Make Do

I’ve not had access to a proper studio since I left TAFE (college) where I abused, I mean used the excellent facilities. Now working from home I have to make do with whatever is around the house and a few well-chosen bits of photo kit. In the above pic I’m doing a product shot of back pack in the sitting room. I don’t have a white infinity curve on a product table so I use a small Ikea coffee table covered in a white shower curtain and a white double sheet as the background. I want the backpack on a white fore ground and against a white background. Experience has taught me that if a light the background with a flash gun (speed light to our American readers) and over expose by 1 stop it will show as pure white. The subject is lit by two flash guns in brolly boxes arranged at 45º to each other. The camera sits on a tripod and the flashes are triggered wirelessly using a Phottix Odin transmitter. Unlike a lot of photographers I shoot using TTL control and use flash exposure compensation on each flash to control the lighting ratio which in this case is 2:1 or the key light (the black brolly) is set to be twice as powerful as the fill light. All very simple really.

Grand Master Flash

Paul Amyes
The new mug shot of yours truly. Olympus EM-10 with Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens. Exposure 1/200 sec, f3.2 at ISO 200.


The “Strobist” phenomena burst onto the photographic scene some ten years ago and thanks to the efforts of David Hobby and the timely release of reliable affordable radio controlled flash triggers a whole movement was born. What was exciting was that Hobby advocated a lean and mean approach to lighting using affordable and portable speedlites. In an era of auto everything Hobby also broke the mould by showing people how easy it was to use manual flash. Joe McNally shooting Nikon and Syl Arena using Canon quickly jumped on the band waggon extolling the virtues of off camera flash using the TTL systems of Canikon.

The other day I had the sudden realisation that I would need a new photo for the promotion of current exhibition as the one I had been using was out of date – I have considerably more hair on my head and less hair on my chin now. My preferred photographer is Liv Stockley but she is currently somewhere in Africa and unavailable for the job. So I would have to shoot this myself aided by my partner Helen. Using the Olympus OMD EM10 with the fantastic Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 was a no brainer – bags of resolution, fantastic image quality and it allowed Helen to take the shot by controlling the camera via wi-fi using an iPad. Lighting was the conundrum. It would have to be flash, but how to control it? I wanted the key light in a big brolly box, but this would mean I would lose the TTL flash capability as Olympus use a line of sight light transmission system for their wireless flash. Once the slave flash is enveloped by a large light modifier it can’t pick up the signal from the master, so I would have to use a radio trigger. There are no reliable easily available radio controlled TTL triggers for the m4/3 system so it would have to be manual all the way and the excellent Hahnel Captur fit the bill perfectly. They are available from good camera stores, I got mine from Digital Camera Warehouse, and they have a good warranty. Why take a punt with cheap no name “poverty wizards” from dodgy Chinese Ebay sellers when you can get an excellent product locally? So that’s the triggering taken care of. To work out the exposure I used my trusty Minolta Auto Meter Ⅴ F. Sadly no longer made by Minolta as Sony took them over and canned the flash meter product line, but it is now made by Kenko. Yes it is old school and some may argue that in the digital era not needed, but I like working this way. In this scenario there is no need for TTL flash as the lighting and subject to camera distance remain constant.

Grand Master Flash
An Olympus OMD EM1 with the Hahnel Captur flash trigger in the hotshoe, and a Metz 64 AF-1 with the Hahnel Captur receiver. Canon EOS6d with Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX macro, Canon 430 and 550 EX Speedlites. Exposure: 1/180 sec, f8 at ISO 400.


Equipment sorted the styling of the photo was the next consideration. The portrait would be a classic head and shoulders, but I wanted something clean and contemporary. Initially I thought about using the classic Rembrandt lighting style. It’s the studio portraitist’s bread and butter lighting, but it is a little bit staid. So I decided to go with broad lighting. One Metz Mecablitz 64AF-1 Flash in a brolly box was the key and a large reflector provided the fill. To provide a bit of separation from the background a Metz 44 AF-1 (now superseded by the 44 AF-2) fitted with a Hohnl Speed Grid. Simple and effective.

Basic lighting set for broad lighting using one key light, a reflector as fill and a guided background light.
Basic lighting diagram for broad lighting using one key light, a reflector as fill and a gridded background light.

So while the “Strobist” phenomena has largely gone out of fashion, the principles and skills are very useful and every photographer should have some grasp of the basics.

Pure Magic

Self portrait of my good self reading Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows

A few days ago I got an email newsletter from an online book retailer that I use and the thing that caught my eye was a photo competition for a new camera. Now I need a new camera like I need a hole in the head, it was the brief that captured my imagination and that was to produce a self-portrait while reading your favourite book in a favourite location. The above photo was my entry.

Now a little while ago I wrote a blog entry about becoming a retrogrouch using older film cameras again and enjoying the stripped back experience. Well this shot was all about technology.I used a Canon EOS5d, with a Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. The camera was tethered to my MacBook and I was shooting to Adobe Lightroom. The lighting was to provide the real story here and a Canon 550EX with CTO fired into the book and bouncing back to my face was the key light. I wanted it to look like a warm magic light pouring out of the Harry Potter book. A Canon 430EX with blue filter bounced off the opposite wall at – 2 stops provided the fill light. The on camera WB was set for tungsten as I wanted this to provide a cold foreboding atmosphere. The camera was triggered by a wireless controller so I did not have to keep getting up and I was able to watch the images on my screen and this enabled me to play around with my positioning and facial expressions. Once I was happy I then processed the RAW file in Lightroom and then exported to Photoshop where I used AlienSkin’s Exposure to enhance the look and then added the stars and lightning bolts. It all sounds very complicated but in a little over an hour I had shot the image, processed it and uploaded to the competition site on Flickr. I took up photography in the early 1980’s with an old Praktika SLR and would have regarded all the above as magic … pure magic.