Does “Diffusion” Actually Soften Light?

“Soft light is a thing of beauty in photography – finding it is the real trick.” -Zach Gray There is some information in the photography world that says diffusion can make your flash images look better by “softening” the light. Today we are going to explore this and see if it is true or false. When we first started shooting, the first thing we bought was a Canon 580ex speedlight so we could light our subjects at dark receptions. The issue with that light was if we pointed it directly at our subject, or even moved it off-camera and pointed it at our subject, we would get lots of contrast and “hard” lighting on our subjects. Hard lighting is caused by having a small light source and the result is having “specular highlights” or bright spots right next to dark spots that create lots of contrast. You can see when you use a small light source like the one used above, that you get a very defined line from highlight to shadow, and the skin can look worse than it really is. There are some hot spots on the right side of the frame and you can see that “specularity” we mention earlier.  This lighting is not right or wrong, but it definitely is not forgiving when not used just right. Does Diffusion Really Solve this Problem and make light softer?  Early on, we got sold on this idea that if you added “diffusion” (or something that evened out the light coming from our flash), we could then get soft light. The myth here is that there is only a partial truth in that.... Read More

BIG light on a small budget + Giveaway!

This post is not only on how to get AWESOME light on a small budget, BUT, we are giving away the gear we are highlighting today! (Giveaway info is at the bottom of this post!) Today we are going to talk about using BIG lights. We mean, REALLY BIG LIGHTS but on a small budget. Now, when you go out to shoot, it is nice to be nimble and fast and move from shot to shot really easily. But sometimes, you just want to take some of the images from your shoot and make them look really different OR, you just don’t have any great light and need to make your images look awesome with some stand out off-camera lighting. MOST of us look at the above shot and all we see is lots of gear and assume it costs a lot and then tune out… but don’t do this! STAY WITH US! :) We are going to demonstrate how to shoot images exactly like the ones you see above but using your speedlite and a cheap modifier that is super easy to use. Large Light Rocks Plain and simple, large light looks AMAZING on skin. It looks like butter when it hits your subject and is incredible. The times that you love shooting natural light most is just after the sun dips and we get that “golden hour” of light. The reason that light looks so good is because the sun itself (which is small in comparison to you) is no longer lighting your subject, but the SKY (what the sun is lighting) is now your main light. The sky is HUGE... Read More

4 Fast Steps to Easily Light your Backgrounds (video)

Are you ready to take your lighting to the NEXT level and light up the environment? Today we are going to show you EXACTLY how to do it with step by step instructions AND a video showing it in action! In order to turn the image you see below (natural light) into what you see above, you need to follow these steps in order to get great resutls with NO guess work!   Step 1.  Have the right gear & Location The gear we use to do shots like this are any type of main light (like the Rapid Box from Westcott), and then a speedlight with a tungsten gel over it to really make it interesting.    Natural Light Shot:(ambient light reading was ISO 100, f/4 at 1/100th shutter)   The locations that work best for these type of shots are ones that have even overall lighting (this was on a city street in Nashville with all indirect lighting), and ones that have a small area with a little less light.   This area had a metal doorway indent that had less light in it than the rest of the wall around it. It has LOW overall light (so the speedlight can over-power it) and the background was reflective which makes the light look interesting.   Step 2. Under-Expose the ambient by 2 stops (ambient light under-exposed by 2 stops)    In order to have the background look dynamic, you have to make sure that the ambient light doesn’t wash everything out. So, to do that, we need to under-expose the background by around 2 stops. We metered the ambient light to read ISO 100, 1/200th shutter at... Read More

3 Simple Steps to Lighting a late-evening Outdoor First Dance

If you have EVER been freaked out when your couple decides to have their first dance outdoors, RIGHT after the sun is GONE from view, then you are not alone! Today we are going to show you how to EASILY solve that lighting problem to get stunning images like this!     When Bret and Jillian did their first dance, the sun was close to being gone and there were NO lights on them at all. You could see them OK with your naked eye, but the lighting was getting really dull and VERY dark, so we needed to rock out some off-camera lighting to make it look great. Here are the 3 easy steps to take photos JUST like this! (Note: we shoot almost ALL of our flash images on MANUAL so everything is consistent, and so WE are in control of our lights and not the camera).   Step 1. Expose for the ambient light FIRST.   (The above image was taken with none of our off-camera lights firing and a little constant light from the video guy,and you can see just how dark and difficult the lighting we had to work with was. So, here is how we SIMPLY created the final image).    We started by getting a reading of the background’s ambient light with a faster shutter speed (1/160th of a second). Our background happened to have the sky in it, but yours may have trees only or a building or something else. We wanted that background light to be -1 stop under-exposed according to our in-camera meter. (We will explain why the shutter was faster in... Read More

