Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Last Boy Scout

And a Shot out of the Blue.......

It is often forgotten by our clients (and the general public) that most of the work of an event photographer ( or any pro photographer for that matter) takes place behind the scenes and before even a single trip of a shutter. For us good preparation is key to good photography.......

Last week,  out of the blue, I received a phone call from fellow events photographer, Lee Marshall. Lee runs a small but very successful events photography company called photoREVERIE, where he has over the last ten years built up a rather good reputation of taking pictures of sport cars, often going very quickly around the various motor racing circuits  now dotted throughout the UK.  He was looking for a photographer to cover a last minute job at Brands Hatch and I (like always) jumped at the chance to help out a mate and so set in motion a series of events which have inevitability brought me here, writing this blog...About what happened next!

Who, What, Why, When, Where and How?

There is one thing that press and events photography share, if you want to do either of them well, you had better make like a boy scout and come "prepared". Good, reliable and up to date intelligence is more important than anything else in an photographers arsenal. The better the information you have about an upcoming  assignment,  the better the outcomes for both meeting and exceeding your clients expectations and coming away with some great pictures. Alas, bitter experience has taught me that this is always best done and agreed in writing (and if I had my way, written in blood). My rule: assume nothing, record everything and always cover your back. This rule applies to ALL jobs, irrespective of their nature. I was taught from a pup to always ask questions and if people feel reluctant with supplying me with the relevant answers, for whatever reason, then I back off and back off quickly because there lies a world of pain in NOT knowing what you're getting yourself into. So that very afternoon, after a long telephone conversation with Lee, I get a e-mail detailing the precise nature of the job, along with an full itinerary of the days events or should I have said, next days event which left me the best part of a night to prepare for a early drive to Brands Hatch in the morning.....

The Best Laid Plans....

Sharon was way, way more than just a wife. She was my PA and she organised my professional life, so losing her has left a massive hole. Worse still, I've always hated  being organised ( it's not in my nature) and I had unorganised  kit lying all over the place. Inevitably this free spirit has gotten me into trouble, like the time I turned up at a Photo Booth gig, without the touchscreen! So in a small effort in getting my sh@t together, earlier this year, I decided to adopt the "grab and dash" technique of dividing my kit into separate job specific pods which I arranged to be self contained within their own kit bags. Currently, I have three "pods". One for "in-door events", a second for "sports & outdoor events" and a third for the Photo Booth. Sometimes a piece of kit will migrate from one kit bag to another, such as my Canon 50D, which I use both in my "events" bag and as backup to my two Canon 450D's in my Photo Booth. And there have been other times where I have had to make up an entire pod using elements from all three bags to meet the demands of a specific job. Anyway, at the end of the day, this means I no longer have to take everything to every job. It also often makes for lighter more manageable kit bags and less risk of back ache. 

So now I have a list of what I carry in each bag on my mobile and PDA which is a great help for when it comes to putting everything back together again. It was Ian Griffiths who first introduced me to a way of recording my outgoing equipment and attaching a print of it to the "brief". It's a handy way of reminding yourself of what you've got and what else you may need to complete "the brief" (which reminds me, I've got to make up my own word document instead of endlessly photocopying Ian's). So now, I try not to leave home without three important pieces of paper in my hand.....

1. The Brief: which provides general details of the nature of the job, including prime contact and contact numbers. This should also provide information of any deadlines and how the client wants final delivery of the finished product. CD, DVD, FTP or dropbox, it's all part and parcel of what the average event photographer does.

2. The Itinerary: which should provide the specific timings and locations of the event. It should also provide a comprehensive description of exactly what is happening during the course of the event.

3. The Equipment Itinerary: As regards the equipment I have chosen (based on the information harvested from both the brief and the itinerary) to take with me to cover the event.

In the case of Lee's last minute job and according to his brief, the grab n dash bag of choice was to be my "sports pod" which included my find of the century, the Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F2.8 " prize giving" short telephoto lens. but more about this lens later. The first thing on my "things to do list" was to power up and recharge all of my batteries, which included my Godox external power pack. (Note to self, must see if I can source one of those dual chargers that Canon used to supply with their 10D and 20D camera's so many moons ago). 

Small, light and perfectly formed. The Tamron 17-50mm

Today's bag of tricks which included:
1.Canon 1DMk3 Body
2.Canon 7D Body
3. Canon 70-200 L F2.8
4. Tamron 17-50mm
5. Sigma 1.5 Lens Extender
6. Canon 560EX Flashgun
7. Godox External Powerpack
8. Various accessories including spare batteries.
9.  Six CF Cards of various sizes and speeds. 

