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I have just bought a Sekonic 758D flash meter. Today, everything is digital, Nikon flashes have the i-TTL technology, LCD screens are displaying histograms. Why would you need a flash meter with all these digital assistances?

Sekonic 758D

Introduction

Let’s go back in time a little bit. I’m working exclusively with Nikon gear: DSLRs and flashes. I’m also using PocketWizard MiniTT1, FlexTT5 and an AC3 controller to quickly setup flashes settings from my DSLR.

Working without a flash meter

Until now, I had two options when I was using flashes for portraits photographies (flashes in i-TTL automatic mode, in manual mode, or in a mix of i-TTL and manual mode):

  • connecting the DSLR to a computer with an USB cable and using Lightroom to directly importing the photos from the DSLR (tethered mode)
  • being confident with the information available on the LCD screen of the camera: histogram, overexposed zones and the photos displayed on the LCD screen. This is the default setup when you are working outside or if you do not have the time to setup a laptop to work in tethered mode.

By using the tethered mode, you directly have the final rendering of your photo. Lightroom will directly process your file (NEF or JPEG) and display the final processed image. So, it is easy to modify flashes settings and directly see the modification made on the final image. It is a method based on experience and on iterative approximations.

On the other side, if you are not working in tethered mode, you will not have a lot of information on the LCD. The rendition of the photo you are seeing on this small screen is not as good as the rendition that you will have on your calibrated main computer screen. The histogram can help but it could easily be tricked if you are working with a white background or if you are taking a picture of a really dark scene.

Talking about white background. It is difficult to setup the flash power to have an homogenized white background. We could work with the over exposed function on the LCD screen but this is not perfect because this function is working on a picture processed by your camera and not the RAW file. By using this function, you will end up with a white background that will not be white everywhere or that will be too bright and light up your subject from the background, becoming a new source of light.

Regarding your subject, you need to have a lot of experience to understand how your camera will measure the light. There is as many photos configurations as ways your camera measures light. We are not Joe McNally and we do not have his many years of experiences (not yet at least).

So, if we are using an option or another, you will have to do a lot of iterations before having the photo you want to create.

Flash meter = manual

To test the flash meter, I have made two quick family photos. They are not complex photographies but they illustrate very will what are the advantages of using a flash meter.

The first example is a photo of my wife in front of a white background. I have used two flashes for this photography: one for the background and another inside a beauty dish to light her face.

I wanted a shallow depth of field. I have used a 85mm lens with an f/2.2 aperture. I have used a spot measure on the white background to have a f/2.2 measure by changing the flash power. As a spot measure is based on a 18% gray, you must add 2.5 stops to your flash power to have a 100% white. To be sure to have a perfect white, I have added 3 stops to my flash power to have a final measure of f/6.3.

For my wife face, I have measured the light under her chin and setup the flash power to have an exact measure of f/2.2.

I took 3 photos. The one displayed below is the one I prefer for her expression. But the most important thing to notice on this picture is that I did not had to change the exposure of this photo in Lightroom (ever for her face or the white background)! It is a huge time saver for your post production work and it is an insurance that you photo will always be well exposed.

 

The second photography was an even simpler photography of my son Thomas. Only one flash was used. Thomas was sitting in an highchair and I wanted to light his face and have a 1 stop difference with the wall behind him.

I have also used the 85mm lens but for this photography. I wanted a large depth of field. So I have used a f/5.6 aperture. I have first measured the exposure on the wall to have a f/5.6 exposure and changed the exposure time on my camera regarding the flash meter measure. The exposure time was 1/10th of a second. As I wanted a difference of 1 stop with the light on my son’s face, I had to take the photo with an exposure time of 1/20th of a second. I have setup the flash zoom to 200mm to have it concentrated on Thomas face and to not light the wall in the background. I finally had to setup the flash power by measuring the light under the chin of Thomas to have a f/5.6 measure. And that’s it! My camera was set with a lens aperture of f/5.6 and an exposure time of 1/20th of a second. These settings were quick to define and I took exactly the photo I wanted (at least regarding light).

Thomas

Conclusion

Using a flash meter lets you take photos more quickly and more precisely regarding the light settings. You will have less post production work in Lightroom or Photoshop and you will take the exact photo that you had imagined.

In a further post I will explain you how to use a f/stop table with a flash meter and how to use the Sekonic 758D with a PocketWizard MiniTT1, FlexTT5 and AC3.

If you have any questions, fell free to ask them in the comments.

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Recently, a lot of people have complained in internet forum about the last version of Lightroom (3.4.1 when I am writing this article) not working anymore in tethered mode with OS X Lion.

The tethered mode is really useful when you are doing a portrait photos session. It allows you (by connecting your camera to your computer using an USB cable) to directly transfer the photo from your camera to Lightroom. Then, you can directly see on your “big” computer screen (compared to the back LCD of your camera) the photo you have just taken. You can also apply modifications on your picture in Lightroom (like converting the picture in black and white, changing a curve or changing the white balance) and apply the same modification to all the pictures you will take after that.

