“NO” versus “YES” – Which Got The Most Response?


On the previous post I mentioned, almost in passing, how negative articles and stories are more highly engaged than are positive ones.

A few minutes later, this catches my attention:

Just Say NO

“So, one answer to my student’s rhetorical question is “Just say NO.” As in, no, I will not make your donut commercial for free; no, I will not play at your restaurant “for the exposure;” no, you cannot have my painting to hang in your home because your “important” friends will see it; no, I will not paint your set “for the experience.”  What I will do is accept a slightly below market wage because I’m still in school and you’ll get what you pay for; yes, I will play at your restaurant for one night if you provide dinner for my family of six beforehand; yes, I will loan my painting to you for a fixed period of time if I am invited to the cocktail party to meet your important friends; yes, I will paint your set with you so that you can train me on a specialized technique with which I am unfamiliar.  Or, yes! I will gift my talents to you with generosity and an open heart because I love you, your cause, or your work. But no, I will not make your donut commercial for free.  [In a follow-up post, I discuss saying "YES!"]“

It received over 114 responses before the comments were closed.

The following week, the author wrote “Saying YES”.

“Just – or even more – important than knowing when to say “no,” is knowing when and how to say “yes.”  Giving builds community; giving builds friendships; giving builds social capital (although one need not think of it in those terms); giving lifts the spirit of both the giver and receiver.  We may give of our time, we may give of our money, we may give of our things, we may give of our talent.  Related to giving is sharing – we may share knowledge, share food, share an experience (good or bad), without any exchange of material goods.”

It received three comments.

Negativity is the common thread of all failed anythings. The author has it right on both of these articles. Absolutely right… and yet the negative by far has more engagement.


WTF? You think I am some sort of sociologist or somethin’? I have no data, only my life long experience of finding that negative people are more persuasive and impassioned than they should be.

It is almost as if people go LOOKING for negative things to use as some sort of blame shifting mechanism.

After all, if you aren’t successful it is probably because of ‘those people’… you know who I mean… the others that steal dreams and force us to constantly make bad decisions and sit on our fat asses whining.

Yeah… them.

On Change Changing What was Changed…

… or something.

My friend Jan Klier (NYC) and I were discussing the recent Getty move to grant access to millions of images for only a byline. He feels it is a good move for photographers, and while I am still somewhat ambivalent we both agree that the worst thing is the overall message that photographs are not worth much anymore.

We also agree that message will fade as photographs are becoming more and more valuable all the time.

No, I am not talking about wedding photographs or baby shots, brochure covers or even ad shots for the newest wizbang gadget.

I mean as a value to our lives. The communication and interaction they facilitate. The shared experiences and cultural manifestations of images are not to be ignored.

From Jan’s post this morning:

“Photographers lack that scale in their marketing. How many portfolio reviews have you been on in the last year? How many people have seen your entire book and seen the majority of your photos? How many people’s opinions have you gotten about your work? Is it a statistically significant number? Doubtfully. Yet, how many people have seen some of your images in some form or another without you knowing about it? How much better could your business be if you could reliably create and market your next photo with the accuracy of an Amazon recommendation?

So while Getty’s latest move may not yet be the photographer’s meta data solution, it’s a move in that direction. Paul Melcher has been involved in Stiple, another smaller endeavor in the same vein.”

From my half of the email exchange this morning:

Change is hard. Change is always harder when multiple models change at the same time. The traditional ‘dollars for hours’ model of the service sector is being tossed on its head. The traditional ‘licensing’ for use’ model is being challenged and in many cases eviscerated.

When we take today’s market and look at it from today’s perspective (rather than one of 20 years ago) we can clearly see that if we began this industry now, we would be using a far different set of tools to create the values we want to maintain. We would not be looking at day-rates, licensing, and controlling access, we would be looking at reach, engagement and open access.

Business models that made no sense 20 years ago, and will make a lot of sense 20 years from now. Or something else entirely, change is indeed constant.

Simply said, the old models don’t work smoothly in today’s environment. It will not get smoother.

And yet that failed model of trying to shoehorn an unworkable model into a clearly bad fit is what so many spend their time and efforts on.

The old model of the business of photography is breathing its last breath. Mediocre photographers who got by in years past are today’s roadkill. Big time shooters are finding other models to follow (McNally the celebrity, Heisler the sage etc…) and this is the natural progression of disruption, be it good or bad not withstanding.

