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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Flash Power Pack Review

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, December 22, 2012

Flashes are incredibly convenient, but two issues have kept me from using them as much as I'd like; recycle time and battery life. Fortunately there's an inexpensive solution. It's the Flashgun Power Pack made by Pixel. What makes this power pack unique is that it uses standard AA batteries, the same as the flash itself. The pack holds eight batteries which along with the four already in my flash totals 12 batteries!

I ordered mine from FlashZebra.com and since it was just days before Christmas, I expected to see it well after the holiday. Nope, they shipped it Priority Mail right away which was a very pleasant surprise. It comes with the correct power cord (mine was for Canon), a case with a belt loop and a clever screw to attach it to the bottom of your camera using the tripod socket. 

My tests showed that my Canon 550EX on full power recycled nearly three times as quickly as it does normally. The additional batteries extend the time between battery changes considerably as well. There's just one thing to be careful of; the reduced recycle time can overheat your flash if you misuse it. Flash Zebra recommends no more than 15 consecutive flashes before allowing the flash to cool, which shouldn't be a problem at all. Just be aware of it or you'll melt your flash. The same is true of any external power pack.

I'm looking forward to using my flashes more!

Pixel Flashgun Power Pack

Bought from Flash Zebra


Available for most Nikon, Canon and Sony flashes

Soft Light With No Modifiers

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 06, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Pat McGlinchey

Look around, you could be bouncing off the wall

For this image, the first thought would be to set up a couple of soft-boxes. A couple of soft-boxes would do the job just fine, but in this case there were two considerations; there were light colored walls on both sides of the subject close enough to act as giant reflectors, and there really wasn't enough room to set up large soft-boxes anyway. The solution was to bounce the light off the walls. 

Here's the setup:

We set a strobe with a 12" parabolic reflector to bounce off the right wall and used a second strobe with a snoot to bounce off the left wall for fill light. For this shot, we wanted a ratio of about 3:1 between the main light and the fill light. Putting the fill light farther away from the wall makes the light less bright by the time it gets to the subject. To get the ratio, we first metered the main light, then adjusted the fill light to be about 1-1/2 f-stops less. That can be accomplished by either changing the power on the fill light or moving it. The snoot only serves to keep that light off the subject and the ceiling. 

You may ask "why didn't you just use another 12" parabolic reflector on the left at less power"? Good question. We found that it made the light a bit too soft because both sides were bouncing off the ceiling a bit making the light  a little flat. It was easier to just direct the light with a snoot. Another way to do it would be to block the fill light from hitting the ceiling with a piece of cinefoil, a barn door or anything else that can block light. There's no right or wrong, it's just two different ways to get the same result. The truth is the snoot was right there and something to use to flag the light off the ceiling would have required a walk to the storage room, so the snoot was the obvious choice. One thing that is not shown in the illustration below is that the actual shot was taken from a ladder.

This same look can be created using any kind of lights, clamp-on work lights, flashes or strobes. Also, consider using some large pieces of white foam board if walls aren't available. There's always a way.

Equipment used:

  • Norman 800ws Power Pack
  • 2 Norman strobe heads
  • 1 12" Parabolic reflector
  • 1 Snoot
  • Canon 5D
  • 8' ladder
Links to these pieces of equipment can be found on the Resources page

A 3-Flash Setup for a Girl and Her Motorcycle

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Tiphani Taylor. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

A fun environmental portrait of a motorcyclist

For this project we wanted to show the motorcyclist and her motorcycle in an urban setting that is consistent with her image. We were lucky to not only find a nice alley to photograph in, but we also found some perfect graffiti! The lighting is very straight-forward; A main light to light the model, a light behind the model with a blue gel to light the wall on the right and a third light to light the motorcycle. The lights weren't anything fancy, regular flashes work just fine.

Step One:

The first step was to find a base exposure for the background; dark, but not too dark. A little experimentation showed that 1/6 second at f-5.6 looked perfect.

Step Two:

Light the model. We placed the light for a simple butterfly lighting pattern and set the flash to half power and using a flash meter determined that the correct f-stop at half power was f-4. If you don't have a flash meter, you can do a test shot and adjust your exposure up or down until it's correct. The f-stop was already set at f-5.6, but the aperture doesn't affect the ambient light when you are using flash, so the easy thing to do was to simply open up the aperture to f-4 instead of increasing the power of the flash to full power. Using the flash on full power would make for longer recycle times and shorter battery life, so changing the aperture one stop was the best choice.