Next on my list is checking that everything is where it's supposed to be and not migrated elsewhere, which sees the 1D being dug out of my "Events" kit bag and swopped with the 50D (along with it's spare LP-E4 Li-on battery pack). Then I track down a missing "Gary Fong" light dome and search high and low for one of two "Black Rapid" camera straps. No luck, can't find em. I reckon they will eventually turn up. Then my attention turns to the numerous memory cards of which I have a fair few evenly distributed across the three pods. I reformat all of the cards inside both the 1D and 7D dslr's  (forgetting about the Eye Fi card stuck in the SDHC slot of the 1D, big mistake) and repeat the process on the remaining CF cards in my Lowepro backpack. Last but not least I pack away my Macbook Pro along with a Lexar Dual CF/SD card reader and I'm ready to go. But try as I might, I just can't find the straps so when morning comes,  I'm forced to leave them behind and go without. Not so happy start to the day........

You will note from the above photo that I transport most of my gear within neoprene sleeves & pounches while in transit within the bag. They provide that little extra protection to my valuable gear without compromising ease of access. They also have the added benefit of looking great. All fun and games......And it all worked out in the end. Kind of!!!! DNP printers can be a bitch when they decide NOT to work with your mac.

Shooting motorsport is hard work and takes loads of practice to get right.

PS: I did eventually locate my "Black Rapids" along with a third "dual" camera harness, which were all stuffed in the back of my fishing jacket. Panic over but only after I'd gone through an entire day, hand holding my babies.....

Since doing this job for Lee and having had a good look at my overall equipment needs, I have purchased 2 third party LP-E4 Li-on battery packs to power both my Canon 7D & 5D mk3 dslr's and I'm just about to put in an order for 4 16gb 400x UDMA (6 or 7) Compact Flash memory cards from Delkin and Transcend. Recently it has come to my attention that not all memory cards are equal, some are MORE equal than others. This goes triple when it comes to shooting sport, when what you need to stop and freeze the action, is a camera and a card that can both read and write to memory, FAST! All my slower cards will soon be moved on to lighter duties inside my events kit bag. Now I'm off to brush up my skills on "back button" auto focussing, as doing everything (metering, focussing and tripping the shutter) from a singular shutter button just isn't doing it for me anymore.......Thank goodness for YouTube!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Let there be Light! Part Two

The classic low tech optical slave and perfect backup when hi-tech Radio slaves goes wrong

Now the big problem with having so many strobes in your lighting kitbag and moving them away from the hotshoe (strobist style), is how do you trigger them?  Back in the day, sync cords and optical peanut slaves were the only viable option and as long as you had line of sight and watched where you stepped, these worked OK, alas with said limitations.

The ubiquitous PC flash sync cable
Now I still would NEVER leave home without a means of manually triggering my flash using either of these two methods. Why? Because they are a simple, reliable and cheap way of remotely triggering your flash when other more modern methods go belly up. For backup alone they have earned their place in my arsenal of lighting equipment and have saved me more than once. Ironically I use both methods in my new Photo Booth, as it just works, all the time, every time.  

If on the other hand ( you don't own a photobooth and) you want to bring your off camera flash photography up to a new level, then as good as sync cables and optical slaves are, these are not the way forward.  Sooner or later manual triggering with lengths of wire and optical slaves that can't see round corners (and trust me on this, it is pretty time consuming going back and forth, setting up flash #1 then flash #2 & #3) is just going to cramp your style and get in the way of those creative juices.  This brings us nicely to the freedom and the technical wonder of modern Radio Slaves and inevitably the industry standard in remote off camera triggering, The Pocket Wizard.

The legendary Pocket Wizard

The Bowens Pulsar.

At the time that I was putting my original kit together (after I had left the employ of Trident Communications), money was tight and I had to make it stretch and as good as Pocket Wizards were amongst my peers (and special mention must go out to Neil Turner), I just couldn't justify the expense to either myself or my wife.  Pocket Wizards were and are an arm and leg to procure but they worked, straight out of the box, all the time, every time. Looking back now, Neil was right and I would have been better served saving my pennies a little longer and getting a basic set of PW's but even the cheapest PW options came with strings attached. For a two light setup, you would have needed  two receiver units, one for each flash and a transmitter unit for the camera. And god forbid if you lost the transmitter unit because that would  have landed you up in a boat on a very stinky creek without a paddle and without a means of sending a radio signal to the receiver units. If that wasn't bad enough, add to the equation that this option was at least four to five times more expensive than anything else on the market and you could see my dilemma. The Pocket Wizards were truly the Rolls Royce amongst radio triggers and an essential tool to any photographers kitbag but way too rich for the likes of me.  What I actually ended up with was a set of four Bowens Pulsar transceivers (the difference being that each unit were in theory, both capable of sending and receiving an encoded radio signal). Alas they were no Pockets Wizards, not even close. Apart from sitting flat in the hotshoe where the PW's would be poking out your eye, these Pulsars were more miss n miss than hit. It took many trips to Calumet's Euston store in central London and one very memorable trip to Bowens UK HQ and factory in Clacton on Sea for me to finally get the Pulsars to work (kind of) when they were attached to my studio strobes or my Lumedyne kit.  Even now, ironically I wouldn't recommend using them as a radio trigger solution as they were originally designed by Bowens. Rather I would purchase one of these: A Bowens Pulsar Transmitter unit. When you think of it, it's kind of a step backwards, along with all the limitations that implies but it does work and works well, just don't loose the transmitter!