The new model of photography is also quite difficult to see at the moment. It is still in flux, and in fact may never again ‘gel’ into a single, describable entity. It may remain ethereal and erratic, shifting forever without a clear and discernible set of parameters.

Quickly changing cultural beliefs and communication standards will be entering and weaving for quite a few more years… and the pace will most likely not subside (barring a catastrophic failure of society, which may not be out of the question these days).

The fear that photographers have over losing what they had is misplaced. It is already gone. Looking back and wishing it were not so is of no value, and it will avail nothing but more distraction and pain and time lost from moving ahead.

Looking forward may indeed be painful, but it will at least be a start toward understanding the changing nature of photography, how photography is perceived and used, of what value is photography to the culture and how one who creates imagery fits in.

This of course requires more effort, so we will continue to bitch and whine, which of course provides nothing of value, but is far easier to do.

Notice the amazing hit counts on the ‘oh poor woe is us’ posts at Petapixel, VSL, f-stoppers and such. Doom and gloom are still the big attractions for the human race. Early newspaper owners knew it. Media organizations know it. Nothing different in the photography realm.

But we are all aware of those that ignored the doom and gloom fascination of the day to move into a more prosperous tomorrow. Instead of wringing hands and enjoying each other’s suffering, they went out and did… something else. A choice we all have an opportunity to make every single morning we open our eyes.

Today I am trying to figure out how to incorporate Snapchat into my business… not sure I have a breakthrough yet, but I believe there is a way.

Chocolate: Two Shots

Photographer David Price shows us two ways to light chocolate.

In the first shot, he is using a very large light source. The source is above and behind the chocolate, and that masks the individual color of the items. This is because the specular – the reflected light source – is white, and that is what we see predominantly.


You can see the set up here:


In the second shot, David moved his light to the side of the chocolate. This provides a specular highlight on the side of the chocolate, but allows the colors of the chocolate to be seen as they are now the “true value” of the chocolate.


This is the setup.


There is no right or wrong decision when working with the specular effects on subjects, there is only your choice as regards to the style of the work you are completing.

Thanks, David.

David Price Photography,

“Too Expensive” or ‘Not Worth It” – There is a Difference


From Seth this morning:

“Culturally, we create boundaries for what something is worth. A pomegranate juice on the streets of Istanbul costs a dollar, and it’s delicious. The same juice in New York would be seen as a bargain for five times as much money. Clearly, we’re not discussing the ability to pay nor are we considering the absolute value of a glass of juice. No, it’s about our expectation of what people like us pay for something like that.”

And that is the problem – and the solution.

If people are complaining that your photography prices are “too expensive” they may be telling you loud and clear that what you are offering is not ‘worth it’ to them.

That your work is “too expensive” gives absolutely no actionable response. We don’t know what that means. Whether they are low on money or are comparing your pricing to their brother-in-law’s new portrait hobby.

But if they say “your work is not worth – to us – what you are asking for it” then we have something to go on. We can ask why they do not value it more. We can look into creating a value that surrounds the imagery by creating a better story about it. The story is the thing that makes it different.

Things that are ‘worth it’ are usually accompanied by stories that create the value. Without a good, compelling story, it is just a photograph… and that may not be worth it to anyone.

What’s your story?

Cool Shot, March 19, 2014


Photographer Andras Deme.

Assignment shot for Project 52 PROS: “Time Travel”.

Andras used collage techniques to show the same woman in antique garments and a future wardrobe. The image was shot in London.

Are Photographers “Lonely”?

Do we think that by having a great twitter feed and a bunch of cool likes on 500pixies or GPus is the same as having buds? Friends?

People to hang out with – and NOT at a keyboard while in our underwear… real interactions.

I can say unequivocally that the difference that being connected 24/7 has made in the photography business (BEYOND the cameras) is profound.

My studio in Phoenix was always the center of a lot of social activities. Models, MUA’s, stylists, photographers, people in the arts… they would drop by, especially on Saturdays. Just to chat. Just to hang out.

It was a really fun time.

Now… not so much. The studio is there, but the people are hooked to their devices, their networks… and the effort it takes to go ‘somewhere’ is not worth it because when they get there, everyone would be on their devices anyway.



Oh Yeah, We’ve Seen That Before…


Iconic images.

You know them. The ones everyone has seen.

Mather Point at the Grand Canyon.
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.
Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado.

The bridge over the Virgin River in Zion is one of those iconic photographs as well.

