A2M Photo: Blog https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Andrew M. All photos may be used by the photographer for advertising or promotional purposes unless specifically a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:34:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:34:00 GMT https://www.a2mphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u64312444-o124416363-50.jpg A2M Photo: Blog https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog 120 80 Welcome back - Photographing Pearls! https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2019/2/welcome-back---photographing-pearls Recently, I had the pleasure of photographing a couple of very special strands of pearls for an amazing company called Pearl Paradise. Here’s their own written background on how this came about:

Story time! 

One of our newest clients, who has bitten the pearl bug, wrote us asking the very, very interesting question:

"Instead of spending $Y at (top name $$$$ jewelry brand), what could Pearl Paradise do with $X?" 
As many of you know, Pearl Paradise was built with the vision of making high-quality pearls affordable to everyone. We have spent the last 2 decades carefully curating our product mix based on the majority of our customer base.

BUT. That doesn't mean we do not have the contacts and relationships to source amazing, luxe, and ultra-luxe pearls. In fact, as pearl aficionados, those are the inquiries we love. It's a lot of fun trying to fly in strands from all over the world and seeing just how beautiful pearls can get.

The photos you are looking at were taken by none other than...... a Mr. Andrew Moline. They are natural white akoya strands. Can you believe the luster and color on these strands are not treated?

That Mr. Andrew would be me! I wanted to share a little more from the photography side on how this came to be, how the photos were set up, take you all through the thought process, and finally share some of the images with everybody.

I had the chance to do these photos in a sort of “live action” demonstration with a group of photography students at our local college, which was especially fun. 

Since I am a CPAA (Cultured Pearl association of America) Certified Cultured Pearl Expert as well as (obviously) a professional photographer, I was in a unique position to look at this project from both perspectives – showing the jewelry at its best – making the luster and orient of the pearls pop, and also making a flattering image.

I knew that I wanted to have as many options available to me in terms of light modifiers, setups, etc. so I knew I would want my full broncolor lighting kit available to me.  More specifically, I started with the broncolor Scoro 3200S power pack, and from it I was using my Para 133 modifier – usually, a para would not be the first choice for a jewelry shot, but I thought the ring light effect might be interesting on something circular like a pearl.

Jewelry (and especially pearls), is often photographed on white, so I took a piece of white foam board as a good place to start for my “table.” I didn’t even use the flash at first, as I wanted to see what the modeling light might give me.

Before I took my first shot, I set up two lights: the para off to the left, and a P70 even further left and much higher. I wanted to mix the harsh specular light with the para light – to give the feeling of the pearls being out in the sun, but without being so harsh that they got washed out.

So, with not much more than making sure my exposure was correct, I took this first shot, which came straight out of the camera like so: (*Note*: I shot everything on a tripod. Occasionally, I changed my composition)

Pearl Blog photo 1The very first, straight out of camera test shot

My first reaction was that I was on to the right track, but not terribly overwhelmed at this point. I had a few issues with this image:

  1. I knew I would have to use the flash. The modeling light made the pearls look a bit too yellow, and I was still picking up some ambient light from the room I was in. The pearls also looked dark – almost black on the side. These pearls are blindingly white with amazing luster, so I knew this was not the most flattering effect.
  2. I thought the shadows that the pearls were casting was an interesting effect, but I knew that I didn’t want to and couldn’t have all my images with this shadow. Whenever I’m shooting for a company like Pearl Paradise, my foremost thought is providing lots of options, so I knew I would need to fill these shadows in somehow.

 

So, I decided to attack the shadow problem first, which would also help with the first. I simply put another piece of $5 white foam board off to the side to fill in some of the shadows and make the pearls brighten up a bit:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-2.jpgUsing a foam card to fill in shadow

Definitely better! This was a better look for these pearls.

I still had the issue of some shadows, though they were certainly improved.

I also remembered some internet photos of pearls that I had seen from other jewelry companies – typically, it was easy to see that pearls were shot with one large softbox, almost directly above. The soft light is good enough, but I wanted to give a different option.

I wanted to try mixing all three different types of light: soft (my reflector card to the side), medium/specular (the para on the left), and harsh. I needed a harsh source, so I really dialed up the light on the side with the standard P70 reflector.

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-3.jpg

This didn’t actually didn’t help my shadow problem, no matter how high I got my light, but it did give me another interesting effect. The tops of the pearls were almost given a halo, and the harsh light with more juice in it really made the amazing, metallic luster of these pearls pop, and really forced out the orient (the soap bubble look). I knew that the folks at Pearl Paradise would like that.  At this point, I also decided to remove one of the strands so as to not over complicate things.

Knucklehead (that’s me) got curious for a moment and thought “I wonder what a more textured background would look like!” and I didn’t have much on hand because Knucklehead left the important stuff elsewhere. All I really had on hand was the tissue paper that the pearls came packed with, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I crumpled some up…

  Pearls with a tissue paper underneath

Yuck! It looked awful, and without forcing your poor eyes to look at more shots, no matter what I did the paper still looked waxy and unflattering, so away it went.

(There’s a really good lesson in here, too: First, experiment! Second, everyone shoots junk; it’s just that normally only the final image gets seen. I am a professional photographer – an “expert,” though I would understand why the last image would lead you not to believe this… I have done tons of product shots, and I am still experimenting, and I still shoot junk.)

Back to the foam board I went…

At this point, I decided to move the P70 light around on the other side of the Para, lower it a bit and still leave it on a high power (though I won’t lie, at this point the shadows were very much frustrating me and also my friend George, who is another professional photographer helping me out with this shoot).

But, moving that P70 light made me realize something. Getting it more forward made the orient REALLY pop (woo!) and I actually didn’t mind the harsh point of light as much as I thought.

I tried to look at the positives here!

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-7.jpg

This is also when I came to a realization about how I was filling the shadows in with my foam reflector card – it simply wasn’t cutting it. Not enough filling power for what I needed, which was those shadows gone.

Enter light number 3, aka “Mr. Mongo.” Now, Mr. Mongo does not enjoy his name, but I have no other appropriate terms for the 6x4’ (yes, foot) softbox.

Essentially, I wanted the same effect as the foam reflector card, just with more oomph.

So, after wrestling Mr. Mongo onto a light stand, I took a shot:

 

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-8.jpg   

You can immediately see the difference in the reflection of the pearls. This soft window light effect was what I was looking for, but contrary to the problem I was actually trying to solve I actually now had a double shadow (lol).

I had the shadow I was trying to get rid of (cast from the P70 behind me) and a new, softer shadow on the underside left of the pearls.

This one didn’t bother me so much, so now it was simply a decision of “A” or “B” for the shadows.

Time to feed the very hungry Mr. Mongo lots more light. – Huge softboxes eat light for breakfast (but fortunately the broncolor Scoro 3200S burns with the power of a thousand suns). So in a very well thought out professional decision of “NEEDS MORE POWAH” I pumped a lot more light through the big softbox:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-9.jpg  

Yeah! NOW we’re talkin’! – I got rid of the nasty harsh shadow, and all I had left was the softer, more subtle shadow on the other end, and this didn’t bother me.

Also, if you notice at this point, I’m still not actually doing anything with the pearls. They aren’t really arranged in any special way. I just have them sitting out on the table. My contact at Pearl Paradise had told me that they wanted a specific, generic table shot, so that’s where I wanted to start; at the same time, Pearl Paradise has their own generic lighting setup for website photos, - and they don’t need me to do the same thing they can do for themselves, so I had to think of what I would do differently.

At this point, I’m pretty satisfied with both the placement, type, and power of my light setup. I can always tweak later, but it’s important I am happy with how things are looking in general and the general direction for the rest of the shoot before I get crazy (George would tell me that I can’t “get” what I already am – touché.)

