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How to photograph your models in the digital age

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RELATED TOPICS: MISCELLANEOUS
Just a couple of years ago, the most-common question we received about photography here at FSM was, "Do you guys accept digital images?" Funny how things change. Now the question is, "Do you guys still take film?"
The digital imaging revolution has changed the landscape of photography, and FSM has changed with it.
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WEB EXTRA: Halogen work lights
Here's another improvisation just to get you thinking. I pulled out a set of 1,000-watt halogen work lamps from the storage room and aimed them at the model from a safe distance. Even with a two-unit setup, such high-intensity light without any diffusion created harsh shadows. Next I shone the lights on the white ceiling above the models. This is called reflective or bounce lighting and has the same effect as the diffuser. It spreads and softens the lighting.
I wouldn't recommend buying halogens specifically for model photography as they're too hot and clumsy, but if you already have something like this and only shoot your models a couple of times a year, you might be able to refine a solution.
WEB EXTRA: Cheap flash
Let's say that like me, you just happen to have a bag full of old camera gear dating from sometime around the Gerald Ford administration (and some really cool bell-bottom pants). Down there somewhere in my collection were a couple of flash units. Could I really use those old beasts with a digital camera?
If you're contemplating this, you need to know the trigger voltage at which your flash trips relative to the jolt your camera's electronics can tolerate. (The following Web site lists many common flash units and their trigger voltages: www.botzilla.com/photo/strobeVolts. You should be able to find your camera's voltage tolerance in your camera manual.)
You can also trigger flashes remotely rather than mounting your flash on the camera, which is almost never the best location for a flash anyway. If your camera has a PC synch connection (most of the mid-range all-in-ones and DSLR cameras will have one), you can run inexpensive synch cables to the flashes. Also, you can find a PC synch adaptor that fits you flash hot shoe in case your camera is missing a PC synch connection. Just ask a good camera shop.
The modern, textbook way to do this is with a transmitter that mounts on the camera's flash "shoe" and to have flash units or receivers running to flash units that will speak the same language as the transmitter. These units are usually infra-red or radio controlled, and I think most of us would say they're expensive.
Many point-and-shoot and even some mid-level cameras don't have a PC synch outlet for firing remote flashes. Here's your opportunity to actually put that annoying little on-camera flash to work.
Let the on-camera flash trigger the remote flashes by means of inexpensive optical slaves or triggers. Ask at a good camera shop for an appropriate flash slave to fit your flash units. I use a $15 Wein peanut slave in each of the flash units. Then tape a piece of card over the on-camera flash in such a way as to deflect the flash from the subject but not so much that it can't spill light to trigger the remotes. The idea is to avoid the harsh direct lighting from the on-camera flash, but still let the sensors "see" enough spill light deflected from your cardboard shield.
If you have some manual control over the flash output, you can turn down the flash and diffuse it with some translucent material rather than shield it. Again, you're only using it to trigger the optical slaves on each remote flash, not to add much light to the subject.
Once you get these remotes firing, you can try the same bounce lighting we described for the halogen lights. Aim the flash units at a white ceiling above your model, and adjust placement of the lights until you see the effect you like.
WEB EXTRA: Flash light modifiers
I've shown some common, inexpensive light-diffuser/reflectors you might try. I use the Stofen Omni-Bounce diffusers on top of my flashes. Watch the photographer pool during the next Presidential photo-op or keep an eye on the paparazzi's gear as they're chasing Paris Hilton around New York. I bet half the cameras there will be adorned with these little plastic devices. The Omni-Bounce is basically a diffuser like my vinegar-jug bottom. It may help when you're shooting a celebrity across the street. However, flash puts out an enormous amount of light in a brief burst, and up close on models, I find the Omni-Bounce to be less-than-perfect at providing the soft light we'd like.
Another setup includes Lumiquest 80/20 bounce reflector. This light modifier emulates the effect of ceiling bounce flash by placing a reflective surface in the path of the flash and diffusing the reflected light with the translucent covering. The results are about like the Omni-bounce, and still not as good as my hardware-store reflectors or ceiling bounce.
A little experimentation will turn up a workable setup for your equipment. I found the best hack with these old boys was to bounce them off the ceiling and throw in the oldest press-photographer's trick in the book. I attached a piece of white card stock to the back of the flash head (it's an FSM business card). The card catches some of the light spilling out of the flash head and directs it toward the subject. Presto, I had both soft bounce light from the ceiling and just enough fill light reflected from the card to lighten up shadows around the tracks and behind all the gear tanks carry.
Senior Editor Matt Usher, a former news photographer, says he's also seen photographers "rubber-band" spoons to the backs of their flash units to make the mini-reflector in a pinch.

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