A shot most everyone takes after finding a place to park. Some folks hike more than a mile to get on the bridge for this shot of sunset in the summer. A Google Image Search turns up dozens of this scene (and quite a few of the footbridge at another location). All are similarly taken from the same bridge, but all of them have nuances both large and small that change the image in seemingly magical ways.

When we are confronted by these iconic images, right there in front of us, there is a tendency to compare and contrast with all those we have seen before. The ones on bright spring afternoons, or with dark and foreboding winter skies. And all of the weather/time spectrum between.

Photographers gathering on the bridge over the Virgin River at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Some times of the year find this bridge nearly impassable for the tripods and photographers!

Photographers gathering on the bridge over the Virgin River at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Some times of the year find this bridge nearly impassable for the tripods and photographers!

I always wonder if I should take the shot or simply pass with the knowledge that someone else “got it”?

I nearly always take the shot. I don’t know why, really, other than it is my record of being there. My version of what it looked like that late afternoon with the wispy clouds, and warm light. Mine.

Perhaps it is because I make photographs for myself. I am not looking to ‘please’ others, nor am I young enough to think that everything I do is unique and ‘cool’. It isn’t. Probably never was.

But those images are ones I like, and they add visuals to the memory of some wonderful new friends, an excellent experience, and for the brief moment that the image was all mine.

While I may never set the world on fire, I can kindle up a few sparks of my own… and that is one of the things that I love so much about photography.

A Conversation with Matt Dutile, Travel and Portrait Photographer


Free and open to the public.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 6PM PST.

Registration at this link. Please do not register if you cannot make the show. We have limited availability.

From Matt:

“Hi, I’m Matt Dutile. I’m a professional travel and portrait photographer living in New York City. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the globe creating images for a variety of great magazines, agencies and companies. You can find some of those images from a recent excursion through Asia as examples of my style on this page.

I have a personal connection with traditional cultures around the world, and am particularly passionate about Asian traditions and cultures. How these individuals and societies survive and thrive under extremely difficult conditions is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.”

Matt Dutile’s Website.

Lighting Essentials is Now a Blog

Just a short note of change here. The magazine style site is now switched to a blog page. More and shorter posts.

Occasional long format posts. Back to the Essentials of Lighting Essentials.


Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Yeah, it seems strange to write an article on why in particular I really love my Nikon Df. Why would anyone give a shit what someone else likes as far as a camera?

And yet, they do. And I kinda get that on some level.

I have heard this camera derided as being too “retro” by people who like the Fuji X-100… yeah. OK. (I love the Fuji as well, but this is not about the Fuji… so I am digressing.) I have read the litany of complaints from those who list no video, dials, slow to operate… blah blah. Yeah, them ‘grampacams’ are like that.

So let’s start out with what I do not care about. If you do care about all this stuff, then this is definitely NOT a review you want to read.

- High ISO (for me, shooting ends so there’s more time for drinkin’…) Shooting at 267,842 ISO means little to me.
- File size. Meh.
- Speed of the camera controls. Actually, I LIKE that they slow me down. More on that later.
- Ergonomics. Fits my hand just fine.
- Controls. Seem easy enough to me. I am fairly smart and can learn to twist a dial. Try it… not that hard actually.

So what do I care about?

- Image quality. Dayam this thing rocks.
- The size/weight of the kit. I already have a bigass kit of Canon DSLR’s in a huge roller bag. We good.
- The way the camera invokes a shot in my mind.

The way the camera itself invokes a shotand that is IT, man. THAT is what I love about this camera.

Some background… I have been a photographer since before dirt was completely made. I have been a photographer since the Kodachrome days. And being a photographer meant that we had different formats of cameras for different types of work.

In my line of work, a generalist with a specialty of people, that meant a lot of kits.

I have an 8×10 Deardorff, a 5×7 Linhoff, a 4×5 Toyo and 5 lenses for that group. I also had a full set of Mamiya RB67′s, a Hassy Superwide, and a bigass kit of Nikons with 4 bodies all motorized.

When a brief would come in, there would be choices to be made. Film, processing, location/studio?

But usually there would be the first inkling of the system choice. Was this to be a view camera shot, or was this a shoot that simply called for 35MM? Should we go MF with the Mamiyas, or could it be time to haul out the big Deardorff?

The images in my head were inexplicably tied to the camera I chose. The camera I chose was absolutely indicative of the images I would make.

Fast action fashion? 35MM probably.
Portraits of cowboys on location? Medium format… even view camera possibly. And the choice would dictate the kind of work that would be produced.
Food would usually mean the view cameras, and model work would usually mean the 35 system.