3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits

What if you could use the lighting gear that is probably already in your camera bag to shoot incredible lit shots of your couple’s that LOOK LIKE you used studio strobes? You can!     On Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks we will show you the 3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits that look like you had large studio strobes on your shot!   1. Modifiers: When you use the RIGHT modifier for your speedlights, you can create stunning portraits with minimal amounts of gear. The MAIN light is the most important one because it will give the majority of the light to your subjects face and body. We have been using the Westcott Rapid box for speedlights because it does a few things REALLY well. It is EASY and Fast to set up (pops open like an umbrella). It is very light weight which is great for not adding sweat to your already long days shooting. The QUALITY of the light is outstanding! The reason the light is so good, is because the Rapid Box does a great job of spreading the light out evenly when it comes out the front of the box and therefore creates ultra soft, buttery light which looks great on anyone! The other two modifiers on this shot (which are not necessary to use, but fun to have in the shot), are two Westcott Rapid Box strip banks. 2. Control (Ambient Light Only) Control over your modifier and Speedlight POWER is critical to making the images work for your style. For the style of this shot, we wanted it to look more like we were... Read More

Artist Album Cover Shoot |Lainey Wright

We photographed new recording Artist Lainey Wright awhile back and are stoked to share not only the images with you, but some behind the scenes shots and set ups as well! Check out the shoot! We started off shooting in the amazing Westlight Studio in Franklin, TN which has some awesome set-ups and gear for any type of photo and even some video work! Check them out if you’re interested in a rental and tell them we sent you. Here is the set-up of this series of images. I loved the natural light coming through the windows, and after our direction meeting with the artist, we knew that she wanted a softer look to the shots. So, with that in mind, we intentionally slowed the shutter down to drag some of that natural light in and wrap around Lainey to give it that soft airy look. We also have a large, 39 inch Deep Octo light modifier from Elinchrom as our main light pictured to the left, and two 40 degree grid back lights for separation. We decided to do one contrasty lit shot on this background, even though I knew she wanted that soft look to the shots. She ended up picking one of these images, so we are glad we did it! We set up a 22 inch silver soft Beauty Light which gives a very directional light that is ultra soft when used in close. We then added a 40 degree grid to the background light and the kicker light pictured to camera right in the behind the scenes shot. We dropped the kicker light -1 stop lower... Read More

Lighting a Wedding Dress with Small Flashes

It is of course crucial that you shoot the bride wearing the dress so she looks absolutely amazing in it, but it is also important these days to get a great detail shot of the dress before the bride puts on the dress. We always strive to get a great shot of the dress because: 1. It is great for the bride to remember how that baby looked as it was “hanging on the rack” in a sense and… 2. It looks awesome as a detail spread in the wedding album. If you are currently not offering albums, as 50% of wedding photographers out there are not, then you could be missing out on providing a wonderful story for your bride. (If albums make you nuts with all the options and details and to-do’s, then check out the KISS Wedding Album Designer called SWAT which will simplify the process and change your life!). As Jody and I were shooting our most recent wedding, it was pouring rain and overcast, and the venue we were in did not have a ton of great natural lighting coming into it. So, we opted to hang up the dress in the best looking location that had some decent lighting to get a few shots. We hung it in this great doorway and composed it with the venue’s main staircase, but the problem was the only light source available was a big another glass doorway about 15 feet to camera right which was too far away to allow us to control it. Here is the natural light shot we got.   Not horrible, but... Read More

Promo Shoot Fashion Lighting

We had the awesome fun of shooting Stephen Knuth & Scarlett Lillian‘s promo material for their new blog site back in April, and now we wanted to take you through a few of the images and show you exactly how we did some of the more advanced off-camera lighting techniques that we used. You ready? Here we go! Today we are going to show you exactly how we pulled this shot off in Jacksonville, Florida while shooting this promo. We shot a lot of cool shots in a local restaurant that had a really cool vibe, then headed back toward the Knuth’s place for the last set-up. On the way, we spotted this really cool metal door behind an old abandoned building, so we headed over to check it out. This area was in the shade from the hot sun, and some light was bouncing off the sky and coming back into this open shaded area. I (Zach) knew that the in-direct sun that was coming into this area would act as a great fill-light (to fill in any shadows that we would create with the flashes), so we decided to shoot it. That is the exciting thing about flash photography, is even though the lighting here was nothing too killer, we could shape and create a look with our flashes and make it look really cool! Here is the set up. The natural light, as you can see in the above shot, was metered at F/5, ISO 50 at 1/100th of a second. So, in order to pull of the shot, all we really had to do was... Read More