Step Three:

Next we lit the wall on the right with a flash and a blue gel to go with her blue hair. We started at half power of the flash and adjusted it to light up the wall just right by doing test shots and adjusting the power accordingly. In this case it was 1/4 power to get the right look.

Step Four:

Finally, we lit the motorcycle. The process was the same as lighting the wall; we set up the light at half power and adjusted the flash power by doing test shots until the motorcycle was lit the way we wanted. In this case, the power was set to 1/16 power. We also attached a card to the side of the flash with a rubber band to block the light from spilling over onto our model.

Here's the setup:

By lighting each part of the scene with its own flash, it was easy to adjust each of the parts separately to make refinements to the overall look of the photograph.


You may be wondering...

Q: If the shutter speed was 1/6 second, why isn't the model, motorcycle and wall blurry?

A: Since it was pretty dark, there wasn't enough light to show the model and motorcycle, even at 1/6 power. The flashes were the only significant light source for the model, motorcycle and wall. Since the duration of the flash is a tiny fraction of a second, everything lit by the flash is frozen no matter what the shutter speed is (within reason).

Q: Why wasn't a modifier used on the main light, like a soft-box or umbrella? 

A: Direct light worked well for the edgy, urban look we wanted. Also, most modifiers tend to spill light on the rest of the scene which may have interfered with the dark look we wanted.

Q: Why did you choose a butterfly light pattern?

A: The butterfly light pattern has a flat light pattern that obscures texture. It works well with skin, especially if no modifier is being used to soften the light. You can read more about the basic lighting patterns (including the butterfly pattern) on this blog.

Equipment used:

  • Two Canon 580EX flashes
  • One Norman 200B flash
  • Pocket Wizard radio triggers
  • Various light stands
  • Bricks found in the alley to weight the stands
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35L lens (image was shot at 35mm)
Links to all the equipment listed can be found here.

Doing this kind of environmental portrait is easy, fun and doesn't require a lot of equipment. If you don't have three flashes, team up with your friends and share!

Look Around – More Options may be Right Behind You

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Ninell Taveras. Location: The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art

It’s easy to get many different looks without moving very far.

Being able to get several different looks in the same area reduces your workload and helps keep the shoot moving so your model stays fresh and in the case of an outdoor shoot, keeps his or her hair and makeup looking good. In this example, all the images were photographed within about a 15 foot radius with a simple fill-flash. The whole thing took very little time.

It’s easy to focus on the area you intend to shoot and miss other nearby opportunities. Arrive early so you can take a look around by yourself without distractions. Chances are you’ll find a lot of options. That way, when people arrive you’ll have a plan. Having a plan reduces stress and makes you look professional.

The Easy Way to use Fill Flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, August 02, 2012

Most photographers shy away from using fill flash because it seems complicated. Use this two-step process to easily get great results every time.

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Kimberly Ridgeway. Photo Editor: Jessie Adler. Photographer’s Assistant: Patricia McGlinchey. 

The Problem

The subject is in the shadows, so if you make the subject look good, the background will be too light or completely white. If you make the background look good the subject will be too dark. You want both the background and the subject to look good.


The Solution Step One

Start by getting a good overall exposure of the scene. Use Manual Mode on your camera and set the shutter speed to 1/125 second or less. Don’t worry about how your subject looks, just get the background looking the way you want it to by leaving the shutter speed at 1/125 second or less and change the aperture (f-stop) to adjust the exposure. 

The solution Step Two

All that’s needed to make this photograph look great is to add enough light on the subject to make her look good. If you have a light meter, this step is quicker, but for this example I’ll assume you don’t have a light meter with you.

Put your flash on a stand or have someone hold it. Put the flash on Manual Mode and set the Power to 1/2. Take a test shot and see if the subject is too light or too dark. In this example, the subject was too dark. Adjust the aperture up or down. Since this example the subject was too dark, the aperture was opened up a couple of stops. You can also adjust the power of the flash to make the subject lighter or darker, or move the flash closer or farther away.


What if my aperture is open all the way and the subject is still too dark?

If you can’t or don’t want to open the aperture any more, increase the power on the flash.

What if my aperture is open all the way and my flash is on full power and the subject is still too dark?

Move the flash closer to the subject take a test shot, adjust the distance until the subject looks good.

What if the subject is still too dark?

Increase the ISO on your camera or add another flash or a more powerful flash.

