Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Technique Tuesday: A Fugal Man's Approach To Off-Camera Flash

Good Morning Everybody,
We are heading to the airport bright and early this morning, landing in New Orleans, and then diving to Baton Rouge - City #24 of my Digital WakeUp Call tour where we plan to visit about 150 enthusiastic attendees. I know I have a few old friends coming by so we are looking forward to this stop.

Today I've got a special treat at DPT. As you know, I give a mention to my buddy and Ace Assistant Nicholas Viltrakis now and then. I also check his blog every Monday morning just to see what he's up to lately.

Nicholas has been with me for several years now coming over from the corporate life to try to carve out a career in photography. He brings a level of enthusiasm, ability, superior people skills and professional demeanor that will serve him well in his photographic endeavors.

Mr. V is getting quite good with his off-camera flash technique. Heck, he practices every weekend - just follow his blog [link] to see what he's up to. Anyway, After seeing some recent posts, I asked Nicholas to do a guest blog post for me. He has happily obliged offering a thoroughly written and illustrated post showing how to get your light looking good on a shoe string budget. I think you will enjoy it.

Hit the "Read More..." link below for the rest of the story.

Here is Nicholas' article. He has footnoted 7 related links, so don't miss them either - happy and fun reading.

A Fugal Man's Approach To Off-Camera Flash
I know on Digital Pro Talk you hear a lot about the fabulous off camera lighting that David created for his clients. “Yea sure,” you’re probably thinking, “that’s great if you have all that money for a Quantum flash and an assistant! There’s no way I can do anything like that on my budget.” Don’t be so sure! The principles you can learn from using the expensive toys can translate to the less expensive toys with a few modifications. You just have to work smarter!

For those of you that already have the big fun stuff and think there’s nothing for you in this article by Ace Assistant Nicholas Viltrakis [1](A.K.A. The Death Bag Toter) now is your turn to think again! Read further to see how any level of photographer can travel light, fast, and cheap while still creating amazing images for your clients.

OK, OK, so I do have all the fun equipment that David talks about. I have the Quantum Q pack [2], I have the 4i Freewire radio units [3], but I don’t always want to lug that stuff around! If you are just going out for fun with some friends who want portraits or a client who wants some images in a hard to reach place it’s tough some times. My solution is pretty simple.

Stands, lights, transmitters! That’s all. Now I have developed this technique for my beloved Canon equipment, but you can do the same thing for your choice brand of camera.

#1. You need stands, man (or woman)! As you can see in my photo my stands are pretty cheap (one of them is broken, too). You don’t need expensive assistants and gear, you just need something that will get the job done. I have even duct taped my flashes to a tree branch for the same effect. The important part is that you need to put your lights where you want them for optimum effect!

#2. Let there be lights! I use two 580EXII flashes. Why? I had a 580EX and then I bought more. They are quality and I can adjust them independently in Manual mode. They have a master slave mode, but I have found that mode is not always reliable. I keep everything in manual (M). The important part here… have flashes you know how to work and you can adjust. You are going to want to control them for your specific situations.

#3. Are you receiving the transmission? Pocket wizards are the hot item right now, and they are great, but my wife just “got downsized [4],” so I need a cheap alternative. Cheapest I could find pocket wizards on eBay was $250 for 1 set. My solution to you? YongNuo Wireless Remote Shutter Trigger for Canon [5]… get this… $19!!!! Woo!

That’s right! I have bought 3 sets and here’s the best part! Due to the nature of the cheap animal, all the transmitters and receivers work on the same frequency! So I have bought three of these and the first transmitter fires all three of the receivers! Just what we want! A three light wireless trigger setup for $60.

That is all! Now set up your lights and shoot like a professional!

Use a diffuser on your key light if you want or make it harsh and edgy its up to you.
Take a traditional portrait with loop lighting and a rim light to separate your subject from the background…

Or go nuts and make a harsh light portrait that defies convention!

Or use the extra lights to make your background really spectacular!

It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cost effective. There are some down sides, though. For one, you are never going to get the recycle time you could with a Quantum flash or any other flash with a dedicated battery.

If you are a spur of the moment rapid-fire shooter this setup will not be for you. Stands don’t move as quickly or intuitively as a human assistant either. Also, Canon’s sync speed for other brands of flash transmitter is 250th of a second. In the case of my triggers it’s more like 200th and that means if you are shooting at 200th of a second at ISO 100 and it’s still too light, you’re going to have to use a higher F-stop. If you want to shoot all your portraits at F-4 that might be tricky.

Finally, the receivers for my setup [6] are not built well! Quality is inversely proportional to cost. And as a result I’ve had to purchase tiny nuts and bolts to reinforce the connections on the YongNyu receivers so they don’t break and my 580s go tumbling to the pavement. But, hey, they’re $20! It’s a give and take. Really, other than that, this setup is fantastic! My clients are continually amazed and overjoyed at the results I have produced.

It just goes to show you that the methods and philosophy you learn here at Digital Pro Talk are really the important part! How you do it is up to you. As we all know technology changes so quickly. There are probably 100,000 ways to take a great portrait. The goal is to do it with a balance of quality, cost, functionality, ease, versatility, and with a classy presentation (remember we are creating value for our artistry here)!

Well that’s all folks, Ace Assistant Nicholas Viltrakis out! To see what I am up to on a weekly basis check out http://nicholasviltrakis.blogspot.com/ [7]

Happy Shooting! - Nicholas

Related Links:
http://nicholasviltrakis.blogspot.com/2009/02/022209-will-teach-for-food.html 5.http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.13089
6. http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.13089
7. http://NicholasViltrakis.blogspot.com

Hey Nicholas, Hi Fives for the post - thanks a bunch!

Hey gang, that's it for me today. We have planes to catch, people to see, and seminars to give;~) See ya' tonight in Baton Rouge.



  1. Steve@McIntosh1:48 PM, May 26, 2009

    Way to get the job done Mr. Nick. Now I have to follow your blog too.

  2. Nice post Dave, but you left out a section under #3!
    I'll email you about it.

  3. These are sweet remotes. I have 3 recievers myself, named Phottix (same "shit", just different wrapping)
    Cheap and nice. Good range, and these can be modified with ease to increase the range.

  4. I went to a recent Digital Wakeup Call seminar, and it was great, but I forgot to ask about DigitalProTalkPlus.com. I see it mentioned in the Wakeup call site, but I don't know what it is about and can't find any info. Anyone know anything about it? Sorry to be somewhat off topic.

  5. Nice post - thanks :-)

    But don't you mean "fRugal"?

  6. Wow, great! I've wanted to get a wireless transmitter, but they always seemed waaay too expensive. I can afford $20+S&H easily! Thanks for the find!

  7. Thanks for the article. I 'do' cheap triggers as well. To have the same power effect on your Quantum, I may need to wire up 2 flashes, each at 1/8 power, and at 1/4 power at max, to get fast enough recycle time. It's a relatively heavy setup. However, when the light condition allowed, I use mostly one flash. It's a more versatile when I have 5 flash units to shoot with. The post today illustrates this flexibility. Best regards.