The Digital Photo Guy

Lights, Lighting and the Never-Ending Quest

by on Nov.19, 2014, under Articles, gear, Monday Morning Tips

Alyssa Caitlain, Round 3!

Last night, I sat in on a studio lighting workshop at Tempe Studios in Tempe, AZ. It’s 70 miles from home and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the drive but it was well worth it. First off, unknown to me, the model for the workshop was Alyssa Caitlain. Until two months ago, I had never met Alyssa. Now, suddenly, I’ve photographed her three times and I’ll work with her again on November 29. She is the sweetest, nicest natural talent I’ve met in ages.

As much as I enjoyed making great photos of Alyssa, what I learned (actually relearned) was amazing. Learning is a bit like building a house. Sometimes, the roofing materials arrive before the walls are up so it sits there unused until the walls are in place. In learning, sometimes, we learn something that can’t be used because the underlying foundation isn’t yet in place.

I’ve taken enough workshops, read enough books and watched enough videos to know most of the moving pieces in flash photography. I’ve made enough flash photos to know how the parts fit together. Yet, in the workshop, I was  flummoxed by some nasty problems that I had read about but never experienced. Here’s an extreme example.

Alyssa_lighting-102   Alyssa_lighting-103   Alyssa_lighting-104

Notice the dark bar along the right side of the frame? That’s the bottom of the frame because I’m holding the camera in portrait mode. The dark bar is caused by the flash not keeping up with the shutter speed. In other words, the shutter curtain was already closing by the time the flash fired. When the shutter speed is too fast, the top and bottom are moving at the same time, causing the edge to be covered when the flash fires.

As soon as I noticed this, I assumed the 1/200 max flash sync on my Canon 5D MkII was not as fast as the specs called for so I dialed it back to 1/160, a 1/3 stop reduction. That created the 2nd image. Close but no cigar. There was still a noticeable dark band along the bottom. After scratching my head, I decided to ignore it for the moment since I was there for lighting techniques and camera problems were low on the list of priorities.

After thinking about it, I suddenly realized the big, honkin’ studio strobe was taking too long to reach peak power. That along with the wireless trigger induced delay was what caused the dark stripe. Sure enough, I went to The Strobist my “go to” site for all things flash and found an article that exactly explained my problem.

You may never run into this problem but, if you do, I hope you’ll have this article lying about among all your building blocks of photographic knowledge. Better still, try some tests with your Speedlite (SpeedLight to you Nikonians) and see if the spec sync speed is real on your dSLR.

The last photo is simply to show you that I did manage to make some good photos of Alyssa. As one of the guys said, “We need to photograph ugly models to see if we’re really any good.” It’s impossible to make a bad photo of Alyssa.

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