Monday, January 16, 2012

Strobist Business Portrait

A few weeks ago, I was on assignment to shoot a business portrait of Ulrich Loechter, founder of the Loechter Company, a Munich-based business consultancy. I had another shoot going at the same place, so setup took me less than ten minutes including a few test shots featuring my own self.

I opted for a very simple, yet traditional three-point setup. Let´s look at it first:

Note: On the 40MZ, power setting go 1 - 2^ - 2 - 2_ - 4^ - 4 - 4_ ...256. This is the power equivalent in thirds of a stop. Thus, "4_ " means 2 1/3rd steps down from full power, "8" means 3 stops down. So the kicker was actually 2/3 of a stop stronger, more focused and hitting a silver reflector. A lot more punch than the key light! But remembering that we photogs usually shoot persons against the sun when outdoors, we find there´s nothing wrong about a strong kicker. Uh... ISO 20? I´m sorry, of course, I mean ISO 200!

A three-point setup consists of a main (key) light from the front of the person (not from the camera, but the person´s face!), a kicker light to give a nice edge from behind and a fill light that fills in shadows.
Although in outdoor photography, a fill light CAN come from the camera, in studio photography you would usually set it up so that it marks the right-angle-point in a right triangle with the two other lights. You may have noticed that I didn´t use a flash but a simple white reflector. It catches some light from either key and kicker light and throws it in the general direction of the person, giving a smooth and discrete fill for the shadows while retaining the beautiful structures of both face and clothing.
You will also have noted that I didn´t take care of lighting the wall! In the picture you will see that there is a slight blue shade in the top corner, but I didn´t bother. Should it not match the customer´s wishes, I´d clear that in Photoshop. Luckily, it did. Please note that this is a direct-from-camera-JPEG.

Ulrich Löchter,

I usually keep distances as follows: 1.8m from key to fill and 1.7m from fill to kicker. Kicker is as close to the wall and angled as steep as possible toward the subject (when you use an umbrella, you have to watch that the flash light does not spill onto the wall, giving an umbrella-shaped shadow and uneven background lighting). So you can copy my setup right away, maybe varying f-stop and ISO due to use of flashes different than mine. Flash zoom is key=35mm to fill the whole umbrella and kicker=50mm to keep the flash from spilling. The key light umbrella will take care of lighting the background wall. A softbox wouldn´t do that, because it´d be much closer to the subject and produce more concentrated light. There would be a shadow gradient on the wall, darkest to the upper left. One more thing that´s nice about this setup: The physical presence of the fill light keeps the kicker light from hitting your lens, reducing contrast and producing flare and sad customers. Keep that in mind: In order to get a good, clean photograph you want to avoid hard light sources hitting your front lens!

I like to use the smaller silver umbrella for kicker light, because being a smaller source, it produces harder light than a white umbrella would. Plus, it is my smallest umbrella so I don´t have that much trouble pushing it closer to the right frame border and keeping it out of the shot. In fact, you can use a bare bulb flash as a kicker light, it wouldn´t matter much. Kicker lights always come in hard, because they make a direct reflection on the subject´s skin and clothing. I just like to soften it a little in most cases.

For the second shot, I had him stand up and put his jacket on, just to have a variation that looks less casual and relaxed, but more like a reputable executive:

Look, Ma! Same light, different position.

The setup didn´t change a bit, but he stepped back a little. You can see that the shadow fill lost a lot of power. This happens when you increase the distance between subject and light. The light power drops exponentially. Your fill is the weakest light in this setup, thus loses first when your subject changes position. I liked the look of it, giving him an even stronger touch of sincerity. Thus, we kept it this way.

Here you can see what each light does:

Sorry for my hideous arrow drawing skills.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The ultimate Strobist flash: Metz 40MZ

Hello Strobists! Today I want to show you the flash head I consider the most appropriate for location work. It features manual control over 8 stops of flash power in 1/3rd steps and can be zoomed from 20 to 105mm (Ver.3 only) of flash spreading, which makes it uniquely versatile. It can read out today´s cameras´ TTL informations to work correctly in automatic mode and still features full manual control over its capabilities... the 


An interesting note first: Metz flashes are always adapted to the camera system via an interface called "SCA Adapter". The model of the adapter corresponds to the camera brand. There are sync-contact-only-SCAs that only feature the middle contact, but also a variety of Leica, Nikon, Canon and Minolta/Sony adapters. Some come with readout of TTL, some don't. For the 40MZ, there technically is no way of reading out today´s E-TTL II, but the flash DOES read out ISO, f-stop and lens data from a modern camera for use in automatic mode or calculation in manual mode when fitted with a SCA 3101 (Metz provides a list on which SCA adapter fits which camera model). ATTENTION STROBISTS: none of these SCA adapters has a PC terminal, they need to be triggered via the hot shoe contact!!

The 40MZ´s head can tilt up to 90 degrees in three steps. There is no arresting feature, so it cannot easily carry heavy light modifiers when tilted. The head might drop. It also tilts down some seven degrees and swivels 90° to the left (locking also at 45°) and 180° to the right (locking at 45 and 90°). There exists a slip-on diffusor, but I don´t know if it´s only produced off-brand. The lack of a tilt lock yet makes it much faster to swing around when changing camera orientation or light situation.