Personal projects were many times created with the format of the camera in mind – sometimes chosen first. Along with the film of choice.

I did a shoot of old mines in southern Colorado on 8×10 B&W, and the next week shot Navajo coal miners in color on the Mamiyas. A week on the road for Motorola shooting executives in out of the way places was a 35MM shoot, and following that we shot stills of the first cellphones on both view camera and medium format. I would even pre-visualize the final print, as well as the look of it from the choice of film and format as well.

Contact prints of the 8×10 negatives were stunning, and the prints coming off the Mamiya were amazing… and different.


Shooting with a view camera is slow, deliberate and exacting. Each exposure takes a considerable amount of time. Focus upside down and backwards on the ground glass – under a black cloth, tilt the lens board, shift the back, adjust and focus again, shut down the aperture, prepare the shutter, insert holder, pull dark slide, wait for camera to settle, make exposure, insert dark slide, remove holder… prepare to do it again. Slow. Deliberate.

And the work that was created was deliberate and exact. There was no ‘rushing’ when using a view camera. A tripod was absolute, as was the preparation before going out to shoot. One shot at a time. One shot.

Medium format was a bit faster. We had a roll of film and a winder tool to advance it to the next frame. But this camera had something else that was unique: We held that camera at waist level, looking down into it. I had viewfinders for eyelevel work, but honestly used them rarely. It was the configuration of the camera that was tactile to working with it that made it part of the choice.

I liked looking down into my SuperWide Hasselblad, and the Mamiyas. I had a stack finder (a vertical tube to look into that kept out the ambient light) but still looking down.

Working with the medium format cameras was also deliberate, although we could move quicker than with a 4×5, and occasionally shoot off-tripod, it was still more meticulous than the 35MM cameras. We had fewer lenses to work with, and yet that too was part of the creative attraction. The big, bulky medium format cameras harkened to me a particular kind of photograph. There was something that the tool brought to the making of the image that I simply cannot explain, other than to say it was real.

The 35MM’s were the most dynamic. Shooting from eye level on a wide assortment of lenses, the work tended to be looser, more fluid… like the tool in the hand of the photographer would allow. Because of the faster cameras, I would make images in bursts (not really easy to do with a 4×5) and from places with difficult access (not easy with the MF cameras). The 35′s were an extension of my eyes. The MF’s an extension of my brain.

The view camera was an extension of my heart.


I don’t know if I have explained it well enough for others, and really, not a big deal.

I loved that tactile /creative part of the process. Still do.

Sometime along 2000, it all went away.

The DSLR replaced it all. Food shooters, architectural shooters, fashion shooters, portrait and product shooters all began to use the DSLR for ALL of the work. And the work started to show it. There was something missing from my imagery that was – at the time – unexplainable to me. I did not see the loss of the formats as big of a deal as it invariably was. I have learned over the years that it was indeed a love lost quietly, in the stills of time.

I think it explains my Df attraction.


I love it precisely because it is NOT another big DSLR. It is slower to operate, with deliberate dials and knobs. That slows me down, and it makes me think differently about the image. Holding it feels different as well. It is the first DSLR (SLR) that I have been happy with without a grip. Seems to fit my hand well, and feel very good in the way it handles both at the eye and in the resting position.

I would not have purchased a Nikon (although I do love the D700/D800 and secretly have pined for a D3400 in Ferrari Red… ). It would not have been a move up, but simply another big DSLR that – for all their differences – is really not any different than what I already own.

But the Df feels different and that makes me think differently about the photographs I would use it for. The lenses I have for it are all old model AF so they are tiny in comparison to their bigger, newer siblings. I like that as well. A tiny bag (in comparison) with four lenses and I am out the door. No shoulder stress, and no bag on wheels to find a place for.

The slowness, the deliberateness of the camera means a slower, more deliberate approach to the images. Earlier this week I went out to shoot a project for a client. I knew that the Canons were the right choice. Tomorrow I am doing a set of environmental still life and the Df will be on my shoulder. This coming weekend is the Renaissance Fair with my daughter. Nikon V1 is the chosen tool… great images, fast and easy to carry.

I would like to have a Fuji X-100 as well, and a fixed lens 35MM equivalent rangefinder… more choices for different ways of shooting.

So now I find myself with a big DSLR Canon kit (6 lenses – 20MM – 200MM), a single Nikon Df kit (4 lenses – 28, 35, 50, 85) and a Nikon V1 with 24-200 35 equivalent zooms (2). Different strokes and different approaches.

