Facing Your Flash Phobia

off-camera flash, Jinbie HB600, Expose for the background

Here is Nayoung being a temporary model so I can adjust the background exposure and the power of the flash.

If you have spent any amount of time on my blog, you know that I have a phobia about off-camera lighting. I love to use on-camera flash and play with dragging the shutter. But off-camera – that’s the kind of stuff that makes my palms sweat and my body break out in hives. I am not sure why it is so befuddling for me. Maybe it has to do with my many learning disabilities or the fact that I waited way too long to learn this trick and now I am an old dog. Whatever the reason, it has been a journey of two steps forward, one step back.

background exposure, test shot, Jinbie HD 600

This is photo is pretty much right out of the camera. This was pretty close to what I wanted for my background exposure.

My off-camera flash mentor is Piet Van den Eynde, my Miyagi of light. You may recall, Piet sold me his Jinbei HD600 strobe. It is a 600-watt monster that competes with the big boys like ProFoto’s B1, only at about a third or less of the cost. It is the Jinbei that I have been using to confront my fears. Why the Jinbei and not a speed light? Well, for one thing, it is entirely manual and believe it or not, shooting manually with a flash is proving easier for me and is giving me a great foundation. Once you learn the fundamentals, only then can one move on. Wax on, wax off. Another reason I chose the Jinbei is because it is so powerful; it can overpower the sun and allow me to use this flash anytime and anywhere.

Whenshooting in manual it really is just a mater of taking a shot and making the adjustments. Here the flash needed more power.

When shooting in manual it is just a matter of making an exposure then adjusting it. In this exposure, the flash needed a lot more power.

For the past few weeks, I have been getting to know a couple of new photographers in my town, Simon Bond, and Pete DeMarco (another Pete). Simon and Pete are both relatively new to the area; they arrived here while I was away in the U.S. over the past year. These guys shoot a very different style than I shoot.. They are more into creative techniques and photo magic such as  light painting.

Simon and Pete invited me to try out light painting.  Simon has a new toy he is still learning to use. They wanted to introduce me to light stick called a Pixelstick.  They suggested we go to the very southern tip of the island to a place called Vanilla Bay and shoot against the sunset. The only real issue is there has not been a significant sunset for many days. It has rained every day here since arriving back to Malaysia in September. But the weather changes here by the minute, so who know? We risked it and drove to Vanilla Bay.

We were a rather large group: Pete and his partner Nayoung, Simon and his wife Jayoung, Vijiakumar Shunmugam from a local Facebook photo group,and Chrysmic Qmin and her boyfriend Yaan Sin Lee. Qmin acted as our model.

Pete, Simon and their respective partners and I arrived early to scout the right location and set up the gear. Sometimes the best moments are serendipitous. As we arrived I noticed two boys flying red balloons from fishing poles. The boys were silhouetted against a late afternoon sky.his was too good to pass up.

I quickly asked Nayoung to stand in as my model while I frantically tried to get the exposure of the sky correct. What I have learned, (wax on) is to first expose your scene for the background. Get it as dark or as light as you want it. Of course, all this is done in manual mode. On my X-Pro2 I needed a flash sync of 1/250 sec. so I simply adjusted the aperture to get the desired exposure.

A side note here: the biggest enemy in my photography and I would wager in yours is panic. I was quickly trying to get the exposure before these boys left or their balloons popped. I kept telling myself, “Slow down!”

 

Jinbei HD 600, Vanilla Bay Balancing ambient light and flash.

Eventually, it all comes together!

 

Jinbei HD 600, Vanilla Bay Balancing ambient light and flash.

Serendipity!

 

It's a good feeling to get it right in the camera.

It’s a good feeling to get it right in the camera.

Once I got the background exposed the way I wanted it I had to set up the flash unit and softbox. “It is still pretty bright out, do I use the grid or not?” Trial and error. I left it off for the time being.  I told myself, “Just set it up and take a few frames to balance the exposure on Nayong (wax off).” It was way too light. I needed to lower the power of this monster. Bam! I got it!

Above are the results of my effort. But it was only after a few frames, and the boys left. Of course not without a portrait of their own.

 

Chrysmic Qmin

Chrysmic Qmin

 

Chrysmic Qmin and her boyfriend. An impromptu couple shot between setups.

Chrysmic Qmin and her boyfriend. They asked for an impromptu couple shot between setups.

 

Later that night I became the VALS or Voice Activated Light Stand ;-).  In other words, I held the light all night. But it gave me a chance to observe Simon and his Pixelstick in action. I began watching how he maneuvered it. I had to try. I had an idea. Could I make angel wings? If I turned on the stick while standing behind her and moving the stick to form a wing then turning it off and repeating the same move on the other side it should make wings. In theory. The problem is, I can’t stand behind her when the flash is popped. So I have to run out and after the flash goes off start drawing my wings. Easier said than done on coral rock at night with a 5 foot Pixelstick  in your hand.

 

My first attempt at angel wings looked more like a peacock tail!

My first attempt at angel wings looked more like a peacock tail!

 

After thinking it through , this was a much better attempt. Not bad for two tries.

After thinking it through , this was a much better attempt. Not bad for two tries.

 

On my first try I just about broke my ankle (actually cut it on the coral) Oh well, the show must go on. The second try was better. Maybe the blood loss slowed me down. By this time of night, everyone was exhausted and frankly, it was time to go home.

 

 

A good night of inspiration and hard work using new tech. It was also a night of relearning old lessons: don’t panic, slow down, be purposeful.

Tomorrow I am off to some pretty fun places with my piece of tech, my Fujifilm X-T2. Be looking for new photos and some thoughts on this amazing little camera in the days to come.

Comfort Zones

comfort-zone

 

Recently I heard a really great quote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This resonated with me so much when I heard it I even thought, “now here is a quote I could tattoo on my body.” But I didn’t. I liked it because in many ways this has been my life’s motto even without me ever saying it out loud or tattooing it on my arm. It is why in 1987 I visited India, to push myself out of my comfort zone. It is why in 1994 I moved with my new bride to Kashmir and started a small trekking company. I was not content with being comfortable. Then, when in 2007 I moved back to the USA, it took only two years to realize I was getting too comfortable and so we moved to Malaysia. Continue reading