I spent the first three years of my photography career avoiding the use of speedlights off-camera because I couldn’t wrap my head around the concepts and science behind them. Each shoot I went on that required flash was preceded by a sleepless night filled with anxious dreams about turning up to the shoot naked.
Remote triggers allow you to fire speedlights when they’re not mounted on your camera and are essential when using flash off-camera. The cheapest and most reliable way to fire your speedlight off-camera is using a sync cord — basically you connect your speedlight to your camera via a long cable.
Second, you can use a GorillaPod and mount your speedlight to a door or place it on top of something near your model. Third, you can mount your speedlight to an extension pole (or monopod) and have someone hold the light above your model.
Using a speedlight as a bare light source creates a very hard style of lighting similar to harsh sunlight. I used to believe that great portraits needed artificial lighting regardless of the environment. Fortunately, I’ve gotten over that false notion and now understand that finding great light and being able to use it are learned skills, so is knowing when to use fill-flash in a portrait. Nowadays, whenever I set up portrait shoots, I always look for opportunities to use great natural lighting first. Having said that, there are many occasions when natural lighting is only just okay or even complete caca — and sometimes a portrait needs more mood or drama than the available light can provide. The following is an example of how I used flash off-camera to light a heavily backlit image.
As you can see in my example, the Canon 580EX II did an okay job of lighting my model, given I was about five meters (16′) away using a 200mm lens. The thing I don’t like about using flash on-camera for portraits is that it tends to make them look unnatural and have flat, lit look. I was working with a 70-200mm zoom lens set at a focal length of 200mm because I wanted to blur all the details in the background and work within a narrow focal range.
For this motorbike model shoot, I mounted my speedlight to a light stand via an adaptor and used a small LumiQuest Softbox to soften and shape my light. To manually adjust the flash output of your speedlight, first switch the setting from its default of TTL to M (manual mode). Flash set at ½ power gives a slightly overexposed skin tone, which is perfect for most portraits as it is a very flattering light (no model will ever tell you they love seeing all the detail in their pores and skin tone). The quickest and easiest way to figure out the best settings is to use a light meter (If you don’t have a light meter, you can still work with off-camera flash. Keep increasing or decreasing the amount of light until you have it a half stop, to one stop over the ambient setting. If you want a clean, beauty-style shot with lots of shadow detail, add +1 stop of fill-flash and shoot at your ambient meter settings.
This is something I strongly urge you to practice with as many patient friends, family, and pets as possible so you can build up your confidence and really get to know your equipment. Here’s the final image, the new background is from a shoot I did in St Marks Square, Venice last year.
I bought the Yongnuo YN622C remote trigger for my Canon 430 II speedlight, I’m still learning, this is a photo I took recently with that two in order to lighten the face of the subject. That is a great article, exactly what I needed to get started with off-camera flash (and flash in general).
You may also want to consider getting medium softboxes for yor speedlights, they will be more versatile and give a softer light quality.
Neutral density filters help you achieve extreme long exposures, while graduated neutral density filters help balance exposure between a bright sky and a dark foreground.
For most photographers, their first experience with a filter is when it is suggested they purchase a UV or Skylight filter to protect their lens. In An Introduction to Filters for DSLRs, you’ll find a breakdown of the different kinds of filters, and their uses. While graduated neutral density filters are available as both a screw-in or a drop-in, the drop-in style allows for more precise placement of the gradation, and thus allows for more creativity. You may notice when shopping for filters, that there is a wide range of prices, for the same types of filters.
The more expensive filters often use a top quality glass, such German Schott Glass, which is generally color neutral and distortion free.
A polarizing filter not only helps make the sky bluer, but also controls reflections on shiny surfaces, such as buildings. While any of these filter will provide good results, with higher end lenses, you may notice a distinct difference between a higher quality and thus higher priced filter, and one that cost less.
In the days of film, filters did not need to be coated in the way they do for the digital age. Many photographers will debate whether or not filters are necessary, with those who say no doing so out of fear that the filter will degrade image quality.
Vignetting is a general consequence of filters as the field of view becomes narrower when adding filters on the front.
Minimising the vignetting is done by using step-up rings with filters significantly wider than the lens.
Circular polarisers have more difficulty the wider the view of view especially for smooth skies.
I just had a UV filter on my lens, but recently my photography has gotten really dark and the colour hasn’t been correct.