The Bowens Pulsar Radio Transmitter. A step backwards?
Radio slaves were great when they worked (apart from PW's which always worked) and could be used anywhere within reason and working tolerances but both the early Pocket Wizards and the Pulsars along with other makes had two BIG disadvantages.

1. You couldn't adjust the output of each of your flashes remotely via these devices.
2. They were (and still) attract the attention of those more sticky fingered amongst us (especially in an Event Photography environment, where if they weren't nailed down, they would walk and I've known of many a PW to have taken that long walk into somebody else's kitbag). Sharon once caught some tea leaf red-handed trying to remove one of our Pulsars while we were shooting an event in Swiss Cottage. Said "leaf" wasn't so pretty after Shaz had finished with him.

My solution (to keeping one eye open) was to ditch the Pulsars altogether and consign them to strobist duties and purchase some very simple and cheap "in line" radio slaves from Photomart and ebay. As long as I had access to mains power, (which equated to 99.9% of the event photography jobs that I attended) these radio slaves were for me a no brainer. They were often known as ebay slaves, because they were dead cheap, even cheaper than the Pulsars (as in throw away cheap) and they only came in two flavours. They either worked or they didn't. Plain and simple. Better still, they were very hard to steal when working as part of an event photography studio because of the fact that they were mains powered and phyiscally attached to the strobe. Even if they did go walkies, they were easy and cheap to replace.

Mains Powered "In Line" Radio Slaves.
Alas these in-line radio slaves were only really usable with mains powered studio strobes and you still couldn't adjust the power output remotely but when they worked, oh mama! They took a licking but just kept on ticking. I keep several sets in my lighting kit bags and again I wouldn't leave home without them but like all things, technology moves on.........This time to a little known ebay entity called Yongnuo.

Yongnuo! Nothing short of a giant killer!

After the death of my wife and the start of my recovery in South Africa, I decided that I wanted to update my then elderly Vivitar 283 based strobist kit with something a little bit more modern. It didn't take too long for the Yongnuo YN 560 Mk2 to come to my attention because quite frankly it ticked all the right boxes. It was a manual only battery powered strobe just like my Vivitars (but unlike my Vivitars because of it's very low voltage output it wouldn't fry anything attached to it). It could be triggered any which way you liked, either via a simple dumb PC sync cable or at the other end of the extreme, a intelligent radio slave (more about this later). Last but not least it even came with a built in intelligent optical slave. Anyway you cared to look at the Yongnuo, it was quickly becoming a viable alternative to the Vivitar in a whole heap of ways, especially given it's rather contra dictionary excellent build quality and low low retail price. 

The best part was yet to come, in the shape of the Yongnuo 622c radio slave. I didn't know it at the time of purchase (I paid a little over a £100 for a set of four transcievers) but these slaves were set to become massive game changers in the field of  radio triggers and when I say 'massive" I mean Pocket Wizards. Why? Because Yongnuo had finally figured out a way of  bringing the concept of reliable radio triggering and putting it within the reach of mere mortals like myself. With the Yongnuo YN 622c the ordinary Joe no longer needed to burn a hole in his pocket in order to keep up with the pro's. You just plug n played and it works 99.99% of the time! I would hate to be the one to survive on the difference between a Yongnuo 622c and any Pocket Wizard in terms of outright performance and reliability but for the majority of jobs that I do,  it simply wouldn't be an issue. Where once I would think twice before bringing a Pulsar along on a professional paid for shoot, I would have no problems whatsoever with the 622c. You have to forget about the price and simply regard it as straight up bit of professional kit! But wait there! The 622c is a radio slave that just keeps on giving.

The Yongnuo 622C Radio Tranceivers or PW giant killers?

If you attach the 622c to Canon's later series of DSLR's (50D onwards) you are able to access a function which comes as part of it's drop down menu to remotely control any compatible externally mounted off camera flashguns (eg: the Canon 580EX mk2's). In short, you can now remotely control both light output and light ratio's of both compatible Canon and Yongnuo flashguns from the back screen of your DSLR. WOW! No more wasted shoe leather going back and forth, setting this and checking that. You need high speed sync. No problem! Not enough light and your camera can't focus. Yongnuo once again comes to the rescue with a nifty little focus assist LED so you can dig yourself out of that black hole.  Along with a couple of Canon 580 EX Mk2's and Yongnuo YN 560 Mk2's  you can now build yourself quite a kick ass off-camera flash system for very :little money. Chuck in a couple of sets of Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA batteries or a Godox external power packs and you're good to go but you don't have to take my word for it: (update: 25/09/2015, I no longer regularly use the Yongnuo 560mk1's or mk2's speedlights, even though I still own them because I had made a mistake in their original purchase. You see both the Mk1 and Mk2 versions of the Yongnuo 560's only came with a single pin hotshoe (as opposed to the multi pin hotshoes found on ETTL enabled speedlights), which meant I couldn't remotely control the 560's from a YN622c radio trigger.  Yongnuo was to later fix this with the introduction of their third generation YN560mk3.  I  now use a couple of these instead: The Shanny SN 600sc speedlites. Again more later on this recent development. The older 560's are now used with my Fuji X-system, so nothing was wasted.