So, I have one final light related thing to do so as to make sure I’m double, triple checking everything. It’s the same thing you’d do in a portrait to see what all your lights are contributing to the image, but this time the subject is pearls.

Essentially, what I do is take a shot with only ONE light on at a time, until I have done a single shot with only one light, for all the lights in the setup, and then I will take a shot with them all together again.

Light 1 (Key) – this is now my large softbox, since it’s the most powerful and brightest contributor:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-10.jpg

 

Light 2 (Fill) – This is the P70 reflector. Notice how both the main and fill contribute to removing the other’s harsh shadows:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-11.jpg

 

Light 3 (technically, you could call this a backlight, but we’ll call it the cool accent light). Para133. Gives an interesting catchlight to the pearls

 

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-12.jpg

 

All 3 working together:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-13.jpg

 

I was pretty satisfied with how this looked, so I knew at this point it was mostly just tweaking some color and artistically arranging the pearls to look interesting.

This is the relax point of shooting because now you can just play around, have fun, and see what else you can come up with!

I introduced the other strand again and arranged them in different ways, on top of each other, next to, etc. – Pearl Paradise was very generous in giving me loose guidelines for shooting, so it was a lot of fun to just play with things.

A medium detail shot, which lets customers see both the high quality detail as well as an overview look:

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-14.jpg

 

More generic but still interesting table-top style shot:

 

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-15.jpg

 

Pulled back tabletop:

 

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/Pearlblog-16.jpg

 

And, lastly, my most favorite image from the whole set… a hank, waiting to be strung, but in the meantime, all curled up together in beautiful symmetry, much like the amazing oysters who make the gems possible:

 

../Pictures/2018Play%20/Pearl%20Paradise%202019/pearlpfinal1.jpg

 

It is a tough but exciting assignment – to photograph precious jewels.

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) broncolor lighting studio https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2019/2/welcome-back---photographing-pearls Fri, 15 Feb 2019 16:09:33 GMT
Happy 2017! -- Update, B&W, and a secret tip... https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2017/4/happy-2017----update-b-w-and-a-secret-tip Hi, all! It's been a LONG time since I've gotten to post something, but I really am hoping to get back into the swing of things.

 

Anyway, not much for you all today, but hopefully a quick tip or two that helps you out.

First, black and white is power -- and, like all power, should be used effectively, decisively, and sparingly. That said, when you get the perfect photo or duo set -- you know, the one that you just can already see perfectly in a B&W edit, you know it. 

We tend to associate color with boldness, but remember that a vintage style black and white can provide an extra punch in its own way, too. There's nothing more dignified, beautiful, and timeless than a good black and white portrait

 

Second, a tip for you all -- STOP LAUGHING WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS!  By this, I mean when your client breaks out in a fit of laughter or reaction, that is time for you to be SHOOTING. There's nothing more pleasant than getting a natural reaction out of someone. Be witty, say something funny, and suddenly your smiling photos are not cheesy and they look perfect.

So if you take nothing else from this blog, let it be this:

Pose your client's serious expressions.

Do NOT pose their smiles.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) how to pose lighting photography portrait photography posing https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2017/4/happy-2017----update-b-w-and-a-secret-tip Sat, 15 Apr 2017 04:43:41 GMT
Top 3 Tips for Shooting Seniors https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2015/2/top-3-tips-for-shooting-seniors Senior season is fast approaching, so I wanted to share with all of you my Top Three Tips for Shooting Seniors, and hopefully you can put them to good use with your upcoming shoots. :)

 

3. Just Because You're the Photographer, Does Not Mean Parent/Senior Ideas Are Bogus.

 

This is a rude awakening and a tough bit of advice for some photographers to hear. It's probably one of the toughest things, and admittedly when I first started I had trouble coming to grips with it. Don't get so set in your cycle of poses/locations/whatever that you go into robot-photog mode and tune out anything else.

 

Your customers will question you and offer ideas of their own, and you must not dismiss it. Once you pay more attention to it, a majority of your customers will shock you with the amazing ideas for poses they have. Seniors will astound you with something they want to try. A lot of times, it will look fantastic. Sometimes, it looks awkward but Mom/Senior is happy with it, so keep it anyway. And, occasionally, it really won't look good at all, and you move on with your shoot. But it means and impresses customers more than you may understand at the time when you are so open to trying what they suggest. Seriously.

 

Try it, and you won't be disappointed.

 

2. Don't Ever Book Senior Shoots Back-to-Back.

 

This one is probably equally important as the number one thing, so I had some trouble deciding what order they should go in.

 

However, I will flat out say from personal experience: There's nothing more embarrassing in the entire world than you not being done with your current shoot, and your next customers show up at your studio. If this happens, your current customers will feel rushed to get out (even if you didn't), and the folks that just showed up will be angry that you're running into their appointment time.

 

At that point, you're always running late depending on how many shoots you have in the day, and things will just continue going downhill.

 

I recognize and acknowledge that you have a business to run, and to be honest, if you're busy enough that you could book back-to-back for days, I applaud you.

 

This entire problem can be averted by simply booking a little buffer time in between your customers showing up. It doesn't have to be significant – even something like 20 minutes in between sessions will do. If you happen to run over, you can finish up your shoot without people feeling upset or rushed, and you can take advantage of the time yourself, too. Grab a snack, get a glass of water, swap cards, whatever you need to do. The mental preparation time in between shoots will be more helpful to you than to any customer, so do yourself a favor and include it.

 

1. Your Seniors Are NOT Professional Models, So You Can't Treat Them Like It.

 

This is the most important thing you need to keep in your mind as you shoot. You will be in a setting that, from the outside, looks entirely commercial with your model having no experience to back it up.

 

Yes, it's a pretty tough spot to be in, because he/she may look like a model, but isn't.

 

If your voice isn't hurting at the end of the day, you didn't direct your Senior or talk out loud enough. Senior doesn't know techniques for modeling like switching poses often. They will be posing stiffly, nervously, and unsure of what to do. You may very well need to give Seniors "Do this, Do that" sort of direction, which is OK. Just don't make it sound too commanding!

 

The worst thing you can do in this situation is to click away shots while saying nothing, because the first thing going through Senior's mind is “What am I doing wrong?” And Mom thinks “Why did the photographer stop talking? Don't they know what they're doing?” – neither thought you want going through either one. There's a high chance that your photo session is the very first time in a senior's entire life that there's been a photoshoot that revolved only around them. They probably have a parent/sibling/other family hovering around, fixing hair, brushing this, doing that. They've got you as the photographer saying pose like this, move like that, look at me like this. And they've got themselves, hoping that they look good, hoping that they're posing OK, and other things.

 

I've seen photographers get visibly frustrated with a model's inexperience, and it's truly heart-wrenching. The photographer's job is very stressful, but the senior's is much more so. Please, be considerate of how you are treating them. You may be on a tight schedule, but don't make them feel rushed or you really won't get the results you're hoping for, and you'll have to spend more time on it in the end anyway.

 

Perhaps most importantly, when you DO get a fantastic shot, turn your camera around, say "Wow! That was great!" and show your Senior and the family member the wonderful moment they just helped to create. Do NOT be so interested in making it through your shoot that you don't show your subjects any progress being made. Show a beautiful shot, and it will bolster the Senior's confidence not only during but after the shoot as well, and it will prove to Mom that you do actually know what you're talking about, because she wasn't so sure after shooting her daughter in front of some weird vines. If you aren't getting fantastic shots straight out of your camera good enough to show your customer then and there, you may want to consider how much you're actually doing in photoshop and reevaluate your shooting technique.