Why it Works

The flash will lighten up the subject, but since the background is pretty far away, the flash won’t reach it. A regular flash only reaches about 10-20 feet, usually closer to 10. Remember, the shutter speed must be slower than the sync speed of your camera. 1/125 second or less is safe. Read your camera’s instructions or experiment to see if you can go higher. The shutter speed controls the exposure of the background and the aperture controls the exposure of the subject. The flash power and distance can also be used to control the exposure of the subject.

The Setup:

Equipment Used:

Canon 5D camera body

Canon 70-200 lens

Two Pocket Wizard Plus IIs, one on the camera and one on the flash

A Canon 550EX flash held by an assistant

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, April 16, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Emma the Mannequin at Studio 3

You've heard the saying that the camera adds ten pounds. What if you could take off ten pounds by just changing your lighting?

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting, also known as Wide Lighting and Short Lighting is a technique you can use to control how wide the subject looks to the viewer. In the example above, both photographs are of the same subject, but one appears considerably narrower than the other even though both are the same size. It's an optical illusion and it's easy to take advantage of.

Here's how it works:

It's all about which side of the subject the light is coming from, specifically which side of the nose is lit. If the side of the nose that is closer to the camera is lit, the subject appears wider. If the side of the nose closest to the camera is in shadow, the subject appears narrower. Another way of describing it would be if the light side of the nose faces that camera, the subject appears wider. If the light side of the nose faces away from the camera, the subject appears narrower.

It's easy.

Stopping motion and showing motion at the same time

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Subject: Abby from Hula Monsters.

Here's an example of using a slow shutter speed to show motion and control the level of ambient light along with using a flash to stop motion. First, here's the setup: This image was photographed at an event with very little ambient light. The hula-hoop has lights in it. I held the flash in my left hand and the camera in my right hand to get the flash off the camera for a better angle of light.

The specs:

1/10 second
1600 ISO

The process:

First I chose an aperture of f-5.6. I started with f-5.6 because it's a fairly large aperture setting, but still gives me a couple f-stops larger if I need it. Next, I experimented with shutter speeds until I got the background the way I wanted it to look. Not looking at the subject yet, just the background. I also knew from experience that such a slow shutter speed would cause a nice motion blur on the hula-hoop with lights in it. The next steps are to light the subject: I set the flash to one-quarter power and took a shot just to see what it would look like. In this case it was too light. To put less light to the subject I had two choices; decrease the power of the flash or use a smaller f-stop. Since changing the f-stop was easier, I settled on f-9 for the perfect exposure. Remember, the shutter speed controls the ambient light and the f-stop or power setting on the flash control the exposure of the subject.

Why this worked

Here's a breakdown of what caused this image to look like this:
The high ISO setting was necessary because it was really dark in the place
The slow shutter speed allowed the background to show just a little bit
The slow shutter speed also allowed a blur on the hula-hoop
The flash was entirely responsible for lighting the subject
Since the flash duration is so short, and it's the only thing exposing the subject, it stops the motion of the subject. The ambient light wasn't enough to show the subject at all.
So, why the blur on the hula hoop? The hula-hoop was lit a lot more than the background, but a lot less than the subject so it registered as a blur to the sensor in the camera. This was mostly good luck.
Good luck + skill = good results
The key to it all
Practice and experimentation is the only easy way to really understand how your equipment works. Go and have fun. Experiment! No one needs to see your experimental shots, but doing them is the only way to get good results when you want to.

One flash, One Small Umbrella

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: JoAnn Jensen

You can get good results with just one flash. In this example, the only light was a single flash and a small shoot-through umbrella. The white walls act as big reflectors to soften the light. The disadvantages to using small flashes are power and recycle time. The advantage is that it's a LOT less money. For this image, the stairway was very dimly lit and the flash was set to half power which allowed an aperture of f-8 at 200 ISO. Not bad. 

Here's the setup:

Equipment: Canon 550EX flash, 24" shoot-hrough umbrella, stand, radio trigger.

Highlights of the Chiaroscuro Workshop in St. Petersburg

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 09, 2011

No Studio? No Problem!

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Ninell

If you don't have a studio and a lot of equipment, you can still get great images! Here's an example of a model photographer in a parking garage with just one light. The setup is simple; one flash with a small Photoflex Octo-Box. That's it. To make the background black, just make sure anything in the background is far enough away to not be lit by the flash. In this case, it only took about 12 feet to make the back wall go black, and this was shot in the middle of the day.

Here's the setup:

You can do a lot with a little! Try it out and see for yourself.