Controlling Large Off-camera Lights (Video)

When Jody and I were in Vegas for WPPI we shot a series of videos for Westcott‘s new University demonstrating some of their lighting modifiers and lighting techniques out in this cool old “ghost” town about 45 minutes from the city. We are super excited to finally share the first a few different videos that we produced together and they are all FREE and here on the blog! This first video shows us using the Westcott 7′ parabolic umbrella with the optional DIFF– USER to demo what you can do with one, large powerful light in the worst of lighting conditions. We use some feathering techniques (the details of how to do that are broken down in THIS post) in order to create an extremely soft lighting look, and also used the LEE Filter System in order to shoot at a very shallow depth of field when using high powered strobes. We also used the Elinchrom Ranger (not the Quadra that we use for weddings, but the bigger brother version) so we have plenty of power for the techniques used. Watch the video, then come BACK here to the blog to see in more detail the final images from this part of the shoot! More videos to come and more images!   Behind the scenes of the first set-up (more videos and locations to come!). You can see the light was harsh and not flattering. Here you can see the harsh natural light with NO flash on it. Now you can see the incredible difference it makes adding the flash. The great thing about this LARGE light, is the coverage you... Read More

In The Raw Video Series | Smoke Shot part 1 (Video)

What up everyone! We are excited to bring you a brand new series of lighting videos all about studio lighting. One of  my passions and something that I (Zach) have undertaken during our year sabbatical from shooting weddings, is finally getting to do more personal work. I love shooting controlled portraits and am excited to share more of how I have shot some of the images I have been doing lately.   Now, many wedding and portrait photographers have moved away from studio shooting due to the high costs of renting spaces and the complexity of the gear. Well, this video series is going to show you how to shoot in a simple space and create some dramatic lighting with some really cool techniques. If you shoot bridal shoots, senior shoots, family or other portrait sessions, then adding some studio style shots could be a great creative outlet for you and give your clients something really unique that many photographers are not doing.  The shots you will see were photographed right inside our house (garage or other spaces) and even though we are using some Elinchrom gear, you could do this with equipment that costs much less. To download our entire gear list, go HERE to get it for free!   Now, on to today’s video and final image:   (Video Part 1 of 2) Thanks for checking out the video and come back next week to see how I composite the smoke and final image into the completed shot! If you like this video, share it by using one of the sharing links below and leave a comment letting... Read More

Compositing Backgrounds into an Image

(for a full list of ALL the gear we use and why, get the FREE download HERE) This image is from a video series I am creating called In The Raw where I take complicated lighting scenarios and break them down piece by piece and show you EXACTLY how it is done to the smallest detail. Today, I am going to break down how this shot was done here on the blog and show you some of the tools used and needed in order to create something like this without having to be at this location praying for an awesome sunset. :) Here is how it was done   This is the original image straight out of camera with no editing done to it. I shot the image in my garage on a grey colored seamless background. The reason I used the seamless, is because it gives me a clean consistent background that is easy to remove in Photoshop. The reason that it is gray, and not white (or any other color) is so that we don’t have lots of light bouncing off of it from the flashes and adding more light to the image that is unwanted. Here, in this behind the scenes image, you can see the entire set up. We have a few things going on in this complex set-up which are broken down below. Main Light head – Elinchrom Ranger AS Speed with S Head The main light is powered by this head. It is 1,100 watt seconds and is portable so I can take it on location, use huge modifiers, and overpower the sun at any time of the... Read More

Gear Review & Live Shoot | Westcott Rapid Box

Today we are reviewing a brand new ultra portable light modifier for your Speedlight that Westcott just came out with called the Rapid Box!     This modifier comes in 20 or 26 inch sizes and we currently have the 26 inch version. The light is really cool because it sets up like an umbrella (which means it’s easy) and it allows you to do indirect lighting with it. There is a small, optional deflector plate that you can add inside the box that reflects the direct light from your Speedlight, bounces it back into the rear of the box and the light then spreads back around very evenly when it exits the front. This mimics the effect of a beauty dish in that it creates a dead spot of light in the dead center of the box (instead of a hot spot like most do). If you use it in close, this will create a wrapping around effect of the light on the face for that painted on look. Awesome! When used further away, it simply produces very even lighting.   Check out the two review videos below that we created! Video 1 talks about the light itself, then video 2 showcases us on a shoot we did in Vegas demonstrating the light quality.         As you can see, the light quality is pretty amazing and we are excited to use this modifier for more upcoming... Read More

Our FREE 5 Week Photography Course is HERE!