 

Happy shooting, and see you again soon!

Stay tuned...

- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2015/2/top-3-tips-for-shooting-seniors Mon, 16 Feb 2015 00:15:05 GMT
Some Family Portraiture https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2015/1/some-family-portraiture Shooting families (LOL) is one of my favorite things to do. Especially when the family is a group you've come to know and love, family portraiture is incredibly rewarding. 

 

The following group of wonderful folks is a family I've known for quite some time. Truthfully, they are all remarkable. Even though this was such a super speedy session (less than half an hour!) I think overall the images turned out very nicely, and I know that they are very happy with the result. This lady's family is especially dear to me, as she is also a photographer -- one with whom I shoot often. 

All photos were shot using natural light only, but some photos made use of a round or oval reflector. 

So, for portrait photographers out there, do you do a lot of family portraiture? If so, what kind of tips, tricks, or techniques can you share? Here are a few of mine:

 

-- Pose CLOSELY! I mean so close that everyone is touching! The more awkward feeling (not looking!), the better! Many poses look and feel very strange for the subjects, but they look excellent in a photography! 

 

-- Make use of light modifiers. Just because you're using a bigger group doesn't mean that your reflectors suddenly become obsolete. You can back up, use a larger reflector, or mix the reflective light with the already existing sunlight or open shade for a pleasant effect. Try it out! 

 

-- Get contemporary! The phrase "awkward family photos" didn't just show up for nothing. These are people that know, live with, and love one another! Please, for goodness sake, reflect that in your images! 

 

That's all I've got for today. Please, enjoy the photos and don't hesitate to share your own tips for family portraiture!

Stay tuned. Thoughts appreciated.

 

-- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) family lighting portraiture https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2015/1/some-family-portraiture Thu, 29 Jan 2015 23:34:28 GMT
Shooting Products -- wine? https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/11/shooting-products----wine I must admit -- I am not, at heart, any sort of product photographer, but occasionally I think "What if?" and besides -- it's always good to broaden one's horizons and explore other photography too.

 

Which brings me to my latest image, and one that I think is quite neat, actually. Just a small bottle of wine that I found and did my best to shoot it. Bottles in general are tough -- lots of reflections and it's tough to get things just right.

 

But not bad for a first attempt, eh?

 

Stay tuned. Thoughts appreciated.

 

-- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/11/shooting-products----wine Fri, 07 Nov 2014 03:29:39 GMT
Some Fun Halloween Photography! https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/11/some-fun-halloween-photography Hey everybody. Not much in terms of words to share today, but I've heard everyone is better off in general when I don't talk much. ;-) I just wanted to share a few Halloween themed photos with you all. Lighting was very similar in large -- the most complicated setup was an octabox with two background lights, gelled. 

 

We have an array of things -- ranging from a beauty dish with a rim light to subjects holding a cell phone below their faces and using a higher ISO in ambient light. Pretty cool stuff. As always, please e-mail me with specific questions or comments!

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned.

 

- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) Halloween beauty broncolor lighting photography studio https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/11/some-fun-halloween-photography Sat, 01 Nov 2014 14:00:00 GMT
A Small Blog Post https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/a-small-blog-post Hello everybody! Happy Wednesday. Today, I just wanted to showcase two of my FAVORITE images from a recent studio session. Incredible! Also, I wanted to share what I've been doing lately.

 

I'm very used to commercially retouching images; so, in lieu of this, I have been trying to naturally retouch as much as possible, while still retaining the gorgeous "beauty image" look and feel. Feedback is definitely appreciated.

 

Sorry for such a short post, but many things to do, so hopefully I can take a little of your time on this Wednesday, and you enjoy the two images! 

 

- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) beauty lighting photography photoshop retouching https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/a-small-blog-post Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:00:00 GMT
Two Lighting Modifiers https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/lighting-modifiers In photography, what we call a light modifier is usually self explanatory. In the context of studio photography, it essentially means anything you're using to shape, change, otherwise effect your light. 

Light modifiers literally come in all shapes and sizes, and some people even create their own, for example, oatmeal box snoots.

I use a lot of different light modifiers; sometimes, my light modifier will in fact be nothing at all! 

Without any further stalling, let's jump right in with two of my favorite lighting modifiers: the softbox and the beauty dish.. 

 

 

Softboxes are probably the second most common modifier behind umbrellas. Their name is pretty straight forward -- the light that comes out of them is generally quite soft at an average distance. Getting a softbox close and one gets a very nice wraparound light. 

Softboxes are a lot of fun to use, in part due to their easiness and effect. I find that a softbox gives me just enough "throw" of light that I can get control, but also set it up fairly anywhere, so long as the subject is facing it, for a nice placement. Two softboxes side by side (and very close) give an even, flat lighting effect.

 

Seen below, two softboxes were placed very close together (as in, just enough space between them to shoot, and nothing greater). This is a very attractive look (though it is flat), as it brings out the subject's eyes, and can create a sort of "cat eye" effect. Can be useful, if it's what you're going for, but I would suggest it as one of your "hey, this might be cool!" instead of your whole set up.

 

"Cat Eye"The two softboxes are placed side by side, almost pushed together. The look is a flat light, but creates an interesting result in the eyes.

  

This, as opposed to a single softbox, perhaps at more of an extreme placement, which gives a very dramatic light. 

 

 

This is also a nice effect as you can control the drama of the light by its power settings and distance from the subject. A single softbox at a 45 degree angle to the subject, with the subject facing the light is a common "go-to" easily set up light for portraits. 

 

However, a softbox's greatest strength is also, perhaps, its curse. Because a softbox is easy to set up and forget, photographers can very easily fall into a trap of getting comfortable with softbox setups, losing their creativity! Don't let it get to you.

 

A common "rule" of lighting is never to light from underneath. Doing so gives specific shadows and dark areas beneath the eyes, and creates an odd halo effect (think flashlight under the chin while telling a scary story); as such, it gives an aptly named "monster light" 

Then again, what is photography if not breaking rules? ;)

The particular senior on the shoot wanted a couple of character portraits. She's a big fan of the hoodie, so we tried to see what sort of alternative, maybe-not-classic-portraiture-but-still-cool photos that we could get. 

So, I cruelly bullied my assistant for the shoot into literally taking the light off its stand, getting on the floor, and aiming the softbox "up and at" the subject's face. 

Again, not your classic portrait and you certainly don't want to make it a habit of lighting people from underneath, but if you're going for that sort of character, a little frightening look, it works really well. 

 

 

On to the second modifier, and it is my absolute favorite of them all. It's none other than the venerable beauty dish. A beauty dish is admittedly not as versatile as a softbox, I think, but it has a unique character and feel to it that's hard to beat. A beauty dish is interesting in that it creates a look that is somewhere between a regular reflector and softbox. Transitions from light to dark are more drastic, while the light from a beauty dish is more "punchy" while remaining somewhat soft. 

Beauty dishes are also one of the more difficult modifiers to use, and one I might say is much more frustrating to use if you don't have a century stand with a boom arm (or some other way of getting your light over and above a subject. Beauty dishes are found almost all the time in commercial and fashion photography.

Sadly, I don't have a photo of an actual dish, but you can quickly use your favorite search engine to find out more about them. They typically come in sizes around 18-22" and most all lighting brands use them, and 3rd party manufacturers make them. My two cents, and some food for thought, however, is that you should definitely consider buying the beauty dish from your lighting manufacturer. The beauty dish is not the place to find the Ebay $70 version. The shape of dishes is so unique that the light will wrap and focus uniquely to the way your light is designed. -- Just a suggestion. :) I have a Fotodiox beauty dish that I use on my Photogenic brand lights, and it does OK, but I am less frustrated when using the Photogenic version. :) Likewise, for my Broncolor lights, I use a Broncolor dish; while it wasn't cheap, it's worth it. 