Not the same as before, with all the widely differing variances of tools, physical sizes, film choices, processing choices and more that was such a big part of the mystique, but it will have to do and for the most part, it does rather nicely.

So there you have it. My big reason for the Nikon Df is that it makes me think differently about the images I want to create because it IS different.

Nothing to do with the ‘retro’ of it, or the cool dials, or the amount of megapixels, or the shutter speed or buffer or yaddayaddayadda…

Yeah… big deal, eh?

(Oh, I like the new Sony Quattro system as well. So sue me.)


“I Could’a Been A Contender”

“I Could’a Been A Contender”

The assignment was to illustrate the phrase: “I Could’a Been a Contender”. Taken from the Marlon Brando movie, “On the Waterfront”, the phrase has been used to mean a lot of similar feelings… not making the cut, not being good enough, or being held back.

The P52 Pros came through with some amazing work.

I want to share them with you here.

To see more work from the Project 52 Pro shooters, visit the site at www.project52pros.com.


Tomas Jansson used a large softbox to camera right, and a white fill card to camera left in this still life.


Rasmus Hald wanted a feeling of sadness and introspection. He used a 15 degree grid spot on the main overhead light, and a 30 degree grid on the face of his subject, dialed down well below the exposure of the hands. This gives the image a powerful, selective feeling of isolation.


Anders Eriksson kept the image very dark, and the mystery quite high. A single medium softbox was used on both half of the images which were then assembled in Photoshop.


David Price wanted a feeling of isolation and sadness, so he used the composition and lighting to achieve a feeling of despair.  A single medium softbox from camera left was skillfully blended with the ambient sunlight to present a very cohesive image.


Katherine Gooding used a single small modified flash to make this emotionally heavy image. A fill card to camera right kept a very small amount of detail in his hair on the shadow side, and the light on the rough sweater lets us feel the texture as well as witness the pose of surrender.


David Price also submitted this feeling of loss and despair. A single strobe with a reflector was used high on camera left. The sharpness of the unmodified reflector gives extra detail to the mountain of paperwork that has ‘temporarily we hope’ halted the progress of the subject.



Alicia Bonterre worked with a friend to make this haunting photograph in Trinidad. A single gridded light and intentional underexposure gave a gritty edginess to the image.



Filipe Martins entry also uses a pool of light to emphasize the loss and pain of not being able to cut it on something you love to do.


Adi Talwar used window light and carefully selected exposure. A lovely, moody portrait of his daughter.


Bob Knill’s entry shows the pain of loss with pools of light and shadows telling the story. The subject’s sense of loss is wonderfully played by his model.


A single gridded softbox from camera axis gives a punchy light to this portrait. Bret Reynoso chose the graphic lines of a strongly backlit window shade to be his canvas.


Irene Liebler’s neighbor is a motocross rider and familiar with the pain that riders meet when they lose. Irene used three softboxes to give this portrait emphasis. and the great edgework of the light adds dimension as well.


Julie Clegg chose a single very large softbox in very close for this “contender”. Great direction and a subject willing to ‘emote’ gives us this strong portrait.


A sense of loss and a style reminiscent of ‘film-noire’ was the impetus for this image by Girish Basavar. Using a hallway and a beauty dish, he was able to make this image of high emotion. Grid spots from left and right behind added additional light to help tell the story.


Peter Dopchev shows us the moment when a competitor realizes it is all over for him this season. A small pool of light and a cinematic approach to using the shadows adds a bit of mystery to this understated portrait.


Russel Harrison reveals the moment when finally alone and away from the crowds, an athlete reflects back on the loss. Strong emotions from the subject and a sense of understatement makes a powerful portrait. A single speedlight, tightly wrapped in plastic to stay dry, is fired from the back of the shower and diffused with additional plastic material.

Project 52 Pros is one of the most fun and important things I have ever done. To see this quality of work coming out of the group is simply stunning.

Thanks to all the P52 members for keeping it real.

CreativeLIVE Photoshop Week

I was asked for some ideas of which shows to watch, so here is my suggestions for both beginners and power users. CreativeLIVE is bringing a ton of material to the week, and most time slots are showing two different classes.

Please feel free to watch more than my suggestions, but these are the ones I think you can do well with based on your level of Photoshop expertise.

And remember to check out my CL classes while you are there.

Lighting Essentials

Product and Still Life.

Photoshop Week LINK HERE.

