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Natural light photographers often advocate placing your subject in open shade. When compared to the harsh shadows of midday sun, the benefit of open shade is that the shadows are very soft because the light comes at your subject from a wide range of angles across the dome of the sky. The downside to open shade is that the low contrast of the light (the difference between the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows) creates an image that lacks texture and depth. Fortunately, a single Speedlite can add a lot of magic to the shot.

Fig. 1 -- Ambient light only.

Fig. 1 — Ambient light only (open shade on the north side of a cliff).

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Fig. 2–Ambient + Flash, the same exact exposure with the addition of a Speedlite at camera right.

 Shadows reveal depth and texture. Compare the two shots above. Figure 1 was shot in the open shade on the north side of a cliff. Figure 2 is the same exposure with the addition of a Speedlite set very close to the rock wall and zoomed very tight.  The pop of flash is the only difference between the two shots. Note how the shadows of the rock in Figure 2 allow you to see the texture of the surface. (See this article for more insight on using Zoom as a creative tool.)

Shadows also create a sense of time. Note also how the angles of the shadows in Figure 2 suggest that the sun is low in the sky. We know instinctively that long, raking shadows mean the sun is close to the horizon. Since there are no well-defined shadows in the Ambient-only shot, there is no sense of time.

Color also plays a key role in perceiving the time of day. When the sun is near the horizon, our atmosphere warms the light. In contrast, open shade is very cool (bluish) because the rays of sunlight literally bounce off the dome of the sky on their way to the subject. You can see the cool cast of open shade in Figs. 3 and 4, below. Both images were made with my camera’s white balance set to Daylight.

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Fig. 3–The original Flash+Ambient capture before warming the white balance in Lightroom.

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Fig. 4 — The original Ambient-only capture before warming the white balance in Lightroom.

To mimic the effect of late afternoon sun, I shifted the Color Temperature slider (Fig. 5) in Lightroom from the camera’s white balance setting of 5200K to 9500K. Compare Figure 3 to Figure 2  and Figure 4 to Figure 1 to see the effect of this color shift.

Flat Light Ambient Capture

Fig. 5 — The Basic settings panel in Ligthroom’s Develop module.

Are you wondering why I did not use a CTO (amber-colored) gel on my Speedlite to shift the color of the flash? If I had, then there would be an unnatural difference between the cool ambient light and my flash. Without the CTO gel, I was able to lift the ambient and flash together with a simple move of the Color Temperature slider.

So, how big of a difference can one Speedlite make? Figure 6 below is my best effort in Lightroom at optimizing the Ambient-only shot to match the overall luminance of the Ambient+Flash shot. I’ve dropped Figure 2, the Ambient+Flash shot, back in below so that you can make a close comparison. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the differences as a comment.

Fig. 5 -- Ambient light corrected to maximize luminance.

Fig. 6 — Ambient-only (Fig. 1) optimized in Lightroom so that luminance is similar to Ambient+Flash shot.

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Fig. 2 (again) — Ambient + Flash, with white balance shifted in Lightroom.

 These shots were made as part of a demo that I did recently at Peter Read Miller’s sports photography workshop in Denver. For more information on Peter’s workshops, click here.

 
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Learning to mix Speedlites and small strobes on location: “Crafting Dramatic Light With Small Strobes”—Santa Fe Workshops

Is a week-long summer photography workshop right for you? It depends upon whether you want to invest a week shooting and lighting or spend a week lounging around the pool. I love the workshop-way of teaching photography—collaborative, hands-on, and fun. If you are looking to take your understanding of lighting to a higher level, then I hope that you will join me for one of my week-long workshops this summer.

 

Rocky Mountain Workshops

Flash Photography

Missoula, Montana • June 14–20, 2014

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Rocky Mountain School of Photography runs a wide range of great photo courses in beautiful Missoula, Montana and at locations across the country. My Flash Photography workshop will replace fear about lighting with understanding and empowerment. We will start with the basics and build daily so that you can make informed decisions about how to shoot with flash in a wide-range of situations. The workshop includes location shoots both indoors and out. Workshop information.