 

In any case, here are some sample photos using a beauty dish:

 

 

Seen here is how the dish has a bit more of a "character light" feel to it. You have to be careful with dishes, too. You have a smaller modifier, so you as the photographer must be more precise in how you handle it.

 

Sometimes, the characteristics of a beauty dish will work against you moreso than any other lighting modifier. In the above photo, there is actually a second light on camera left (softbox) illuminating the subject's arm and right side, slightly. The dish alone leaves this side completely silhouetted and one is unable to discern any detail. So, consider this when using your beauty dish. Sometimes, a strip softbox or a regular softbox a little further back, lowered down on power setting, will give a nice separation and a much needed "detail suggestion light." -- a light just enough to show that there's something there, but to keep attention where you want it.

I would not suggest a dish for moving subjects, especially pets, etc. You'll want to keep adjusting your dish to make sure it looks good. An umbrella or softboxes are a much better solution for "set up and forget"

 

Beauty dish high and aboveIn this photo, a beauty dish was used on a boom arm, up and above, slightly over the subject.

However, the main use for a beauty dish remains on a boom arm, up and above a subject. The photo above is one of my favorite photos I've ever taken, and no doubt comes from the light as well. Again, the dish was on a boom and pointing toward the subject. However, the placement above renders the beauty dish as a sort of "cheekbone light." That is, it is very good at carving out and sculpting details on the face. Again, though, one must be careful about placement of both light and subject. The subject's left arm had to be brought forward, as when I did test photos, it was completely invisible. 

This is the alternative to adding a second light, if one is not available or otherwise impractical. Simply pose your subject slightly differently to achieve the result you want. Again, another double edged sword of the beauty dish is that small adjustments = big results. Be careful!

 

In actuality, both the above light modifiers are very useful, and are a staple of any studio photographer's set up. Though the two just scratch the surface of the whole light modifier game, hopefully it provides some insight into using each, and a few result photos. 

I would say that I probably use a softbox about 60% of session time, a beauty dish 25% of the time, and perhaps other speciality/odd modifiers 15%.

Summing up the results...

 

Softbox:

(+) Universally flattering

(+) Easy to set up and forget

(+) Makes subjects of all ages and complexions look good

(+) Flat light caused is easy for post production

 

(-) Easy to set up and forget

(-) Less creative (sometimes!)

(-) Take up lots of physical studio space, and can be inconvenient to set up and tear down constantly.

 

Beauty dish:

(+) Very good character light. 

(+) Unique and beautiful look to it

(+) When used properly, will help create especially portfolio-quality, favorite photos

(+) Physically smaller modifier, easy to pack up and no set up/assembly required

 

(-) Takes up space as it doesn't fold down

(-) Difficult modifier to use; requires more practice than other modifiers

(-) Not a set up and forget modifier

(-) Requires constant review of photos and adjustment, especially if subject moves.

(-) (Can be) more time consuming to use during the shoot.

 

All in all, though, I hope that you all found something useful from this blog post, and that you enjoyed the photos as well! As always, please send me an e-mail if you have any questions or comments about the blog post, or in general.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned...

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) lighting photography studio https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/lighting-modifiers Wed, 15 Oct 2014 13:00:00 GMT
Shooting a Snowboarder! https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/shooting-a-snowboarder I had a few fun shots I wanted to share with you all today. I recently was able to have a guy who uses a prosthetic come into the studio, and get this -- he's a snowboarder!!! How cool is that?! 

 

He wanted to get some photos done that emphasized and showcased the prosthetic as well as his board/family. Please enjoy these very fun shots! 

 

 

As always, e-mail if you have questions. :)

 

- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) lighting studio https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/shooting-a-snowboarder Tue, 07 Oct 2014 20:12:23 GMT
Wrestling with Available Light https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/wrestling-with-available-light As photographers, we always struggle and do our best to emulate a specific sort of light in the studio. But sometimes, I think that we really can get away with natural light -- if we bully it around a little bit. ;) 

 

I don't think anyone will argue (actually, I take that back. Someone will argue. But they'd be wrong. -smile-) that using studio light, whether outside or indoors, will give you more CONTROL.

 

"But Andrew," says the young man raising his hand in the back of the room. "Not all photographers have the ability to take light on location through strobes, or the massive vehicle to drive equipment on location."

"Well, Jimmy," I would say, "That's okay, because you don't HAVE to have the strobe light on location!" Andrew shouts, excitedly.

Some of the best portraits I've ever made, clients' favorite shots, and overall the best photography I've done has been with the most inexpensive piece of gear I own.

 

Let me repeat that, one more time for emphasis: The best portraits I have made were with the most inexpensive gear I have.

The secret? Well, there's not really one, but check this out:

This little guy costs a whole $18 on amazon. Another favorite of mine you can find on Amazon is a bigger version, that's about a 6 foot tall reflector. It's seriously giant and helps to have two people wielding it (yes, wielding). 

If you have no assistants that are willing to help you out, go find a cheap light stand for $30 dollars, and a few A-clamps at your local hardware store for $3. 

So, for about 50 bucks of extra equipment, you can do some really amazing stuff. 

But, the key to doing some really amazing stuff is knowing how to use your 50 bucks of extra equipment. 

So, the short of it is this.

DO's and DON'T's for using a reflector:

- DO use the appropriate color for appropriate effects -- white will fill in shadows, silver will be very bright and direct, gold will warm, etc.

- DO be attentive of your subject. Reflectors can be very bright! A trick I always like to use is have the subject close their eyes, while you get your light where you want it. Prefocus. Now, you (the photographer) count, "1, 2, 3, open!" and have the subject open their eyes. Snap a few frames, easy since you're focused. As soon as you finish, tell them to close their eyes again until you get the reflector off. This tip works very well if you're trying to use a silver/gold side, or a white side up close. 

- DO be reasonable with a reflector and your subject. While reflectors are awesome, you have to be reasonable in what you're expecting them to do. They are NOT strobe lights. Always tell your subject what you/your assistant is going to do. Don't charge them with a giant reflector!

- DO use your reflector to your advantage as a "prop". I have kids or seniors sit on a reflector so that it is still out of the frame, but it lets me put them in places such as damp grass. For whatever reason, little kids LOVE playing with a reflector! Buy a cheap one that you don't care about and are willing to scrub. Let the kids jump on it, play around on, stand on it, sit on it, whatever. You get double duty here: A reflector that keeps them occupied and gives you light. Woo hoo!

 

- DON'T reflect light from underneath! This is probably the biggest one I see all the time. When you reflect from below, you get harsh shadows and circles in the subject's eyes, which creates a very unflattering "monster light" (think putting a flashlight under your chin). This can be difficult to catch, but it is so important. This is one reason I use a very big reflector when possible. The bigger the light source, the more wrap and encompassing of the subject you will get. I suggest using the biggest reflector you can for the conditions you shoot (assistants, wind, etc.)

- DON'T not communicate with your subject. A bit of a double negative, but if you are using your reflector and trying to "find" the light (kind of like you used to do as a kid with the sun in the mirror, trying to blind your sibling? Don't pretend you didn't do it -- I know you did.) Not unlike the mirror, when you move your reflector "back and forth" to find the light, tell your subject what you're doing. This has the advantage of a) letting them know you haven't (yet) gone off the deep end and b) letting them prepare and even help you if they see the reflection in your reflector. I tell the subject, "Now let me know when this gets brighter" and it makes it much easier. 