Lesson 1: Must-have Gear Essentials You are receiving the FIRST week of this complimentary 5-week course just for being an awesome blog reader! You can SIGN UP for the entire 5 week course HERE! Welcome to the first lesson in the Five Keys to Rockin’ Your Portrait Sessions! Over the next few weeks, we are going to cover must-have gear, finding the light that any client can look great in, how to get the best moments and expressions from your client, how to get free help which allows you to focus on your clients, and how to make more money on your sessions! So, get ready because here we go with week 1! Portrait Session Goals When we are out shooting a portrait session, we have one goal in mind – To make our clients look their absolute best! In order to do that it’s important to have the right tools. Today’s lesson is about the two most important things you can bring out with you to your portrait shoots – the right lens and the right reflector. MUST-HAVE GEAR ESSENTIAL #1: A PORTRAIT LENS You have the power to make your subject look their best or their worst simply by the type of lens you choose to shoot with. This is why, unless we are trying to go for a certain look, we are usually shooting with a portrait lens. What makes a portrait lens a portrait lens? Any lens that is approximately 80mm or longer (depending on what expert you ask) is considered a “portrait lens.” Likewise, any lens that is shorter than approximately 80mm is not a... Read More

Behind the Scenes of Red Letter Artist Shoot

  Back in September of 2011 I (Zach) photographed new artist’s Red Letter for their promo packaging and album. We had a blast working with these really young and talented kids and got some cool shots for them. The tough thing about shooting like this, is you have no control of how they further adjust and edit images and how they design around them. :) Today we are going to break down one of the more complicated images and show you how we did it.     This image was hard to pull off and has 3 lights and was a tough location to shoot at. I knew from the weather forecast that the sunset was going to be awesome that night, and there was no way I was going to add the sky in afterward since at the time, that was not my style. I wanted to nail it in-camera with no post-production work. Commercial photographers have it really tough when the label and marketing team wants a specific look and the weather or other factors simply do not permit that, so there are times on shoots like these when you need to add a sky or do some serious photoshop work to get the shot how they want.   For this image, here was the set up, then we can break it down.   As you can see from the ambient light shot, flash was an absolute necessity in order to get the final look that they wanted. Here is what we did: Step one – Control the ambient light The first thing I do is determine (from our pre-production meeting) the type of look they... Read More

On Location Groomsmen Lighting

Happy Holidays!! It’s crazy to think Christmas is right around the corner!  As you’re settling in for the end of the year we want to bring to you a few tips on groomsmen lighting and break it down for you. Today we are going to look at two shots that we did at a recent wedding with the groom and groomsmen and how we shot them. These images were shot on-location at Belle Meade Plantation a few hours before the ceremony. The sun was still pretty high in the sky and we wanted to do more than just stick the guys in shade and take some bland shots, so we looked for a cool composition we liked and then brought out our powerlight to make the shot work. I set up the light and took two test meter readings as the guys were walking over. Once we got them set up as you see them in image one, we took the shot and this was the result. HOW WE DID IT: We metered the main light so that it was twice as bright as the light that was already there (the sunlight). The trick to nailing this type of lighting fast is by understanding how the meter works. The last thing we want to do is take test shots of the guys while they are there, then change settings and so on until we finally get it right. The other trick with shooting more than one person is that many times the person that is closest to the light will be blown out, and then those that are in... Read More

Dramatic Studio Lighting | Burst Shoot

A few months back we had the privilege to shoot a commercial gig for BurstClub.com that happens to be owned by our dear friends Nathan and Jenni Oates. These guys were amazing to work with and we all had a blast on the shoot! The images are for their new promo material and for their 4 DVD set. The images needed to be very slick and styled, so we had to change up our shooting style to get the job done!   This shoot was a lot different then what we normally do for wedding images where our brides want that soft, pretty light that makes their skin look painted on. This shoot needed much more of an edge to it with the lighting, but also keeping some of that Zach and Jody style with the soft buttery look. So the first thing we did to achieve that look was to not use our typical 24×32 Wesctott soft-box that we use on all of our lit wedding portraits, and opted instead to use a 22 inch silver beauty dish from Paul C. Buff.   The real benefit and difference between using a soft-box (which is basically like having a big soft window), is with a beauty dish, you still get that soft buttery light when it is used in close, but you have much more dramatic shadows and highlights. Because of the design, it shoots out a narrow, 45 degree beam of light that allows the light to be shaped and placed much more specifically then with a soft-box. The cool thing about the silver vs buying a white... Read More