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Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

Crafting Dramatic Light With Small Strobes

Santa Fe, New Mexico • July 6–13, 2014

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This will be my third summer teaching in Santa Fe. The workshop is open to shooters of all brands of gear. We learn to manage the ambient light with our camera settings and then to shape light and shadow with electronic flash. The emphasis is on crafting dramatic light—light the way you want it to be. We use hotshoe flash as well as lightweight, battery-pack strobes, plus an arsenal of modifiers, to shoot on a variety of locations around Santa Fe. Note: if you are a Nikonian, as a Nikon-sponsored school, SFPW has Nikon gear available for use by students. Workshop information.

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Maine Media Workshops

Canon Speedlites Demystified

Rockport, Maine • August 24–30, 2014

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If you are a Canonista who wants to learn to shoot flash, this is the workshop for you. Unlike my other workshops, which are non-denominational, Canon Speedlites Demystified focuses on crafting great light with Canon Speedlites. We will start with one Speedlite and build our way to using multiple Speedlites—including the new, radio-enabled 600EX-RT system. As a Canon-sponsored school, Maine Media has Canon gear available for student use. This will be my fourth summer returning to Maine’s beautiful central coast…maybe it’s the Friday-night lobster feed. Workshop page.

 

Questions? Feel free to submit them as a comment.

 

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This Week In Photo #348 is now live. I re-join TWiP’s eternally effervescent host, Frederick Van Johnson, and welcome TWiP first-timer Shiv Verma for rousing conversations about the world of photography, including our thoughts on:

  • whether we’re grabbing URLs in the new .photography and .camera domains
  • why it’s crazy to hire a wedding photographer who posts a Craigslist ad soliciting photos to pad his portfolio
  • what happens to photographers who license work for a photo credit and then change their minds
  • licensing and business resources available to photographers on ASMP.org
  • why we should not trust social media sites as the repositories for our most-precious photos.

We also talk about our picks of the week.

You can watch the video of us recording the podcast (complete with the crazy electric moiré of my shirt) on YouTube.

Click here if you cannot see the video embedded above.

For the full audio program and show links, (which includes Frederick’s interview with YouTube star Bluntyclick here.

 

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Havana’s camera obscura sits three floors above the Plaza Vieja, the Old Plaza, and overlooks the entire city. Stepping inside its viewing room was one of my favorite moments during my trip to Cuba last spring. Even non-photographers marveled at the live-action view of the city that we witnessed.

Of the 70 or so giant camera obscura around the world, Havana’s is the only one in Latin America. Consider it a must-see if you visit the city.

Camera Obscura diagram

A room-sized camera obscura

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Periscope-style camera obscura were used by artists in the field.

First mentioned some 2,300 years ago by Aristotle and Euclid, a camera obscura is essentially a box or a room with a relatively small hole that projects an inverted image onto the wall opposite. During the Renaissance, the camera obscura became a tool explored by artists as a means of projecting an image onto a canvas or paper. Later designs, as shown above, used a rotating periscope with an angled mirror to project the image down onto a flat surface.

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Interior and exterior views of the periscope tower of Havana’s camera obscura.

Havana’s camera obscura uses a rotating turret atop the building to provide a 360-degree view of the city. The camera operator rotates the turret and changes the angle of the mirror with one hand while pointing out sights near and far with his other hand. His humorous narrative is bilingual–switching seamlessly between Spanish and English as you will hear in the video below. The magic of the camera obscura experience is that you think you are looking at a still photograph–until you notice the motion of flags waving in the breeze and people walking on the street.

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The dome of Havana’s neo-classical Capitolio

I look forward to visiting Havana’s camera obscura again in April. If you would like to experience it for yourself, a few spaces are still available for my April 15-23, 2014 trip to Havana and Viñales. Click here to get more info on the Santa Fe Photo Workshops site. The window to register will close in the next week or so. So don’t delay.

Spend a couple of minutes inside Havana’s camera obscura with this video on YouTube.

 

 

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I had the great fortune this week to return to the This Week in Photo (TWiP) podcast as a guest host alongside TWiP’s effervescent host Frederick Van Johnson and architectural photographer extraordinaire Jeffrey Totaro.

During the show, I come clean on why I suddenly went off-line for five months–starting with my trip to Brazil last August. As Frederick puts it, I went “all Jimmy Hoffa and came back.”