The Shanny SN 600sc Speedlite (please note 'sc" and not "c")

I now wouldn't touch the Canon 600 EX RT with a barge pole but you can make up your own mind as well as do the maths. Just in case the prospect of digging into your camera's back screen menu isn't to your liking, Yongnuo have just introduced (at the time of writing this blog) a 622c TX which moves all the functions that you would have found in the drop down menu to a much more accessible LCD panel mounted in the hotshoe on top of your camera. I haven't tried it yet but from all the reports that are coming back to me, I am optimistic that I won't be disappointed. I cannot stress just how BIG the arrival of Yongnuo has been to the world of remote flash and camera radio triggering. In the space of a little over four years they have managed to totally change the name of the game forcing others such as Pocket Wizard, Pixel King and Bowens to respond and I for one think that this can be nothing but a good thing.........(Update: Recently I've found that the Yongnuo 622c-TX together with the Shanny SN600sc speedlight works a treat with my new baby, the Fuji X-Pro 1 but more about this later, but keep away from the Shanny SN600c as it's simply a piece of crap that will let you down sooner rather than later).

The Yongnuo YN-622c TX

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Let there be Light! Part One.

Part of my Lumedyne Kit

There have been two major changes in my career as a photographer which have affected and altered the way I work. The first was technological and saw my transition from analogue to digital. The second was more of technique and saw my transition from shooting in mostly ambient light to that of a studio & off camera flash. This second transition coincided with my move away from editorial photography.  The change in direction wasn't always seamless and there was a fair bit of cross-over between the move from Editorial to Events, a grey area you could say and it was during this grey period that I discovered the wonderful world of  The Strobist, the online mecca for all things Off Camera Flash and DG28, the blog and website of ex Times Educational Supplement chief photographer, Neil Turner.

Truth be told,  the first time I was introduced to the technique of off-camera flash was by John Arthur (Time/Life, Stern) and his small band of Wolverhampton based freelance photo-journalists of which I was a member and John,  the leader. Along with Dave Clapp and Dave McKay (ex The Independent) and a few others, we stuck, clamped and hung our numerous Vivitar 283's and 285's from every conceivable surface. We bounced light off walls and ceilings (as long as they were white) or used home made bounce cards if no walls and ceilings were available. We did anything and everything in our efforts to create better, softer more directional light including stealing toilet rolls from public loos. We had no shame.  Alas I must admit I was never really comfortable with the notion of mixing ambient and daylight balanced flash and strongly adhered to the keep it simple rule of press photography. Peanut slaves, home made flash cards, sync cords and mini stands just seemed a little over the top in my book but the resulting pictures proved me wrong. We were indeed creating something new and fresh. Our overall objective was to make flash look natural by moving the key light away from the camera and by bouncing/diffusing the light to give us that classical 2/3rd balance between fill-in (flash) and ambient light (or visa-versa). No radio slaves, no shoot through brollies and no Sto-Fen Omibounce. More importantly. No Ebay! Those were the days when necessity was indeed the mother of invention..To this day I can't walk pass an abandoned rubber band without picking it up!

So we wind the clock forward twenty years and I've still got my Vivitars (along with my Minolta Flash Meter) but everything else has changed. My twin Canon 550EX flashguns would no longer suffice if I wanted to progress as an professional events photographer and I was presented with a stark choice, by my one time mentor Ricky Turrell, Bowens or Elinchrom? In the end and in no small part due to DG28 I chose neither and invested my money in an American lighting system called Lumedyne. Years later, Neil moved on from both the TES and Lumedyne and now shoots as a freelance using the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra System. Me, on the otherhand stand by my original purchase and I stand by it still for four main reasons:

1. The Lumedyne seamlessly integrated into the system of light generators and light modifiers that I  already had (or would get in the future). It also suited my manual workflow and my dislike and mistrust of all things E-TTL. Please note: The use of a good Flash meter is essential if you're going to shoot manual daylight balanced flash. I have three!

My first ever flash meter, The Minolta 4.

2. It's modular design enabled me to use either battery or AC mains to power the Lumedyne between one to three strobe heads while on location.

3. I could power three heads from one Central Control Pack setting the power output symmetrically on two of the heads and asymmetrically on the third. (Words cannot describe just how sweet this option is).

4. The versatility and the modular design of the Lumedyne system allowed me to use it to light both event and editorial photographic assignments.