As mentioned before, the flash power can be reduced to 1/256th in 1/3rd stops, meaning 8 stops of dynamic range in total, 24 power settings (!) with almost instantaneous recycling times from 1/8th down. This makes it the ideal flash for off-camera strobist action. If I recall correctly, there are even 12 stops of range when used on-camera in automatic mode.

Every 40MZ has built-in autofocus support light (classic red on 40MZ-1).

The guide number is 40, BUT THIS IS FROM THE TIME BEFORE CHEATING! If you buy today´s "Speedlights" or "Speedlites", their great guide numbers of 55, 58 or even 60 are measured from the longest zoom position, where the flash power ist extremely concentrated. In early days, guide numbers were always stated at 50mm standard zoom setting. So it is with the 40MZ. At 105mm, the guide number is 50.

This machine can STROBE! You can adjust the number of flashes and the time in which they are to be fired. This gives you stroboscopic effects in a single picture.

This flash comes in three variations, 40MZ-1 to 40MZ-3. Versions 2 and 3 include an additional front-fixed flash (!!) in the foot. The light output is divided 85/15 between main and auxiliary head when activated (at the flick of a switch). Comes in handy when you want to illuminate the room by bouncing high over the ceiling or turn the main reflector into an umbrella with the aux head pointing at the subject. This support flash has slip-on ND plastic reducers hidden under the flash head! They reduce aux light power by 1 or 2 stops respectively.

Check it out... there are two ND plastic light reducers for the supplementary flash head. One is slipped on, the other is still in its place under the flash head (can be seen at the side that is slanted by 45° here). That´s analogue shit at its best!

There is a pull-out and slip-on wide-angle diffusor on some examples which enables light spreading for 20mm focal lengths. The 3 version can also zoom to 105mm instead of V1 and 2´s 85mm maximum.

There is a Ready-Sound (V2 and 3) that signalises acoustically that the flash is ready to go. It can be deactivated. There is also an alarm sound for automatic mode that rings when the flash didn´t get the right amount of light for the exposure.

Here you see the back, power turned off. The buttons are:
- display illumination
- f-stop adjustment (read out automatically for automatic mode with correct SCA adapter)
- remote switch (this flash can be triggered TTL-style with a special command module)
- "P" switch for power setting
- "ISO" adjustment  (read out automatically for automatic mode with correct SCA adapter)
- Ready tone adjustment (V2 and 3 only)
- "Prog" button for stored programs (you can store up to nine programs with every adjustable setting)
- zoom adjustment
- up right: "+" and "-" buttons for adjusting the preselected value
- ready lamp and test firing button
- mode switch A-M-Strobe-TTL and sometimes "EASY MODE" (screw this one)
- o.k. lamp for check of correct exposure in automatic mode
- power switch with energy-save-setting and keylock setting (and both-at-once-setting!)
below: the SCA adapter
- first- or second curtain-setting ("slow flash")
- coarse and fine power setting (+-3 stops and +-1/3stops)
- ATTL on/off (Canon specific!) some feature ETTL/ATTLm but still can´t read E-TTL. The flash doesn´t understand it.
On the left side of the device you can see the switch for the additional flash (on/off).

The display is super comprehensive. It shows everything you need to know. And it´s huge!

Metz flashes come cheap via ebay! Most units have been cared for exceptionally well. They take 4 AA batteries, just like any other flash.

Metz flashes are German-built and really tough. I´ve dropped some of mine a couple times, once from a two-meter high support. I had to push some of the plastic back into the fittings, but it still lives and throws light at things.

The 40MZ doesn´t produce a round light spot. It´s more like a wide oval. But that´s common among zoom head flashes.

The 100-Euro-Calumet plastic light modifier set will fit.
The Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid will fit (and work EXACTLY as promised! Nice!)

If you want to adapt this flash to some Bowens-Softbox-Speedring-Adapter or so, keep in mind that the 40MZ´s build is lower than the regular speedlight thing. You will need a thread adapter or two to raise it a little so it will fit through an adapter ring made for Canon or Nikon flashes. But then, it´s much more suitable for umbrella use. Tilting the head down by some degrees, it hits the exact middle of the umbrella.

SUMMARY: You get a hugely versatile flash head for real cheap. If the SCA adapter fits your camera and model, you get TTL-like features via automatic mode THAT ACTUALLY WORK while you still retain control over the power output. It is a dream to work with off- and on-camera. Since it was developed in a time between traditional flash work-only and super-modern TTL thingies-only, it marks the almost ideal design for both worlds (you do need to be a little quirky to show up with one of these). If you plan to get yourself one, don´t be shy to spend a hundred Euros/130 Dollars. It´s very rewarding to work with.

Don´t buy Chinese. You will lose your sync speed and have to go as slow as 1/160. You will not get a reliable unit that triggers every connected flash every time. Get at least a Hähnel Combi TF! It´s worth the extra money. The Hähnel doesn´t feature traditional PC connectors or -breakouts, but it will also work as a wireless remote camera trigger. It will trigger Nikon receivers from a Canon transmitter and vice versa, although only the hot shoe contact will work, still triggering any flash in the world.