Beginner Monday:

Habits with Dave Cross

Lightroom Automation Jared Platt

Photoshop Camera Raw Jack Davis


Power User Monday

Photoshop Functions Dave Cross

Creative Photoshop Panoramas

Photoshop Camera Raw Jack Davis


Beginner Tuesday

Photoshop Smart Objects Dave Cross

Building LR Presets Jared Platt

Fundamentals of Photoshop Layers Kharana Pilcanic


Power User Tuesday

Photoshop Smart Objects Dave Cross

Compositing Tips Colin Smith

Camera Raw Jack Davis




Beginner Wednesday

Shooting for Creative Lindsay Adler

Photoshop Blend Modes Lindsay Adler

Advanced Beauty Retouching Lindsay Adler


Power User Wednesday

Advanced Layer Tips Julieanne Kost

Automating Camera Raw Julienne Kost

Photoshop Masks and Channels Colin Smith


Beginner Thursday

Mastering Photoshop Curves Colin Smith

Selection and Masks ONeil Hughes

Photoshop Image Size Khara Piicanic


Power User Thursday

Working with Video in Photoshop

Sharpening Savvy Lesa Snider

Moving and Removing Lesa Snider


Beginner Friday

Black and White ONeal Hughes


Power User Friday 

Automating Photoshop Julienne Kost

Lighting Basics – Class Four: Inverse Square Law (Basics)

Lighting Basics – Class Four: Inverse Square Law (Basics)

Lighting Basics:

Class Four

Light does the same thing every time.

Read the above again, please.

Because it does.

Can you imagine what would happen if every time we pushed a key on a piano we got a different note? How would we make music? If 2+2 is occasionally something other than 4, how would we unlock the mysteries of science with math? If a foot was ‘sorta between 9 and 13 inches’ how would anything ever get built?

Light is the same thing. It has parameters that do not change. It has science that is repeatable and expected and managed built in to it.

It is light.

We can use the sameness and repeatability of light to understand and use light as photographers. We simply have to understand the characteristics of light, and the basics of how it works to be able to manage them.

Light is brighter the closer we are to it. Always.
Light falls off faster the closer we are to it. Always.
While light can be diffused, we can not bend it around corners. Always.
The brighter a light source is, the farther it travels and can be seen.
The farther we are from a light source, the smaller it seems to us.
The farther we are from a light source, the less powerful it is to us.


There are a couple of absolute rules to learn (and believe me when I say I am not into rules at all) and understand and this is one of them:


The “Inverse Square Law”… yeah, it is terribly scary sounding.

First, it has the word “inverse” in it and what the hell does that mean, then of course it is “squared” and that brings up memories of Mrs. Bartholomew’s algebra class… eeek! And finally… it is a LAW! Scary stuff… but, let’s forge ahead because it is NOT as scary as it sounds.

And it is one of the fundamentals we MUST learn to understand lighting. (I know there are a bunch of photographers wide-eyed right now thinking – “WTF is he doing jumping in at the ISL right off the bat like that?”) Shut up… THIS is probably the single most important understanding of lighting that there is… so much depends on understanding this basic concept.

Let’s take a look at what we really mean by the ISL…

Take an average 8×10 photograph and ask yourself how many 4×5 images you can make out of a single 8×10?

If you answered two, you only counted one edge… and you forgot that the 8×10 is FOUR times the size of a 4×5. Double the 4 to 8 AND double the 5 to 10.

So we doubled one of the lengths, and quadrupled the amount of square inches of coverage. We doubles 4″ to 8″ and that AUTOMATICALLY doubled the 5″ to 10″. And that quadruples the size of the image… not doubling it.


So if we understand that light is the same way… that it comes from a source both horizontally and vertically, we can see that if we double one distance – horizontal, we automatically double the other distance. – vertical.

If we were using a light that covered 4×5 at 2 feet, and backed up to have it fill an 8×10, we would have to back up to 4 feet. One foot for each side of the rectangle. At three feet back, we would still not be showing the edges… so we would have 4 times the coverage at 4 feet than we did at 2 feet… and we would be farther back from the 8×10, so the light is less powerful. Four times less powerful.

This basic knowledge of how the light works – every time – is imperative for us to wrap arms around and be able to control.

Question from that guy in the back there… “does it do the same thing in a softbox?”

Yes… mostly. Close enough to work with the knowledge. Anytime we modify a light, we can certainly understand that something is going to change… cause we, well… MODIFIED it.