The Lumedyne setup as a three headed dragon

To my knowledge, the Lumedyne is the only hybrid battery/AC mains powered Portable flash system that can do this and the three headed configuration of my modular system would later prove to be invaluable when I followed the trend and started to shoot Low-Key "Pellier Noir" style event portraiture. Apart from a third head, I can fit the entire kit inside a medium sized Billingham kit bag and roll everything along including stands and modifiers on a small foldable hand cart. Years of constant use has proved it to be both reliable and durable as well as portable and I haven't regretted for one moment it's rather large original purchase price. With the passing of time, modern D-SLR's have dramatically increased their ability to gather light and to create ever larger file sizes, so has the Lumedyne matured with age. The only criticism I have of the Lumedyne is it's modelling light. Lumedyne USA, if you're reading this blog, you're not working hard enough on a bright and cool running LED modelling light, which would make my working life as an photographer (as well as the working life of my Lumedyne) so much easier.

This group photo was setup and shot within five minutes using all three Lumedyne heads.
This is how the picture came out of the camera.....untouched by Photoshop.

 In fact, apart from my dye sub printers, studio flash has been the biggest single investment that I've made since becoming an event photographer. My first proper pair of studio lights were Chinese made with a Bowens bayonet. They were tough as old boots, came without the bells and whistles of a internal fan and did exactly what they said on the tin. Today, if you're interested, Lastolite do a studio head which is almost identical to mine (only this time they're fitted with air cooling fans).   These heads are large and basic compared to their better equipped and lighter competition such as the two big boys rivals of Bowens and Elinchrom but what these unbranded Chinese studio strobes lack in techno wizardry, they make up for in sheer toughness. My two heads are industrial in their application to the job of event photography and from what I've heard on the grapevine, so is the Lastolite. 

The Lastolite Lumen F400 watt Studio Flash. Big, basic and built like a brick.......

Monday, 16 June 2014

One Man and his Photo Booth

The Launch of FootPrint, The Photo Booth!

The last business decision Sharon and me took together was to invest in a Photo Booth.  I had been invited to Brick Lane by fellow EPS member, Brin Edwards of "Funbooths" to see one in action on a corporate product launch and was suitably impressed and this is what I reported back to the one who must be obeyed. Sharon hadn't anticipated though the difficulty I would have securing the services of a good, reliable 2nd assistant after her passing which has reduced me to a one man band. For us it was more about expanding and diversifying our product range, along with Chromakey, Montage and High/Low key photography. It was all about sending Events-Horizon up into the stratosphere while in reality, 18 months after her death, I was still chasing my tail and stuck in the doldrums. 

My "Ole Skool" style Photo Booth. All set up and ready to go.
So a couple of weeks ago after a totally unsuccessful recruitment campaign,  I took the decision to concentrate on getting the Photo Booth part of the business up and running, as it was the one thing I could do alone (with a little help from my friends).  The first time I used the Booth was during my 50th birthday party, where is worked flawlessly, ALL NIGHT LONG. 

My cousins,  (left to right) Donna and Nikki. The fool in the middle is ME!
I had brought the Booth Frame, bare bones and 2nd hand from Brin and then set about recycling my IBM Thinkpad, as the the booth's main XP Pro server. It had already been installed with Breezebrowser DSLR Remote Pro from it's previous duties as my main events photography laptop.  My old but trusty Fuji Ask 1500 dye sub printer was brought out of retirement one more time while Alan Potter (another EPS member) did me a good deal on a set of three Lencarta 200w/s studio lights which left Ebay to do the rest. That included a motorised head, a 27" touch screen, a Manfrotto Magic Arm & Clamp and two Canon 450D DSLR's, against the advice of Brin who wanted me to buy a Canon 40D instead.  Finally a trip down to Camden saw me buy all the props which are mandatory for a photo booth and I was good to go. Apart from the fact that the 450D lacked a native PC interface for the connection of an external flash,  the thought of a semi pro Canon 40D in a Photo Booth just seemed to me way over the top and I wasn't made of money. I was kind of vindicated by the booth's successful first outing at my birthday party. Alas,  this decision to go against Brin's advise would eventually come back to haunt me. BIG TIME!

The Canon 450D! An expensive mistake?

So I thought I was all set and ready for my first paid event with the Photo Booth, a birthday party which Brin had subbed out to me, located in one of those little remote villages just off the M40. It didn't take long for things to go pop! On unloading the car of all the gear, I quickly realised that I had forgotten to bring the touchscreen, which was still secure in it's Peli case back home. After 90 minutes and a 120 mile round trip, the touchscreen was finally installed into the booth, before this happened.

The black line of doom!
A simple flash sychronisation fault was my first port of call but a quick check with the settings within DSLR- Remote Pro quickly scotched that idea. I was shooting like 120th/sec @ F11, 400 ASA. Then a quick look see to make sure that Remote Pro's "external flash" check box was ticked. Yes it was! Just to be sure I dialled the down sync speed to 90th/sec but the black line of doom still wouldn't shift. So I thought, "OK!", maybe the DJ's radio mic was causing cross channel interference with my single channel in-line slaves with which I was using to trigger the studio flash. So I dug out a spare sync cable and a PC hotshoe adapter and hard wired a connection between the camera to the flash. Another test fire would quickly confirmed that this too was a dead end. I began to panic. I switched to an optical trigger using the 450D's on board flash to sync with the Lencarta. No go! I swopped studio heads. Replaced the usb lead coming into the server. Fell on my knee's and prayed for deliverence which came in the way of Christine, Brin's wife fetching a spare sync cable and studio flash from home. Alas even this sterling effort didn't cure the problem totally and the event organiser (Brin's daughter) was none too pleased. In the end, I kissed goodbye to £500 and a lot of goodwill. 