Some natural light w/reflector examples:

Now, get out there with your reflector and make some awesome photos. Share any portraits you've made through e-mail, andrew@a2mphotography.com, as I would love to see all of your guys' photography, and answer any questions you might have. :) 

 

Thanks for reading, as always, and catch you next time...

 

- Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) equipment lighting natural light photography reflector https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/10/wrestling-with-available-light Thu, 02 Oct 2014 17:14:02 GMT
Update Your Portfolio Monday https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/update-your-portfolio-monday Real short post today folks -- sorry!

 

Just wanted to say that I've taken part in Scott Kelby's "Update Your Portfolio" Monday, and you should too! 

 

This morning, I removed a few shots that just weren't up to par anymore with the rest of my work on the front slideshow, as well as added in a few that were to replace those. 

Be sure to double check the order of your photos too!

You can see Scott's full post here

 

Well, go on! What are you waiting for?!

 

- Andrew

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/update-your-portfolio-monday Tue, 30 Sep 2014 05:31:06 GMT
A Fun Friday: Water Balloons!!!!! https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/a-fun-friday-water-balloons Hey everybody. Thanks for stopping by today -- hope your Friday was great.

 

Today (or rather, yesterday as I am blogging so late), I got to do some really fun photography. It's always just risky enough to be fun when you mix high end lighting gear with water. :-) 

Anyway, I got to help out with a middle school science fair project today! The question for the project was "What flash speed does it take to freeze water from a water balloon?" And the answer to that is... it depends. But I was ready for the challenge!

I have some lighting equipment that truly is built for speed, and I really wanted to put it through its paces today. The particular power pack has the unique ability to choose the flash speed we want to use. In t.1 times, we are able to select a flash speed range anywhere from 1/220th of a second, all the way up to a mind-boggling 1/10000th of a second (!!!)

For a small bit of background, what the "t.x" means is essentially "How much time does it take to get xyz percentage of the flash output released?" So in the case of t.5, you've dumped half of your light and have half to go. In t.1, you've dumped 90% and have 10% left. The problem with t.5 times is that since only half of your light has been put out, you still have enough light remaining to cause motion blur at a duration that "should" freeze motion. Thus, t.1 is the more helpful time measurement, though rarely are times given in t.1. As a general rule of thumb, t.1 to t.5 will be about triple.

 

So, for "scientific purposes" (and not at all because we wanted to just play with water balloons), we set up a fairly simple studio and got to work. 

To do such extreme motion freezing shots, you need a little bit of a special set up, but not to worry as it remains very simple.

There are various ways of doing it. Well, mostly two. :-)

1) You can have a completely dark room, and do a long exposure (5 ish seconds), and you will pop the water balloon (in this case), within that long exposure time, at the same time MANUALLY setting off your flash with some sort of trigger or remote (we used PocketWizards) in the time of exposure, somewhere. This is tricky and a little time consuming, but it is more guaranteed if you are good at is -- the same person firing will be popping the balloon as well.

or...

2) You have a normal studio set up, you don't care so much about ambient, but you have to have different people popping/firing the camera. This is also tricky in its own way, as you will be at a normal studio syncing speed (1/160th, or so) and you will have to time your pictures correctly with the other person. This is a little more frustrating if you're bad at timing with the other person, either popping or at camera. 

We chose the second option, and accepted the fact that we'd lose a few balloons here and there! 

We used a simple, 5 foot roll of Savage Thunder Gray seamless background paper for our backdrop. We set up a backdrop stand that has a pole with an attachment in the middle, so it can hang over the stand, not unlike a C-stand with a boom arm. On this part, we had your standard hardware store A-clamp that was gripping the balloons. We took a standard sewing needle and used it to pop the balloon. Person 1 was at camera, person 2 at balloon. Person 1 counted "One, two, three, pop!" and shot the photo on the "pop" -- sometimes the timing varied. We lost some balloons, but I would say we had a 80% success rate, or so, which isn't bad at all! 

 

Pretty boring, huh?

 

We have a single beauty dish, camera left, and a standard 7" reflector off to camera right. The beauty dish and reflector are almost shooting at each other. The standard reflector in the back corner is key.

When you want to light anything to make it really stand out, such as liquid (Water), or something like smoke from a fog machine, you must BACKLIGHT it! Without the backlight, your substance won't get that POP. 

ISO settings and aperture varied from shot to shot for the correct exposure. This is because the flash power pack requires lower settings to get the faster flash durations (likewise, to get the slower flash speeds for testing purposes, we had to increase the power sometimes). However, the ISO never raised above 250, and the aperture never beyond f/20. 

Again, this is only to get consistent exposure. Any motion blur (or lack thereof) will not be altered by these settings. We ran both lamp heads to the same power pack, so the flash duration was equal on each lamp. 

Potential warning, though, for those trying it at home. Remember, you're using ELECTRIC photographic equipment, with WATER balloons. Thus, you have to be very careful with how you have your equipment lying around. Opt for a high power, greater distance set up. Keep your lights away from that water. Who cares if you're sacrificing recharge rate, because you're going to do be doing about one picture every 3 minutes with balloons on hand, and I know of no strobe that can't keep up with 1 flash every 3 minutes. :-) Keep towels around your set up, around your equipment. There are lots of ways to keep water away from your stuff, including covers, etc. but the best way will be to just simply get it far enough away that you don't need to worry about it. 

Here's a photo of our set up, pre pop, so you can get an idea of what everything looked like (the tag on the A-Clamp gave me something to focus on), as it was still pretty dark. Later, I had turned on the modeling lamp and gone with that instead.

 

So, a lot of prep work done, and we could finally start shooting!

 

For the purposes of the science project, and just for my own curiosity's sake, we started off with a relatively slow flash speed for this particular power pack. (1/220th of a second, t.1 or about 1/600th t.5)

We can see here that this just really isn't that useful of a photo for what our goal is. The water has extremely long blur trails, and even the short motion of the hand with the sewing needle popping the balloon has not been frozen. The duration used for this photo was 1/220th, t.1; 1/660th, t.5

 

 

This photo is just slightly better, but there's noticeable blur everywhere, especially in the outer droplets of water. This photo was taken at 1/400th t.1, or about 1/1200th t.5

Here's a very tight crop of the same photo above

 

Note that this has nothing to do with shutter speed of the camera. Again, in situations like this, the duration of our flash essentially determines our action stopping potential. 

Yikes, still not getting good results here. 

But, it's easy to see where most studio flashes get caught up and really start having trouble here. Action stopping potential of most strobes that folks own, which will be your monolights, are as follows:

(Times are in t.1, since we started there)

  • 1/966 Bowens Gemini 500 Pro

  • 1/883 Profoto D1

  • 1/683 Elinchrom Style RX 600

  • 1/600 White Lightning X1600

  • 1/520 Elinchrom BX 500Ri

  • 1/266 Elinchrom D-Lite it 400

 

Granted, we're still just second on the list of monolights at this point, but point still stands. Most flashes won't be so great at stopping intense action. Again, for most uses (blur on hands when jumping, etc) the photographer or client really won't care.

 

Sadly the flash system doesn't allow for a whole lot of variation at these settings, even when adjusting power, so the next jump we made was to 1/1300th second, t.1. 

We're getting there. Actually, we're pretty close unless you really like to pixel peep. 

 

But... *sigh*, on zooming in once more to our tight crop, we see that, though we're getting a pretty neat shot, our movement is not yet completely frozen. The discerning pixel peeper will catch the movement

 

Summarizing for the sake of page space and readability, the results remain pretty consistent as we approach higher and higher flash speeds: The motion blur becomes less and less, but the equipment is pushed to its limits more and more. The real question you must ask yourself is one of diminishing return and bang for buck. Just like the comparison between an 85mm f/1.8 vs f/1.4 lens ($500 vs $1600) -- is the extra for the slightly faster glass worth it? 

