working in the dark with smelly chemicals. Part of the reason some people even ask “why digital?” is that many believe that digital imaging is somehow different than traditional photography. That’s not really true. I think there is no more difference between the two methodologies than you would find when comparing photographers working with large format view cameras to those grabbing snapshots with point-and-shoot cameras. It’s just that the tools are different and this month I’ll introduce you to some new image-processing tools.
Barry Steven Greff’s photography is showcased in an elegantly designed website from FolioLink (www.foliolink.com). The site appears one way on my desktop computer and another, better I think, incarnation on my iPad, where captions and other information appear as well. Images are arranged in four portfolios and Atmosphere displays images representing the majesty of nature, especially his monochrome image of Niagara Falls photographed like you’ve never seen it before. It’s a quiet allegory of the power of nature vs. the insignificance of humankind. It’s one of his few images that have people and here they are infinitesimal in size compared to the roar—you can almost hear it while looking at the photograph—of the falls.
Gene Kelly had an umbrella while dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain” but he didn’t use it much, preferring instead to get wet. Photographic umbrellas won’t keep you dry but are the simplest to use and most inexpensive form of lighting modifier available, and that makes them the most popular as well. These umbrellas look and act like the kind of umbrella that keeps “raindrops from falling on your head” except that in a studio lighting situation they are usually reflective and light is bounced into them, creating a big, soft light source that’s directed toward the subject. Sometimes an umbrella is covered with translucent material and instead of mounting the umbrella so light is bounced into it, a light is fired through it, turning it into a direct source. While some light is lost shooting through an umbrella, it produces more direct light, and since more light is being directed at the subject it gives you the ability to shoot at a smaller aperture than when bounced into the umbrella. If you compare the apertures produced in the illustrations you’ll see what I mean.
Pentax has a long history of innovation as well as a rabid fan base that loves the company’s tradition of optical excellence and originality. In fact, this fan base is the reason I’m writing this review. If you’re not already a Pentaxian you probably didn’t know that Pentax (derived from PENTAprism refleX) built the first camera to incorporate a penta-prism viewfinder and reflex mirror system in 1957 and went on to introduce the first TTL metering system in 1964. While late to the digital SLR game, when they finally arrived it was with a series of entry-level cameras that delivered impressive image quality at affordable prices. Over time they’ve dipped their toes into the semipro market and the K-5 is the latest model with professional aspirations yet it retains all the quirky uniqueness that all Pentax cameras have and that endears them to so many photographers.
The generation of Canon EOS digital SLRs beginning with the 10D have been evolutionary, with each camera adding resolution and new features. The 60D continues in that vein but also takes a slightly different tack, adding some features from Canon’s own PowerShot series, bringing in functionality like a 3” flip-out LCD screen, and adding some creative effects that show how software is becoming an increasingly important part of any hardware offering. Each of these creative filters, including Soft Focus, Grainy Black and White, Toy Camera, and Miniature Effect, can be applied to a captured image creating a second “filtered” version, leaving the original file unaffected.
Steichen was always one of my photo heroes. A true Renaissance man, along with Alfred Stieglitz he opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in 1905, won an Academy Award for his World War II film The Fighting Lady, and became director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art where he curated the legendary “Family of Man” exhibit that traveled to 69 countries and was seen by 9 million people. A companion book sold 2.5 million copies. Yet, many photographers today don’t even know his name. One of this column’s goals is to bring future “Steichens” to the attention of Shutterbug’s readers and I’m especially proud of the group of photographers that I’ve assembled for this month.
If Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate were graduating from photo school this year, the advice he would be getting instead of “plastics” would be “speedlights,” and why not? When compared to a monolight, the biggest advantage of using a shoe-mount flash is that they’re small and portable, which means you can take them anywhere. Today’s shoe-mount flashes—or speedlights as camera manufacturers like to call them—are sophisticated, seamlessly blending natural light and flash as well as having the ability to group several flashes together, trip them wirelessly, all the while calculating the correct exposure.