Keep your ISO to a set number like 100, 200, 400, or 800 – which are the common film speeds from those days. When you take a photo, bear in mind how many frames you have left, and think carefully before you press the shutter. Boundaries are always helpful, they stretch you to think outside the box, more than when you have all the freedom in the world to photograph anything you please. Film is so good at retaining details in highlight and shadow areas of a photograph, that the dynamic range of the image is miles better compared to the digital camera image. Whether it be natural light or any other available light, whether under the brightness of the sun or just candelight in a room, find the light.
Nowadays there is a plethora of Lightroom presets, and Photoshop actions, that replicate the film look.


Great article, I must admit, I am trying to limit myself to a single lens, and a single ISO when shooting.
You left out one aspect of the frame counting mind set – it costs money to turn film into prints, where as with digital you probably have rationalized the cost of the computer for non-picture purposes, therefore your digital prints are FREE. I took up film again a couple of years ago after a decade or so of shooting purely digital partly to regain precisely the sort of discipline that you describe in your article.
Well said, I’ve been shooting digital with a 36 shot limit and the play-back screen turned off for a while now, and it definitely makes me thing more.
When I get in a rut, I get my old Pentax ZX-5, stick my old 50mm f1.4 on it and shoot a roll or two. One of the types of photography that many of our members enjoy is Sports and Action Photography. In this tutorial, I’ll show you the quick and easy steps I take to shoot portraits using off-camera speedlights. The drawbacks of using a cable are that it reduces the distance you can be away from your flash, and can create a tripping hazard.
Light stands vary in price from $20 to $200+ dollars, depending on the make and construction.
I like to do this because it gives me more options when shooting, and it also means there aren’t any light stands in the way of my shot. This looks great in certain situations, but I prefer to soften and control the light source by using a small or medium soft box over the flash unit.
I often added two or three lights to my portrait shoots because I thought anything less was lazy or unprofessional. Here you can see that my model was heavily backlit, which makes a great silhouette, but not such a great portrait.
I attempted to correct the lighting by increasing my ISO, which overexposed the background and brings more detail to the motorbike, but leaves the model’s skin tone flat, dull and underexposed.
A quick fix to this problem would be to shoot flash on-camera using TTL, which uses the camera’s metering system to calculate the correct amount of light needed to create the portrait. By using my flash off-camera, I can control the direction and amount of light going onto my model to achieve a more natural look. I set it at a 45 degree angle because I wanted to make my model look like he was lit from the side.
For any other camera, check your manual for instructions on how to increase and decrease power.
She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. Here’s some of my practice work with speedlights and soft boxes with one of my favorite models. It’s usually much later that beginning photographers find out about the other filters available to them, and what they can be used for.
Here, I’d like to try and demystify the differences between filters, and why similar looking filters might have drastically different price points.
The quality of the glass can vary, even within the same brand, depending on whether you’re going with a high end filter or a value priced one. These are square or rectangular pieces of glass that are typically inserted in a holder that is mounted onto the lens.
This reduces the chance for air pockets, and other irregularities that could affect the image quality in a negative way.
While the glass is more fragile if dropped, it tends to resist scratching more effectively than resin. Film was a more forgiving medium, which didn’t pick up flare or reflections the way a digital sensor does. This is advantageous when using graduated ND filters, so you can adjust the placement of the gradation. It seems like a screw on graduated filter on my Canon might be a no-go, as the lens turns to focus – is this true? Back when I used to work for Jessops in the UK Hoya was a great brand so I stuck with what I know. But since the advent of digital photography, about 20 years ago, film has certainly taken a back seat.
Often the camera sat for days and weeks until we had shot all the frames on the roll of film. Many professional digital photographers have added film to their arsenal, others have made the complete switch back to film, and there are those who never made the switch to digital in the first place. I’m sure not many of us, unless we were professionals then, walked around with an array of lenses in hand. It also helps make a cohesive story at the end, should you wish to collate your photos together on a blog or in an album. Film also has a very forgiving nature when it comes to underexposure and overexposure over a wide range of stops. Film is extremely sensitive to light and if you adjust your shutter speeds in low light accordingly, you will be surprised at how well film can capture ambient light. I shot 22 frames out of 24 in three hours, nailed 19, botched two and fixed one in Photoshop. Share below in the comments how many frames you managed to shoot under great restraint, and then celebrate! I tend to overthink things and end up with too many so-so shots, rather than really good ones. Yes it’s definitely a challenge sticking to 1 lens and 1 ISO but great exercise and practice to improve photography.
The one thing you have to keep in mind when using film is that you know that by taking that shot it is costing you money, both for the film and developing, shipping too if you send it out.
I also do it because I like the whole process, doing my own developing and gelatin silver printing – those wet techniques remain exclusively out of the digital domain and are all the better for it.