The following week after hours of stress testing and buying in a couple of new sync cables,  I prepared for another job, a office xmas party in a large hotel in the centre of Reading. This time to my relief everything went off swimmingly. I'd even remembered to bring along the touch screen. Everyone was happy, even Brin, I finally thought my troubles were over. I couldn't have been more wrong. The next job (I forgot where) was a total disaster from start to finish when the black line of doom came back with vengence. Total income lost to date was now over £1500. I was in despair. I simply couldn't use the booth with any kind of confidence and I ended up turning down work. So I turned to the forums for answers, figuring (incorrectly as it turned out) that I couldn't have been the only one to have come across this problem. Apart from posts telling me what I had already done, no new leads came back (especially from our photo booth cousins from across the pond in America). Ironically, my first break came from the one place I should have gone to first for answers, the user manuals and in this case the on-line manual for Breezebrowser's DSLR Remote Pro where I found the following: This the long story.......

"External flash mode: Studio strobes and external flashes which are not Canon E-TTL compatible can cause the live view images to appear too dark and the flash to not be triggered when taking photos. With a mid- to high-end camera such as a Canon EOS 40D, 50D, 60D, 70D, 6D, 7D, 5D Mark III or 5D Mark II the dark live view images can be overcome by disabling exposure simulation in the camera's live view settings and disabling silent shooting mode will fix problems with the flash not being triggered. 

Rebel series cameras (e.g. Rebel T3/EOS 1100D, Rebel SL1/EOS 100D, Rebel T5i/EOS 700D, Rebel T4i/EOS 650D, Rebel T3i/EOS 600D, Rebel XS/EOS 1000D, Rebel T1i/EOS 500D and Rebel T2i/ EOS 550D) automatically select live view exposure simulation and silent shooting mode when live view is active and these settings can't be disabled by the user. "External flash mode" overcomes these limitations and allows external flashes and studio strobes to be used with Rebel series cameras. When this option is selected the camera's exposure mode dial should be set to "M" for manual exposure and the aperture should be set to the required setting for the flash (usually a setting of f/8 or f/11 is best). 
When full screen photo booth mode is selected the brightness of the live view images is adjusted automatically. It can also be adjusted manually using the up and down cursor keys. It is recommended that the camera lens is set to MF (manual focus)  or the AF mode set to "Remote manual" in the main DSLR Remote Pro for Windows window when using external flash mode to prevent auto focus problems from causing the photo booth shooting sequence to be interrupted. Please note that there is a short delay restoring the live view after taking each picture when external flash mode is selected. 

This can be hidden from users by enabling the option to preview each shot after it is taken. 
Note: If you get a dark band appearing at the top of the photo when using external flash mode you may need to adjust the shutter speed. Normally external flash mode sets the camera's shutter speed of 1/200 sec when taking the photo which should sync correctly with most flash units but may be too fast if you are using a wireless flash trigger. You can adjust the shutter speed by exiting DSLR Remote Pro and changing the following setting in the Windows registry: 


Please try setting this to 2 or 3 (the default setting is 1) to tell the software use a longer shutter speed 
when taking the photo."

A little more digging into the FAQ's section and I came up with this:

"How can I prevent a black bar at the bottom of photos when using external flash with DSLR Remote Pro for Windows?
When "external flash mode" is used in DSLR Remote Pro for Windows different shutter speeds are used for live view and for taking photos to ensure that the live view images are not too dark. The shutter speed used for taking photos is one value below the 1/250 flash sync speed on most Canon DSLR cameras. This gives a shutter speed of 1/200 sec if the camera is set to 1/3 stop exposure level increments or 1/180 if it is set to 1/2 stop increments. If the triggering of the flash is delayed for any reason (e.g. when using a wireless flash trigger or a non-Canon flash) you may get a black bar at the bottom of the pictures caused by the flash going off after the camera's shutter has started to close. If this happens please try setting your camera to 1/2 stop exposure increments so that it uses a shutter speed of 1/180 sec. This can be set using a custom function in the camera (please see the camera manual for details). If you are still having problems you can use a slower shutter speed by increasing the value of the following setting in the Windows registry to 2 (or more):
Please make sure DSLR Remote Pro is not running when changing the setting. This option is only available in DSLR Remote Pro for Windows v2.3.1 and later." 

The short story (and after a quick chat with Alan Warner and John Wright who btw also uses Canon 450D's in his booth, to confirm my conclusions. My sincere thanks to both of them). 