 

To some photographers, absolutely. But for the majority of photographers, if something can get you 90% of the way for 20% of the price, well... it's hard to justify at times.

 

However, long story short we ramped up our power packs to its best flash speed it can handle: 1/10000th second, t.1. This is about 1/30000th second, t.5. Holy cow! And I think the pictures speak for themselves. So, yes, while the gear to get there may not always be practical, there's one thing we can't deny: It's pretty darn cool.

Please enjoy the photos. :) (Again, it's the same photo with a tight crop afterwards)

Bam!

Talk about freezing action!!! There are NO blur trails here.

 

I'll leave it there, folks! Thanks so much for reading, as always. Until next time...

 

- Andrew.

 

Equipment used: 

- Nikon D4s

- 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens

- Broncolor Scoro 3200s

- 2 Broncolor Unilite Lamp heads

- Broncolor Standard P70 Reflector

- Broncolor beauty dish

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) action broncolor lighting https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/a-fun-friday-water-balloons Sat, 27 Sep 2014 06:48:31 GMT
It's "Whatever Wednesday" -- Natural Light Portrait https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/its-whatever-wednesday----natural-light-portrait Hey everyone. A pretty short blog post this morning -- (I've just gotten up at 7:00 am.. Yawwwnn.. Where's the caffeine?).

 

Anyway, please enjoy this portrait. Gear is pretty simple -- Nikon D4s, 70-200mm @ f/2.8; Done with completely natural light with a single reflector. 

 

 

Here's to hoping you all smiles on this Wednesday! 

 

-Andrew.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/its-whatever-wednesday----natural-light-portrait Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:27:31 GMT
VLX Part II & Guide to Using Strobe Outdoors https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/vlx-part-ii-guide-to-using-strobe-outdoor Awhile ago, I made a blog post that included a review and my first impressions of Paul C Buff's Vagabond Lithium Extreme. In this blog post, I share some more thoughts on the unit after using it in the field, and also include some tips and tricks to using flash outdoors.

 

The VLX continued to work well with the Broncolor Scoro units on location. However, a small caveat I noticed to using the Scoro: Sometimes, if I raised the power of the Scoro in multiple stops, the unit would shut itself off when running from the battery. (Ie. Raised from power '4' to '8' and instead of charging up to 8, it would attempt to charge but the power pack would restart itself). Not sure why this would be happening, unless the Scoro is just trying to pull too much charge, can't get it fast enough, so it restarts. This seemed to happen more often when I was not in slow charging mode. In any case, this issue is completely fixed by raising the power more slowly- a stop at a time, waiting for the ready beep, another stop, waiting for beep, etc. It doesn't affect the firing at all.

 

Feedback from Paul himself told me that as the Scoro draws more peak current, voltage drops and the Scoro resets itself as a protection measure. Again, this is not harming the power pack, and the issue is solved just by being a little patient. Again, for the price, it provides a very competent ability to take your existing flash on location.

----

 

 

Below is mostly unrelated to the VLX unit itself, but it does show you how the flash works in action with the VLX and also provides some information on location lighting.

It is key to remember that, when using off camera flash outdoors, the photographer is in actuality making two separate exposures -- one for our ambient scene and one for our flash. 

In this sense, it is the same as studio photography: The aperture you choose will determine how much (or how little) light from your flash ends up in the scene. However, outside, the other variable to play with is shutter speed: Shutter speed will determine your ambient (environment) exposure. 

 

Ambient exposure level is found first (seen below.) 

 

Nothing to really write home about here, folks. Like, at all. :) There's little to no light on her face (but that's how we want it), and she has a nice rim light on her arm and down the side of her hair, which gives us a nice separation against the background with the trees. I adjusted my shutter speed until I found a reasonable level of environmental light that I wanted to use in the photo -- there is sufficient light on the flowers in the background, as well as the path. I was able to keep detail in the sky, but still get an interesting sort of spot light effect from the sun.

Now, we add the flash, and that's where the magic happens...

The result is a really beautiful photo. I changed positions slightly, to get the sun out of the frame in this instance, and I was able to adjust my shutter speed even lower (to let in more ambient light) to get the flowers in the background a little more prominently lit. The softbox for the off camera strobe is approximately 5 feet away from the subject to camera right. I simply set the strobe to a reasonable power level (approximately 200 joules, if I remember correctly) to get an acceptable recycle rate, and adjusted my aperture so that the flash would work with the depth of field I wanted -- flowers sharp, but trees a little soft.

The key with using off camera flash on location is that you now control your light, and the sun does not control you -- you are able to use it to your advantage. 

The above photo was shot around the same time as the previous photo! However, by adjusting my shutter speed even further (higher this time, but be aware to stay below sync speed!), I was able to "knock out" the background to almost completely black, while still keeping just a small hint of sky and environment. I also got an interesting reflection on the sunglasses from the softbox. 

 

One of the original testing photos (we had some equipment bags in the back!). This time, the softbox was much closer, creating bigger catchlights in her eyes and a softer light on her face. I was in rather close with a wide angle lens (not a usual practice for portraits) to get more of a "in your face" sort of look. Again, by playing with your shutter speed you control the light in your environment.

 

This is another example of the "in your face" effect. I thought the sky in the background was very interesting; however, this sort of lit shot would be impossible to capture without off camera flash. The sky was still too bright when I had a proper exposure on my subject. However, on the flip side, if I tried to get a proper exposure on the sky, the subject was almost a silhouette -- that's when your light comes in. 

 

Lastly, one final example of showing just a hint of your environment ( the sky in this case and the outline of trees) but still being able to proper light your subject.

The above light was set so that we truly do see a silhouette of trees only. Robert (the male model and fellow photographer) was kind enough to trade off on the camera to grab this shot of me. :) (Thanks, Robert!)

In photography, it all boils down to your creativity and your control, and we get this through light. "I'm a natural light only photographer" usually means "I don't know how to use my flash" photographer. However, when the sun isn't cooperating, you can't stop the shoot and tell the client that they will have to wait until the environment works out! 

When you control the light, you control your photo. 

 

Hopefully, this helped and gave a few tips and tricks. Get out there and play with your flashes! Even a small speedlight off camera through a small softbox can get you wonderful results. We can read as many articles and watch as many tutorials as we like, but only by getting out there and shooting it will we accomplish anything. 

 

Please, if you have any questions, respond in the comments with any questions, or shoot me an e-mail at andrew@a2mphotography.com

 

Thanks so much for reading!

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) broncolor camera equipment flash guide help lighting off outside photography portraits review https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/vlx-part-ii-guide-to-using-strobe-outdoor Tue, 23 Sep 2014 17:07:25 GMT
"Whatever Wednesday" Photography and Photographers -- From the Heart https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/photography-and-photographers----from-the-heart On this crisp Tuesday fall morning, I'm brought to a photo that is one of my particular favorites, shot by a photography mentor and good friend. 

 

 

As is often the case with photos, there is a story behind this one, the one I am using as my profile picture on various social media, in general, etc. Though few know this, or the reasons behind it. Like many people, I hate pictures. — That is, I can’t stand having *my* picture taken. I am the first to jump out of the group “selfie,” put my hand/papers/book/duck under the table if a camera gets pointed at me. I am the last to willingly join in the picture. It’s tough; in short it boils down to being a confidence thing (It's always been). So, I find myself (as many others also do) behind the camera instead. After all, if one is behind it, one never has to get in front of it. 