And no, the ISL is NOT absolutely faithful when we put a softbox or an umbrella or something on the light… but it is damn close and well within the parameters WE need it to be. Yes, we will have to finesse it a bit, but there is a big difference between finessing it and not having a freeking clue.

Here is a link to a very good tutorial on the Inverse Square Law.

And another good link with a very good illustration.

 Building a Tool for Exposure Based on the Inverse Square Law.

Let’s start with power. How bright the flash is at a given distance. For purposes of this discussion we will use the ISO of 100. We will add a table for conversion as well. At this point, the ambient light and shutter speed are not relevant. Choose a normal situation or somewhere where you can comfortably shoot. The power of the strobe is not related to the ambient light at this point. We will get to mixing the ambient with the daylight next week.

Get your light meter. What, no meter? Then get a gray card or digital target. You are also going to need about 8ft of twine or my favorite – clothesline twine – available at most supermarkets. We are going to only use a part of it, so the rest of it can go in your location kit. You can’t believe how handy 30ft of cord comes in sometimes.

Building our LoTech Meter:
Put your flash on 1/8 power. Manual setting at 1/8. Got it?
Why do we start at 1/8 power? Because it gives us a mean reading where we have the ability to go up and down with the power settings. If we start at full power, we can only go down. I like flexibility, so I do it my way – you still get the same readings of course, this is my way of doing it. Your shutter speed wont matter at this point, but pick a nice neutral one like 1/125 or so. We can go up and down from there later.

You can see I am using an older model 430 EZ here. Setting on Manual and at 1/8 power. I have this one set at zoom level of 80mm, but you will set yours to 50mm or so.

You can see I am using an older model 430 EZ here. Setting on Manual and at 1/8 power. I have this one set at zoom level of 80mm, but you will set yours to 50mm or so.

Now set the zoom to the middle point as well. Not out to 135mm and not back to 24 mm. I use the 50mm setting on my 430. These settings on the strobes exist for shaping the light when it is on your hotshoe… the longer lenses (like 85mm, 135mm) require a more narrow light, while wider lenses need a wider throw of light. When the light is narrow for the long lenses, it actually can become stronger. Put your strobe on a stand and attach a trigger to it. You don’t have to, but it is way easier and makes having a second person not nearly as important.

Alternate method 1: Light Meter.
Tie a loop into the end of the clothesline cord and loop it over the strobe on the stand. Make it an easy thing to do so you can repeat it on location when you need to.

I use very lo-tech tools here. You can use whatever tools you want. I make a loop and place it at a consistant place on the light.

I use very lo-tech tools here. You can use whatever tools you want. I make a loop and place it at a consistant place on the light.

Take the string out about 6 feet (about… actual distance doesn’t matter) and pull the string slightly taught. Fire the flash for a reading straight at the meter. Check your reading. (Make sure you are still on 1/8 power.) We are looking for an exact reading, not a little over or a little under. An exact f-stop. F11, not F9. When you get the meter in the position to get an exact F-Stop… and you are out about 6ft or so, then make a knot in the cord at that point.

We are not looking for a fixed distance like 6feet, rather a fixed F-Stop like F-11

We are not looking for a fixed distance like 6feet, rather a fixed F-Stop like F-11

Gratuitous shot of a knot for anyone not knowing what a knot was. Sorry... Heh.

Gratuitous shot of a knot for anyone not knowing what a knot was. Sorry… Heh.

Remove the loop around the strobe and double the length. Make a knot at that point and cut the cord. You should now have a long piece of string with a knot in the middle. Good.

We have our meter in basic form. Now take the length between the middle knot and the loop and make a knot in the middle of it. Ending up with a cord with a loop and a knot half way to the middle knot and a final knot at the end.

We want to have a knot in the middle to give us another guide point

We want to have a knot in the middle to give us another guide point

Alternative method 2:
Setup and method is the same, but we are using a gray card instead of a meter. The camera is mounted next to the strobe and we place the gray card at a distance to get a centered spike in the histogram. Dead center, not to one side or the other even by a spec… dead center.

Here is exactly how I would do it. Place the strobe next to camera and aim it toward a gray card on a stand. Make sure you fill the frame with only the gray card, no extraneous background. Put the camera on f-11. Shoot the shot and check the histogram. It should be dead center. If it isn’t, you can adjust as needed. When you find that spot where the histogram spikes dead center, it will be the point to start.