A lot of words to only say that tethered mode is essential to a lot of photographers.

Reading all these alarming messages on internet forums about the tethered mode being broken, I had to test it myself. I had a portrait photos session planned so I had to be sure to be able to use the tethered mode.

Before using OS X Lion, everything was working perfectly. You had to start a tethered session, connect your camera to your computer with an USB cable then start your camera. Your camera was recognized and you were ready for a long photos session.

Apparently, Apple has changed the way they are handling USB connections in OS X Lion. They are shutting down the USB connection after a while when there is no activity on the USB port: Lightroom is not recognizing your camera anymore. I have also notices that you have to execute a lit of steps in a specific order.

Here is what you have to do:

  1. Connect your camera to your computer (I am using a Nikon D700 and I am not sure that it will work with another camera… I am also not sure it will work with YOUR Nikon D700)
  2. Start a tethered session in Lightroom
  3. Your camera is recognized and you can start to take photos.

If you are not taking photos for a long time, your camera could stop being recognized by Lightroom. Here is what you have to do:

  1. Stop your tethered session in Lightroom
  2. Turn off your camera
  3. Turn on your camera
  4. Start a new tethered session in Lightroom

It is frustrating to have to do all these steps, but apparently Adobe is working on a bug fix for the next Lightroom release.

During my last photos session, this happened only once during a two hours photos session. So, it was not a big pain.

I hope that this article will help you to use your camera (at least your Nikon D700) with Lightroom in tethered mode again. Tell me if you had any success!

Google has just launched the Google Art Project.

Google Art Project

You will discover several paintings from a lot of museums in the world. You can virtually visit (as in Google Street) the museums and see high res photos of the paintings. Historical notes are available for all these paintings.

Walk through these museums and get inspired by the lighting techniques of these paintings. The Rambrandt portrait lighting style is well known by photographers. Rediscover the original lighting technique in this small selection of Rambrandt’s portraits..

Stroll, get inspired then create your own style!


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It could seem difficult de take a group photo.

Of course, you can always use the “school group photo” method et align everybody in two or three rows. The shorter guys in the first row (or seated), then several rows from shorter to taller. The last row of people could even stand on a bench.

As I do not like a lot this way of doing, I will advice you to take your photo from an high place. It will help to have a better point of view and you’ll be able to create a more creative alignment of the guys you are shooting.

If you are shooting a medium size group of people, you can align them and use a wide angle lens. Of course, do not create a strait line shape. It is better to have a shape that is like a M. Place on the center of the M (at the angle) the guy who is the most “important of the group”.

To take your photo from an high place, you could go on a balcony if you are taking your photo inside a building, or simply use a stepladder if your are shooting outside.

How to take great group photos - Use a stepladder

Place people regarding the shape you have choose, then use your wide angle lens to take your photo.

How to take great group photos - A group photo example

If you have a large group of people in front of you, be sure to have a light source that is coming from an high place (or you could reflect your light on a white roof) then place your group of people like a “rugby pack”, people should be shoulders against shoulders, in several tight rows, and you should not be able to see the ground. Then ask them to look at you.

Like for any portrait shoot, it is important to have people looking at you and having their eyes sharp.


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If you have already used Lightroom on Microsoft Windows, you know that you can change the default languages in the preferences panel.

On Mac OS X, you cannot do it, I do not know why… On Mac OS X, Lightroom is using the operating system language as default language. As I have a French Mac OS X installed on my computer, Lightroom is using the French language as default language.

Unfortunately, I am used to work in English with my photography related softwares. I see several advantages doing this: you can find more information on the web in English, keyboard shortcuts sometime are related to the default language (fortunately, Lightroom is not doing that), and a lot of time English words are shorter than French words and that allows to gain some space on your screen :-)

Here is what you have to do to change the default language in Lightroom :

  • Open your Applications folder
  • Right-Click on Lightroom (or Ctrl-Click) then select «Show Package Contents»
  • Open «Contents/Resources»
  • Several folders contain available languages. They have all the «.lproj» extension. Lightroom will use the default language of your system (for me, it will use «fr.lproj») then the English language.
  • To use the English language, you have to «hide» the Erench language to Lightroom. To achieve this, rename «fr.lproj» to «fr.lproj.nouse» for example.

There is another path to reach the same goal. Each language folder contains a «TranslatedStrings.txt» file: it contains all sentences used by Lightroom in the targeted language. So you have to copy the «TranslatedStrings.txt» file of the targeted language to your OS X default language folder. For me, if I want to use Lightroom in Japanese language, I have to copy the «TranslatedStrings.txt» of the «ja.lproj» to the «fr.lproj» folder (I would have backed up the «TranslatedStrings.txt» file in the «fr.lproj» before to be able to go back to French language afterward).

Lightroom in Japanese


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