 

Which brings me to an interesting story. At my Stock Photography class at aims, we were doing some outdoor portraits. Mixing a big studio flash with outdoor sunlight — it’s not an easy task, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless. Then, Robert Waltman, a truly master photographer and always too kind for his own good, suggested me to get in front of the lens for a bit. "Oh no, not happening,” I think, but I stepped in front of the camera anyway, asking him if he didn’t mind shooting a few frames of me. 

 

Now, *normally* to take a good picture of me I think is a pretty impossible feat. Yet, this is once again Robert that we are talking about, and he is no ordinary photographer.  

 

In short, this photo is what came from the 5-minute mini shoot, and I am absolutely beyond happy about it. 

 

It’s a truth: Photos give confidence. Good photos make you feel really good about yourself. It’s difficult to write: I’m a pessimistic person by nature, but this time, I’ll be optimistic. I really, really like this picture. I am actually inspired and really think I look good in this shot. Thank you, Robert, for shooting this for me. — So, next time you catch your favorite photographer taking a picture of something, whether that’s the group picture, your picture, your aunt Jill’s picture, whatever it is — extend to him or her the offer to take the camera off their shoulders for a few moments and snap a few frames of them, just for fun. Photographers never have pictures of themselves, because they are so caught up in taking them instead of getting them. So, do make that offer to photographers or anyone you see with a camera next time. Who knows? You may just make their day.

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) broncolor lighting photography self-portrait https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/photography-and-photographers----from-the-heart Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:00:00 GMT
Review: Paul C Buff's VLX with Broncolor Scoro? Part One https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/review-paul-c-buffs-vlx-with-broncolor-scoro FULL DISCLAIMER: The Paul C. Buff company provided me with a Vagabond Lithium Extreme battery unit for the purposes of testing and review. However, the following review is completely unbiased; I do not praise products if they do not deserve it. 

First, a bit of background: I'm back from Las Vegas Photoshop World 2014, and it was a blast! While I was out of state, I had a whole lot of lighting equipment coming, and it was like Christmas arriving back! Recently, I decided to purchase quite a decent amount of lighting equipment from broncolor. I'm incredibly impressed with it so far (a separate review on that later, maybe! :) ). One of the original dilemmas I had when I was choosing what lighting equipment I wanted to purchase was that I do a fair amount of location work with studio flash, but not nearly enough to justify a dedicated battery power back. Broncolor offers their Move 1200 ws power pack with a dedicated lithium battery, which is an awesome unit (I've played a little with it) -- but for the price, I just didn't do enough location work to justify the expense. Don't get me wrong -- I love broncolor's equipment, which is why I own a new car's worth, but that doesn't mean I can't be a tad...thrifty when it comes down to it. :P

Enter the VLX. It's a fairly new piece of kit, released approximately six months ago. At just $399.99, it was an attractive alternative to the Move power pack for me. However, the VLX makes some pretty hefty promises that I wasn't sure it could keep. Plus, I know it's standard company statements to say that "While we feel confident that the VLX™ system can be used to power various brands of flash units, we cannot make any claim for suitability with any individual products made by other manufacturers, nor can we accept any liability for any damage that might be caused to such equipment,"(from the PCB website) but that doesn't mean it didn't make me a little... apprehensive about it. Basically, if something went really wrong and the Scoro decided to play really unkindly with the VLX, I would be out a hefty penny. 

In short, here's what the VLX says it'll do: 

-- Cycle 640ws in 2 seconds, or 1280ws in 4. 

-- 1000 to 1500 charge cycles, lasting 10+ years. 

-- Give 90 full power flashes with 3200ws of flash connected. 

-- The entire battery will charge in a few hours

The above specs are certainly quite impressive, and at just $399, I was a bit skeptical. The key issue wasn't that I was worried about the Buff equipment working, though. I know that the company makes high quality stuff in general; I was worried only about it playing with the Scoro. And here's why...

The Scoro is a pretty impressive bit of equipment itself. The recycle on the power pack ranges from a mind-boggling .02 seconds up to 2 seconds -- at 3200 joules/watt seconds of power. I was afraid that the power pack might try and pull too much, too fast from the VLX. While the battery is no slouch, no external power source will easily be able to keep up with that. I'm no electrician, but I know it's not necessarily a good idea to have something draw that fast from the battery. 

So I called PCB and spoke with their customer service team. They said that there would be no reason the Scoro wouldn't work with the VLX, electricity wise, but that they had no tests with that configuration/setup. The company did kindly offer to send me a VLX unit to try with the Scoro packs. OK. So that made me a little more relieved, at least that they were so willing to work with me! Props to them there.

What I had thought (and the rep agreed with me) was that it would be best to switch the Scoro to its "slow charge" recycling mode. It is meant for unstable outlets and power supplies, but in this sense it helped the lithium battery by being a little less quick in trying to draw all that power. 

Now, on to the good stuff...

 The VLX box arrived; it was packaged quite well and the box seems very sturdy. Good stuff. 

VLX's box.The box for the unit arrived. It was sturdy and packaged well.

Opening it up, the unit was encased in nice foam pads. The owners manual and standard safety information is also included.

I wasted no time in getting a small test (just for measuring actual specs - real world test next time!). I just used a small portion of my garage to set up a Scoro unit with the VLX. I was using a Broncolor Unilite 3200ws lamp head as well. On the lamp head is Broncolor's standard P70 reflector. 

 

As suggested in the user manual, I attached the VLX towards the bottom of the stand, so as to give the stand itself more weight and also ensure that the VLX is more secure, especially in the event of a slip. A note about light stands for those of you thinking about the VLX: Light stands of the "twist lock" type like my Giottos stands are aren't quite strong enough to support even light pressure on the battery (I pushed on it slightly to make sure that it was completely secure). It's not that the stand is in any way defective, but the twist lock isn't designed to support any pressure close to it. Next time I will use the VLX slightly higher up on the stand. 

The plug from the scoro fits nicely into the VLX unit on the stand, however. Nothing to complain about plugging in. It was very intuitive and easy to use. 

 

I especially appreciated the nice and bright status lights, giving the user more information on the battery level. A caveat, however: When I did begin testing, firing the lights, the status light would often switch to yellow while charging. When the power pack was done charging or if left idle, the light would change back to green. I'm pretty confident the yellow isn't actually indicating anything about lower power level; rather, I think it might just be that the Scoro is drawing a lot of power quickly, even in slow charge mode. 

VLX Status IndicatorThe VLX has nice, bright, and colorful status indicators for battery levels.

 

So... everything connected all right. I was satisfied. This was a good thing. But then came the real test: Will it turn on? 

 

I flipped on the battery -- all's good (as seen above) -- and then I went to flip on the Scoro pack.

I will be entirely honest. I was pretty sure something was going to explode. 

BUT it didn't! I was ecstatic. The Scoro power pack turned on just like it does on the wall electricity. Granted, it took quite a lot longer to charge up once started (About 10 seconds, versus just a couple seconds), but overall nothing to complain about on a battery source, and this is the only delay that happens (Aside from full power shooting, of course)

The above setup shows how the single lamp was configured, and just the general pack and overall configuration. 

Broncolor Scoro on VLX -- Activate! :-)Broncolor Scoro is charged to full power and ready to fire!

All is going smoothly, still! Wow. I am really impressed. Like I said, I thought that something was going to explode - again, not because the PCB equipment has anything wrong with it. Far from it, in fact. But I simply felt like I had pulled the battery out of a Ferrari and replaced it with four AA's, and was about ready to shout "Golly gee willikers, I hope this works!" To my surprise and quite happily, it did charge and work fine!

The actual test was quite simple: I ran through all the power settings on the Broncolor Scoro, over the full 10 f-stop range, from 3200ws down to 3.2 ws, and measured the recycle using a stopwatch. 

Here is a table of the summarized results.