The Yongnuo YN-622 C E-TTL Radio Transcievers.

My recomendations if you intend to install a Canon 450/550D inside your photo booth along with Breeze D-SLR Remote Pro, are as follows:

1. Use either a OEM ETTL Canon Flash or a ETTL pass through radio trigger (such as a Yongnuo YN662c, which also doubles as a intelligent PC hotshoe adapter). Whatever you do, stay well clear of the "dumb" maunal PC adapters and strobes that cannot communicate with the camera via ETTL when placed in the hotshoe. Even Canon USA admits on page 207 in their 550D/T2i manual (note USA edition) that and I quote:

" A non Canon flash will not fire during Live View shooting". 

This is in fact not strictly true, a non Canon flash will fire during Live View it just won't sync properly. A good test is to check if the camera see's the flashgun or trigger when they are slotted into the hotshoe, via the camera's on board flash controller which can also be accessed via it's MENU dropdown custom settings. If it doesn't see it, try again!

2. Follow the instructions from Breeze and go into custom settings of the 450D's menu and change the auto shutter speed from it's 1/3 stop default to 1/2 increments. 

On Saturday (after more extensive testing) I used my new setup for the first time in anger and lo & behold everything worked, with a Yongnuo turned on and slotted into the hotshoe and a sync cable hard wired from the Yongnuo's PC socket to the studio flash. Only time will tell if this proves to be a long term solution to the 450D LiveView/ flash sync problem but I am confident it will be. Just in case it isn't, I also picked up a real good deal on a 2nd hand quality used Canon 50D body and battery grip (the one up from Brin's recommended 40D) which will act as my 2nd sports body as well as backing up both my 450D's if God forbid anything else should go wrong. So far, so good!

My original mistake was thinking that I knew everything about tethered shooting and then mis-applying that knowledge to tethered shooting within Live View, of which I knew nothing. My second mistake was following my base instinct to save a few pounds and ending up kissing goodbye to a whole heap more. Making assumptions, not reading the manuals and not listening to my elders, cost me dear and it is a mistake I won't be looking to repeat anytime soon. 

I love it, when a plan comes together.

If you have any questions or comments about this post please feel free to use the feedback panel below and I will endeavour to answer them.....

Update: 21/10/2015: I always thought at the time, that my solution of using a single Yongnuo YN622c was a bit over the top and a waste of the precious resources of the 622c, so I began my search for a viable alternative that would still fool my pair of clever Canon 450D's into thinking that it had a ETTL flashgun sat in their hotshoe's. Eventually I came up with this, the Pixel Canon ETTL hotshoe adapter, which comes fitted with both a PC socket as well as a dedicated hotshoe.

So far (everything being work in progress) this solution has been a great little fix and now I have one of these permanently fixed into the hotshoes of both of my Canon 450d bodies. Problem solved!

Update: 10/12/2016: We have now all but abandoned Breeze Photo Booth Solutions and moved over to Express Digital Darkroom Booth. 

We can now offer our customers a wide range of custom functions (such as in-house designed templates) to better  tailor our services to your event. 

So now my new FootPrint Photo Booth is up and running (standalone website and all) and I'm very excited with what the future has to hold. It's been a roller coaster ride getting it ready but the investment in both time and money has been worth it. So if you're looking for a really good Photo Booth, look no further and check out FootPrint. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

And remember what happens in the Photo Booth, stays in the Photo Booth! 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Knowledge is Power

Digital's are not just for fun......they can also drive you insane!

I've always been a Canon man from day one and I've never really been able to get along with all things Nikon and so this proved to be the case with my first encounter with digital photography and Nikons first generation  Pro Digital SLR camera, the D1 but before we talk about what went wrong and the inevitable car crash that followed, let me give you some background. 

The Nikon D1
The first time I clapped eyes on a Digital SLR Camera was that belonging to press photographer and friend, Peter Corns,  then the number one contracted freelancer for the Daily Express and Daily Star in the Midlands. He had spent a truck load of his own money buying into this new technology, hoping that this would give him a jump on the competition and for a time it did but it came at a massive cost to his fragile finances. In those early days, we were talking mortgage money just for a digital body alone. Then there were all the other bits and pieces such as top quality glass, dx strobes, computers (both laptop and desktop) and software to run the whole shebang.  Then came the learning curve in getting all "this stuff" to work, which was steep, very steep. So straight away I knew my transition from analogue to digital was going to be an expensive one both in time and money. Going digital, Peter assured me, couldn't be done on the cheap! 

Back in the day, the Kodak DSC 760 cost as much as a house.
The short story? This is exactly what happened when I moved with Sharon from Telford to join a company called Barkers Trident as a staff photographer in the City of London and it was an truly awful experience. I was given little to no training and even less support when things inevitably went wrong. In the end my confidence was all but shot to pieces and I hated at times even feared going to work. Being forced to also use Sigma lenses which were universally regarded at the time as " 3rd party crap", ( whereby the lens wouldn't communicate with my Nikon D1 body and the D1 body wouldn't communicate with me) didn't help matters and soon I was left wondering if I had any future at all as a photographer. I was unhappy at work and increasingly unhappy at home and one day I simply couldn't take it any more and informed Sharon that I was going to leave and go freelance, leaving Shaz has the main bread winner. 