Having said that, I still carry a couple of spare sync cables in my kit because remote triggers do fail from time to time, and the cords have saved my butt on a few occasions.
I started out with a $30 set of triggers and used them for a couple of years before trading up to PocketWizards, which I’ve been using for the last eight years. This technique can be used for any portrait that requires fill-flash using off-camera flash.


I believe the light meter is an essential tool in good portrait photography and would never leave home without one. If you don’t have an assistant, I suggest taking a radio slave off-camera and using it to test fire your flash so you can take a reading. Often travelling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions. The reality is, however, that there are many factors to consider when purchasing a filter, and buying the cheapest one on the rack that does what you want, it to is not usually a good idea. Other materials used to make filters include optical resin, which is more of a plastic material, and polyester. Again, the quality of glass can vary widely between a budget-priced filter, and top quality one. However, optical resin can be considerably less costly than glass, for the same type of filter.
There is no true digital substitute for a polarizing filter, and neutral density and graduated neutral density filters provide for effects not easily duplicated in post-processing.
The issue I have with screw on grads is that the transition of the graduated filter is always in the middle of the frame, while that’s generally not where you want to put the horizon in an image.
Since just over a decade ago, when digital cameras were widely available to the masses, film has almost been completely replaced.
We then carefully rewound the film and packaged it off to the film developers, then we wait…hours, days, weeks before we even saw the images we shot. Look at things carefully, with an intentional eye, and imagine what the scene might look like before you take the shot. Remember when shooting in low light, steady yourself or your camera, lower your shutter speed and adjust your aperture (open it wide).
The main elements you are after to replicate the general film look are: pastel tones, creamy highlights, soft shadows, low and controlled contrast, reduced saturation, matte look (reduced black output), creamy skin tones, and some grain.
Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. I assumed that was a given when shooting film and is definitely a huge challenge bearing in mind the costs of developing and print.
But I still shoot digital and have found myself incorporating much of that film-related outlook into my current digital process and get better overall results as a consequence.
You need to go out to shoot with some idea of what you want and then only take the pictures that express that. The ones with unusual coloring are Lomochrome Purple (the purple tinged ones as you might guess) and Adox Color Implosion which mimics the type of color bleaching you see with old film and prints. The formula was complicated, but if you knew how to split an atom, you were pretty much set.
At this stage, I could also have used a reflector to bounce light back onto the model to help create a better skin tone. When you use a light meter you know you have most accurate readings, and lighting becomes really easy. Hold the meter in front of your subject’s face and point the sensor dome towards the camera. You can sign up for her free ebook on "Portrait and Post Production Essentials" and see more of her work here.
There is often a difference in the quality of the materials used, even when both filters appear to be made of the same things.
Polyester filters are generally used for color correction or soft focus effects, while optical resin is used as a more cost effective option compared to glass, especially in the case of drop-in filters such as graduated neutral density filters. Higher quality filters will use these coatings to reduce flare, and increase light transmission. The key is to ensure you are using a quality filter, that is free from color shifts and distortion, and properly coated for digital. With the drop-in filters, the area of transition from light to dark can be adjusted, so if your horizon is in the top third of the frame, you can put the transition there as well. However, there’s a lot to be learned from the disciplines of analog days, before the ability to take photos so instantly, and at a phenomenal rate and remarkable quality, was made accessible to everyone with a digital camera.
This helps you compose the frame more meticulously, and look at the light and dark contrast of the scene with more discernment. Your ISO cannot be changed; with film you only have two sides of the exposure triangle to play with. Of course the actual overall look depends of the type of film used, but this list would encompass the general look and feel that film gives to an image.
I do agree with you about grain; film grain, even heavy grain, somehow looks right whereas digital noise just looks kind of ugly. It’s a soft metal that is more easily dented if dropped, or bent if put under pressure.
I’m not saying you have to spend top dollar on a filter, just understand what the differences are, so you can make an educated decision. Just why interests me – probably because we have all seen old film photos heavy in grain and internalize that as a good look.
Louis photography competition earlier this year and I have a three month photography installation scheduled at Washington University starting in December of this year. Some filters have a single coating, which is better than nonr, but not as good as a multi-coated filter. Pity about the high costs of developing now (when using specialist labs) as well as buying the rolls and printing.
For digital if you were to take the same shot three different times, with an uncoated, a single coated, and a multi-coated filter, the difference should easily be visible in the image. Film has now become a specialist craft that the costs are justifiable – in my opinion. In addition to minimizing flare and increasing light transmission, coatings also help maintain good contrast and color reproduction.
Filter manufacturers will also use coatings that help make the filter easier to clean, and more scratch resistant.



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