(EDIT There was mention that the math here does not exactly match the “Inverse Square Law” as it truly exists. That is absolutely true. However, ISL only applies to point source light in a specific shaped parabolic umbrella. My ‘cord’ meter is not that exact, and you may have to adjust a little bit. I know that I have used it in decades before – on chrome – and it was damn close. We are looking for damn close here… we will always want to tweak. However, if you want to do the math correctly it would look thus:
– 2x – 2.8x – 4x – 5.6x – 8x
Now that puts that center forward knot at about a 1/4 stop under (2.8 slightly less than 3) and the back center area about a half stop under as well (5.6 being slightly less than 6). Theoretically… Next time you all shoot ‘theoretically’ let me know how that worked out for you… I shoot real world pictures. So should you. This is photography, not physics. Try it… then tell me it doesn’t work.

Just remember also that the cord meter costs less than twenty cents. And for twenty cents, it is simply amazing. Next week we get off of ‘theory’ and put it to use. We will all see the results.)

When that center spike is achieved, begin the knotting procedure that is above. You will end up with the same length of string with the knots as indicated.

Now let’s look at our ‘meter.’ We know the f-stop at the middle knot is what we metered it to be. I am going to use f-11 for our discussion as that is what I have on my 430. The knot halfway to the strobe is two stops brighter. (Inverse Square Law…) and is therefor f22. The knot at the very end is two stops less than the middle knot, f-5.6.

After we have the cord knotted, we have a point to start to understand that placement can be critical for using the power for perfect exposures.

After we have the cord knotted, we have a point to start to understand that placement can be critical for using the power for perfect exposures.

Now let’s put some thought into it. If the middle knot is f11, we can make it f16 by increasing the power to 1/4 on the flash or decrease it to f8 by changing the power to 1/16. Choices… These changes also affect the knots in the cord at the other places as well. So we have a repeatable tool for finding the exact power/f-stop we need on most situations.

And the light doesn’t change. It is constantly coming out at that power as long as we have it on that setting, at that distance.

Can you do this with your umbrellas? Absolutely. Warning though, the Inverse Square Law is not quite as accurate so it is better to actually make the readings at the knots that you use. Then the exposures are exactly right. I rarely use my umbrellas at distances larger than 6ft, so that is the basic distance I made my first ‘meter’ to. With adjustment knots in between of course.

Finding the exposure with your umbrella is just as easy. Be aware that the fall off is not quite as accurate as the Inverse Square Law, so you may have to make some manual exposure placement knots.

Finding the exposure with your umbrella is just as easy. Be aware that the fall off is not quite as accurate as the Inverse Square Law, so you may have to make some manual exposure placement knots.

We can now accurately know what our flash units are doing when we pop the trigger.

As an addendum, you may change your flash to the wide angle setting and do it as well as with the more zoomed out flash. You will find that the power will drop when you go for a wider angle and increase when the light is more focused as for longer lenses. Hmmmm… more options.

Assignment: Create a string meter for both your bare flash and your umbrella (whether you shoot predominantly in bounce or shoot thru, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you make your meter for the method you use the most.) Take a few shots to make sure you understand the light coming from the flash is consistent.

Jamie at the Window

Jamie at the Window

Jaimie at the Window: Fredericksburg, Virginia.

I really loved the feeling of light coming in the window but the shot was very blah without the addition of a light source inside.

Using a speedlight with a modifier of cards around it to give direction, I lit Jaimie from camera left. The cards were being held by a VAL (Michele) and they were a little tricky to keep in place. We were running and gunning at this point, so setting up a stand would have lost some time with the light and I just wanted a quick shot.

The cards were being used to keep the light off the wall closest to them, and for the first couple of shots they did, but when I asked Michele to move a little away from the wall, the cards started letting light hit the wall and that was a problem when I looked at them later on the screen.

Exposure: I let the light in the window totally blow out, and based my exposure on that setting. Adding the strobe was easy as it was distance and power. I got my setting from the ambient light shot I did to blow out the window, so the exposure was set. I knew how far away the strobe had to be and at what power to match my settings on the camera.

The final shot that I chose had some issues, but we did some work in Photoshop to bring the wall into compliance, and open up the shadows in the darker part of the image.

Simple Photoshop moves, but ones you may like. I am a fan of the NIK software, so I used the new Analog Pro to finish off the image.

Image before Photoshop. Note the terrible rendering of the wall here. I knew I needed to smooth that out, and adding some vignette would help give it some dimension.


Here is the Photoshop work.

Here is the completed image.