On leaving Barkers, which by now, three years later had transformed itself into Trident Communications,  I took it upon myself to liberate a few items which I was sure it's photographic department wouldn't miss. One of the items was a reference book written by a Canadian Photo-Journalist called Rob Galbraith and as irony would have it, this book "borrowed" from a department that had up until then had done everything in it's power to ruin my working life, ended up saving it. Ironically I was introduced to Rob Galbraith's website by my head of department who's name I will not mention here and who's singular act of kindness lead me to read from cover to cover "The Photojournalist's Guide to Digital Photography". 

The Digital Photographer's Bible.

By the end of the first chapter, I knew I did not have a long term viable future with Trident and that my goose was well and truly cooked. So after O-levels, A-levels and a year at Richmond College, Sheffield ( nuff respect to my main man Paul Delmar), I found myself once again back at the drawing board re-learning the art of photography. Only this time, it was digital. I cannot stress high enough the old saying that "Knowledge is power". In my case, it gave me the power to set myself free and begin my progression into event photography, as by then the viability of editorial photography earning me a decent living had become as dead as the future of negative film. Both were on their way out!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Year Zero

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Sharon Christopher, my wife, my partner and my friend..... 

Year Zero.

So why may you ask, have I chosen this time to start blogging? It's been almost two years since the death of my wife, Sharon. More than 10 years since we began our Events Photography business together and beyond that, more than 25 years since we first met on the editorial floor of the Express and Star, in Wolverhampton, she as a cub reporter and me as a pup photographer. In the same time, the world of photography has changed beyond all recognition. 

The Legendary Canon F1n 35mm Film SLR Pro Camera

When I first started on the Express and Star as an apprentice press photographer, my weapon of choice was the infamous Canon F1n 35mm Single Lens Reflex still film camera along with the venerable Vivitar 283 flashgun (Note the words "film" and "stills"). 

At the time, I was the only photographer in the entire department to be a Canon shooter and my colleagues, especially Mike Haywood NEVER let me forget it. I was surrounded by Nikon's of all guises.  Nikon FM's, FE's and F3's and even the odd F2 would pop up out of the blue. Off camera flash was still in it's infancy, with pioneers such as  John Arthur (Time/Life, Stern etc) leading the way with peanut slaves and homemade flashcards attached with lashings of rubber bands. It was then I began my love affair with carpet tape. I had yet to learn of things like Pocket Wizards and other remote radio triggers. They were still but a dream in the mind of somebody else's eye. If you were lucky and in full time employment with either "The Star"  (Wolverhampton) or the Post & Mail (Birmingham) you carried a Metz Hammerhead flashgun or a couple of Nikon SB28's in your Billingham attached to a Quantum Power pack. If you were not, like me, you made do with third party knock offs both to carry your kit and power your strobes. Either way both methods could and would produce beautiful light at the drop of a hat.

Those were the dying days when 35mm film was king and where the darkroom was the press photographers last refuge and domain. Legendary names such as Kodak Tri-X, Fuji Neopan and Ilford FP1, ruled the monochrome roost. Even shooting colour transparency was a luxury and a art. I never knew it at the time, I was having too much fun, to realize that I was part of a dying breed and witness to an end of an era, which kinds of brings me back to Sharon. When she died my past died with her and the only thing of use that remains from those days long past, is my trusty Vivitar 283 flashgun of which Shaz paid to be repaired on more than one occasion.

This blog is essentially about me starting over and charting my further adventures into the vast undersea ocean which now represents the world of event photography. Analogue is dead, long live the digital king and nature dictates that time waits for no man. In the five years that I have been out of the event photography business, event photography has moved on by leaps and bounds. Consequently I've got a lot of catching up to do, along with purchasing new equipment and relaunching the business.  Alas there are somethings and some people I can't forget, like my ole guv Johnny Johnson who both taught and tolerated me in equal measure and my beautiful, wonderful, werewolf toothed wife, whom without which I wouldn't be writing this blog now. 

The venerable Vivitar 283 Flashgun

My Vivitar 283 stands testament to them and their kind. Strong, dependable and loyal. This blog will be my attempt of making sense of the world and my part in it. It's about my re-entry into the multifaceted, multidisciplinary world of the modern all singing, all dancing professional event photographer. From lighting, posing subjects to wireless networking and the perils of e-marketing, today's event photographer has to find a way of doing it all.  Hopefully it will not be a journey where I will be travelling  alone but enjoy the company of others along the way and if in the course of finding myself,  I can teach others, well where is the harm in that? Like all journey's, mine began along time ago with Johnny and Sharon and a Vivitar 283 flashgun. So onwards and upwards! Small steps....