We also have rousing conversations about our individual thoughts on

  • New features added to Photoshop CC (and our opinions on Adobe’s Creative Cloud business model)
  • Whether the Japanese camera market is in jeopardy and what the future of cameras holds for consumers / enthusiasts / pros
  • Scott Kelby’s switch from Nikon to Canon and why we do or don’t have camera allegiances (including the real reasons I shoot Canon).

You can watch a video of us recording the podcast (complete with all of my crazy eye rolls and hand waving) by scrolling past our mugshots to the viewer window below.

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You see the full program page on This WeekInPhoto.com (which includes links to the sites/items we talk about in the show and an interview with Scott Braut and Keren Sachs of Shutterstock) by clicking here.

Click here if you cannot see the video embedded above.

 

 
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Color Field #5 – 20″ x 24″ one-off casting of light onto Fujicolor Crystal Archive II paper

For nearly two centuries, photography has been the nexus of light, subject, and camera. In the digital era, one can argue that computer should be added to this trinity. Of greater passion to me is the question—what remains of photography when we strip away the subject, camera, and computer? Only light remains—or, more specifically, only color as it emerges from the shadows remains.

Color and shadow have long danced as my muses. I am obsessed equally with color and with shadows—an obsession that has endured the evolution of my work as a photographic artist from darkroom alchemist to digital technologist back to darkroom alchemist.

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Color Field #2 – 20″ x 24″ one-off casting of light onto Fujicolor Crystal Archive II paper

In my new Color Field series, I cast off all that is photographically unnecessary—subject, camera, and computer—so that I may be the alchemist who fuses color and shadow directly into a print. Each Color Field is a one-off 20” x 24” original—created by casting light through colored gels directly onto photosensitive paper (specifically Fujicolor Crystal Archive II). Each print is processed individually in traditional RA-4 chemistry in my darkroom at home. Yes, I said “darkroom.”

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Boxing rivals baseball as the national sport of Cuba. In 2013, our group attended the Saturday morning bouts of a children’s boxing club in Havana.

Join me in April for an amazing week meeting and photographing the people of Cuba. Picturing Cuba offers you the rare opportunity to engage with the Cuban people and to discover the country’s cultural diversity and physical beauty with your camera. This will be my second trip to Cuba with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. The photos show here are from last year’s trip. (Impatient…click here to jump to the details page at SFPW.)

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The view from my hotel room in 2013: classic American convertibles and modern Chinese taxis outside the Hotel Parque Central.

Cuba offers a travel experience like no other. A tropical paradise with a storied past, where intrigue, romance, and uncertainty are woven into the fabric of everyday life, Cuba is at a turning point in its history. It’s a potent mix of contradictions: socialism, newly approved private enterprise, and some of the richest soils on the planet still being tilled by oxen; relaxed Caribbean island culture and vibrant big-city life; chrome-laden vintage American cars juxtaposed with new Chinese-made taxis and tour buses.

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I’m en route to Sao Paulo for the 2013 Estudio Brasil. On Friday afternoon, I’ll be giving a new presentation Speedlites: A Complete Studio In Your Bag. The event coincides with the release of both Speedliter’s Handbook and Lighting for Digital Photography in Portuguese. This is my first trip across the equator. Excitement abounds.

 

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In an industry filled with hype and BS, Zack Arias rips down the velvet curtain and talks honesty about being a professional imagemaker in his outstanding Photography Q&A. If you hope to earn a paycheck with your camera, Photography Q&A is a must read.

I was hooked when I read Question 2…”Do you ever feel like a farce or a phony.” This is a bold question addressed to a guy with 50,000+ followers on Twitter and a worldwide audience of blog readers and workshop attendees. Zack’s honest reply “All the time. Every day.” is typical of the powerful content in Photography Q&A.

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The price gap between Canon’s flagship 600EX-RT Speedlite and the venerable 580EX II Speedlite has narrowed to a point where it makes no sense to purchase the 580EX II. If you are going to purchase a Canon Speedlite to use as a master flash, make sure that it is the 600EX-RT. If you are going to purchase your first Speedlite and you have the financial means, the 600EX-RT is also a great choice.

When I first published my 600EX-RT vs. 580EX II comparison eight months ago (here), the 600EX-RT was $100+ more than the 580EX II. Now, the gap has narrowed to $10 and the choice becomes a no-brainer.

Why The 600EX-RT Is Now A No-Brainer

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