This is the time of year when readers are looking for gift ideas for themselves, family, and loved ones, so, presented for your approval, is a list of gizmos, gadgets, and gear for the digitally-minded who think they “have everything” but didn’t know that they really needed more stuff to produce that ultimate image. You can use this month’s column as a shopping list for your favorite photographer or grab a Sharpie and circle all of the goodies that you want and leave it near where your spouse eats their Grape-Nuts. It’s worked for me.
Rebels have always delivered good value wrapped up in a compact package and it’s why I personally own two—a Rebel XT and a Rebel XTi—both of them converted to infrared-only capture. The 18-megapixel EOS Rebel T3i is clearly an evolutionary model in the line, but owners of older Rebels should take a hard look at this new model because it clearly represents Canon’s new face as reflected in the previously released EOS 60D—the flip-out screen, in-camera filters, and all that jazz.
The monolights that I’ve recently tested for Shutterbug combine power supply and flash head into a single unit. Handy, but an alternative approach is using power pack and flash head systems, such as those made by Broncolor (www.bronimaging.com), who offer these components as individual units that can be mixed and matched to produce different lighting setups.
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s November already. As I write this, the trees and plants on Daisy Hill are still in full bloom but this column gives me an opportunity to thank a few people who have helped me over this year. Thanks to Tim Fiedler (www.dracophoto.com) who is responsible for the redesign and implementation of my car photography website and blog (www.joefaraceshootscars.com). He also implemented my movie blog (www.ihatepopcorn.com) with an assist from Ralph Nelson (www.ralphnelson.com) who designed the header. Thanks also to Kevin Elliott (www.digitalmd.net), the computer guru who keeps my systems running. And finally I am thankful for the continuing friendship of my pal Barry Staver who started having monthly breakfasts with me 20 years ago ostensibly to share Photoshop tips but has evolved into much more than that.
Richard Avedon once said, “I think all art is about control—the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.” That’s what a dedicated studio, no matter what size it may be or where it may be located, provides a photographer. It is a safe haven from the real world where, like the Outer Limits voice says, you can control the lighting, the background, and the subject. When working in this kind of environment, I control everything from the subject’s pose to their clothing and makeup and the resulting photographs tend to be as much a portrait of me as they are of my subjects. What often emerges from all that control is a style. Photographic style is not something I’m conscious about when shooting but the truth is that over time we all develop a signature way of shooting. The danger is, of course, that we keep shooting that same way or different versions of the same shot for the rest of our lives, so any style you develop must grow and change as you learn. To get you started, here are a few tools that will help enhance or define your style.
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.