I think it speaks for itself -- the VLX is a pretty powerful little unit. You can shoot with pretty darn acceptable recycle times up until 400 watt seconds, which is plenty for most everything, except *completely* overpowering the sun. But, at the point of the agonizing recycle times, you've got a subject with no retinas, anyway. :P 

Up in the 5.5 - 6 (ish) power range, the VLX does the same for Scoro what the Scoro can pull from the wall's electricity, more or less, and that's nothing to scoff at. I'm quite pleased with this performance, and I will certainly be using the VLX on my shoots. It's not powerful enough to run both the 3200 and the 1600 power packs, so I'll probably be buying another if I need to go that route. 

For a full run through of all the power settings in video form, see below.

A few little gripes, however,

While the VLX is a pretty awesome addition to your lighting bag, there's a few things that I am not a huge fan of; I'm hoping that these will be fixed or changed in future VLX units.

1. Turning the lock wheel on the stand clamp is like impaling your fingers with a lot of spikes. The locking mechanism for the stand clamp is in a gear/cog sort of shape. It's rubbery, but it's not exactly soft, either. When you try to tighten the clamp on your stand, you have to maneuver your fingers in a really awkward position, which makes the clamp actually pretty painful to tighten well. The locking mechanism digs into your fingers and it's easy to get it pinched between the "cog" and the edge of the underside of the unit. Watch for pinching! I wish the VLX had a locking mechanism similar to that of an actual light stand, that I could tighten on the outside of the unit, instead of on the inside of everything.

2. The fan on the VLX is not exactly quiet (See the attached small video of me running through the power ranges on the Scoro). If you're on a small set, or for whatever reason it needs to be quiet, watch out. (You can hear an example on the video, approximately when I hit power level "8")

3. Because the clamp for the stand is rubbery, it won't damage your stand. However, this makes it prone to slippage, even if you've got the clamp tight. Especially when you're pulling/pushing on the top of the unit to plug your light units in, it will be annoying. Be careful you don't knock the unit off the stand. This could be alleviated with an extension cord. 

 

The Bottom Line........

 

All that said, the VLX is definitely a worthwhile consideration for any photographer who needs a lot of nice strobe power on the go at a really, really good price. Consistent with the rest of the Paul C. Buff product range, you're getting a pretty solid piece of equipment at a ridiculously nice price. I'm pretty nitpicky, but there wasn't a whole lot of problems to find with the VLX. I would definitely recommend one (or two!); it seems to play nice with lots of different brands of lighting equipment. If you can put up with the little gripes you'll find, it's a solid choice. If location work isn't all you do, or you can't/don't want to afford a dedicated strobe battery pack, the VLX is very, very handy. Vagabond Lithium Extreme gets a thumbs-up from me. 

 

(Stay tuned for a Part Two coming in the next couple of weeks, where I take the VLX out on location for some real-world shooting, and the images that follow!)

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) broncolor equipment lighting photography review scoro https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2014/9/review-paul-c-buffs-vlx-with-broncolor-scoro Fri, 12 Sep 2014 23:30:47 GMT
Sports Blog https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/10/sports-blog Sports photography can be a lot of fun, but my problem is that I do it so often it becomes a routine so I have to work really hard to keep my shots interesting. This blog, I tried something a little different, instead of just peak action moments...

 

I like the framing on this shot. For once, a blurry referee actually did something for the photo.

 

This isn't even action at all, but I like these kinds of shots. The ref is kind of neat in the background, too. I wish I'd had a better lens, as the focal length and the crop was pretty much maxed on this photo. 

 

This isn't even action, but it's still such a part of the game when the frontier "superheroes" show up to cheer on the team. A frontier graduate, Ethan, even managed to slip in. :)

 

But... peak action can still be fun. :) And I'm glad, too, because Tori may be a great friend, but she would have KILLED me if I didn't get that shot... :) 

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/10/sports-blog Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:24:19 GMT
Some portraits and Photoshop World Las Vegas https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/9/some-portraits-and-photoshop-world-las-vegas Here are just a few quick portraits from recently, with a little more 'artistic' flair than usual.

 

A silhouette of probably the largest (but kindest!) man I've ever seen in my life... 

 

This was a constant light setup, using Bowens (I believe) constant limelights. They illuminated the model nicely, and allowed many photographers to shoot at once.

 

 

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Here's a photo of my friend with his cool sunglasses. Pretty straightforward, but was trying to do something interesting with getting his whole face in a reflection without going cliche-window route. Natural light only

 

 

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This was another fun shot also lit by constant lighting. The lights had more work to do this time, so ISO was a little higher than you'd like to be for a portrait, but it still turned out quite nicely. I thought it was really interesting the way her "environment" concealed her face, and she was really able to play with the scene well.

 

 

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This was a photo lit with two strip softboxes attached to Bowens studio power packs. The lights had an incredible recycle time, and the softboxes were gridded. The eggcrate grids prevented spill on to the background and let it go to a very nice, pure black.

 

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) lighting photoshop portrait https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/9/some-portraits-and-photoshop-world-las-vegas Wed, 18 Sep 2013 02:01:02 GMT
A Small Sampling of Wedding Photography https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/8/a-small-sampling-of-wedding-photography I've been playing around with some actions recently. I'm not sure how I feel about them yet, but I can't deny that created some neat effects and certainly made editing easier!

Here are the main actioned photos, as well as what the action did (some of them are quite obvious!) Below is a sampling of some images from two separate weddings.

 

This was just a basic action that consisted of a color pop and some sharpening --I'm really satisfied with how this looks on flowers.

 

This is a lovely image of a bride hugging her mother -- the action here just made a black and white conversion and gave a mocha-tint to the picture for some interest. It's quick, but has to be in moderation because it's easy to do this to a lot of photos.

 

This was a "sunlight" effect with sharpening on the final image. This action is a really nice action because it is quick and can be batch-edited to a lot of pictures and makes general improvements very nicely.

This action was called "Whiter whites and Super Saturation" I like the effect on things like wedding photos of decorations. Looks bad on people. This action was another black and white conversion with a slightly different tint than the bride hugging her mother. I like the effect on detail shots. Again, have to be careful not to overuse. 

This action gave an overall "vintagey" feel as well as the feel of a film-effect. I wasn't sure how I liked this picture, because it started to feel "Instagram" but I think it's grown on me -- use sparingly.

 

A common trend -- actions work best on detail shots. This was a "no questions asked" B&W conversion action with no tint to it. I think that the straight black and white tones work best on this picture, and a brown or orange tint ruined the final effect. 

 

This was a vivid color pop +sharpening action. Looking back, the sharpening is too much and I'll have to rewrite the action for a little less strong on that part, but overall it does a nice job.

 

Overall, I'm still hung up on what I think of actions as a whole. I sometimes miss having the complete control over what I'm doing, but there's no denying how much time it saves. Hm! :-)

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) action photoshop wedding https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/8/a-small-sampling-of-wedding-photography Tue, 27 Aug 2013 17:59:09 GMT
A Great Studio Session with a 2014 Senior https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/8/a-great-studio-session-with-a-2014-senior Alec is a great personal friend of mine, and a blast to take pictures with! He's a real artsy dude himself -- he's really into music, and he's fantastic at it, too. He's apart of a band and I know they'll be a huge success someday.

He's got class and style! It was a blast to photograph him, and it's really the joy of any photographer to have such a character with true emotion and feeling step into the studio.

 

Images to come -- soon!

 

 

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a2molinephotography@gmail.com (A2M Photo) https://www.a2mphotography.com/blog/2013/8/a-great-studio-session-with-a-2014-senior Thu, 22 Aug 2013 04:51:16 GMT