Category Archives: Tutorials

Photography tutorials

Two Great Youtube Channels for Photography

A great thing about Youtube is that so many people can create instructional videos and make them widely available whereas, in the past, many had to use static images coupled with text to show you how to do things. I spend a decent portion of my mornings viewing a number of photography related channels on Youtube and so want to touch on two of my favourites.
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DIY Lighting Mods with Foamies and Velcro

I’ve previously noted that if you’re into amateur studio photography then foamies are your friend. Now, even more stuff to do with foamies…

For all of these mods, I used several types of black and white foamies, some with sticky backs and some with out. These are readily available in craft shops and for only a few dollars a pack. I typically buy the 9″ x 12″ sheets.

You’ll also want to get the Scotch velcro tape. You can get it in 1″ wide rolls with each package containing a roll of the hook and a roll of the catch.

Now, onto the mods…

The Speed Strap

Now, admittedly, these are pretty cheaply bought, but since I had all the material I needed, I made my own. It’s actually quite simple:

1. Measure your flash circumference and then add a couple of inches for elbow room. Mine is about 11¾” with the extra room.

2. Measure out and cut a strip of foamie that’s 1″ wide and about 1″ less than your previous measurement long. If you have a slicer or guillotine, it’s a lot easier, but a straight edge and Xacto knife is also good. Resort to scissors if you must, but don’t run with them. Anyways, the foamies compress and they end up providing excellent non-slip traction on your flash head, hence the reason we’re using them here.

3. Measure out and cut a strip of velcro tape, hook side, that matches the flash circumference you measured in step 1.

4. Remove the sticky back off the velcro and attach it to the foamie strip from step 2 with one end lining up evenly. This will leave just over an inch of the velcro hanging on the other end.

5. Now, using the catch portion of the velcro tape, attach just over an inch to the sticky back of the dangling hook velcro.

Done! You now have a speed strap. What’s it good for? Well, for attaching the remaining goodies, that I’m about to describe, to your flash. Anyways, here’s the outcome:

The Snoot Revisted

The last time I did a snoot, as shown in the article linked above, I was very happy with the outcome. The only thing I didn’t really like was that the second, white, foamie made it too stiff. However, it still works, but I wanted some snoots that worked with my new speed strap. Have a look at the sample images following the steps before you start cutting, it may make my instructions a little easier to follow.

1. Cut a white, non-sticky, foamie so that it is 12″ x 5″ in size.

2. Cut a strip of the hook velcro to about a 4″ length, precision isn’t that critical. Remove the backing and attach to one end of foamie, tight to the top, thus leaving about an inch at the bottom.

3. Cut three strips of the catch velcro to about a 5″ length. Flip over the foamie and attach all three, side-by-side, to the end opposite the hook velcro.

4. Cut a fourth strip of about 2″ and then cut down the middle, length-wise giving you two 2″ x 0.5″ strips. Cut one of those in half to get two 1″ x 0.5″ strips.

5. Flip the foamie back over so that the hook velcro side is showing. Attach the longer of the above strips at the bottom and center. Then attach the two smaller strips at the far ends.

Here’s a sample, but note that I used black foamies. Writing this article gave me an epiphany that I should have used white for the snoots, it doesn’t matter what the exterior colour is as long as the interior is white. Oh well, as a result, I had an extra step that involved Avery labels.

Now, you can repeat the above instructions, but add 3″ to the 4″ and 5″ lengths to get an 8″ snoot. That matches you up nicely with Honl snoot options. By the way, reflective foamies are also available in silver and gold, amongst other colours. Ah, the possibilities!

The Barn Door

Sometimes you don’t need, or want, the light tightening effect of the snoot, you just need to keep the flash from causing flair in your image. For that, you need the foamie barn door… This is very simple:

1. Cut a couple of 9″ x 5″ black, non-sticky, foamies and a couple of 9″ x 5″ white, sticky foamies. This gives you a couple of “doors” to work with and, it’s so easy, you can make more… You can also make them narrower or shorter, experiment to fit your needs.

2. Pair up each black with a white and stick them together, trim as you need.

3. Attach a 1″ strip of catch velcro on one end of each “door” and you’re done.

Note, I used the two sheets of each just make it a little more rigid. Here’s a shot of one on the flash:

The Bounce Card

Very similar to the barn door above, the bounce card is really easy to make:

1. Cut a non-sticky black foamie to about 6.5″ x 9″.

2. Cut a white, sticky, foamie to about 4.5″ x 8″ and attach to the black foamie, centered horizontally and flush to one end.

3. Cut a 2″ strip of the catch velcro, then split that length wise. Cut one the pieces of that in half.

4. Attach the 2″ x 0.5″ strip at the bottom (on the black foamie) centered horizontally and flush to the end.

5. Attach the 1″ x 0.5″ strips to the far sides at the bottom. It’s going to look very similar to the snoot.

Here’s a shot of it on my flash:

That’s my foamie round-up. I have a few more ideas in mind, but I haven’t entirely squared the ‘how’ in my head yet. By the way, the some total cost of the above, not counting time, was about $20 worth of stuff. You can buy all of these, ready made, but I assure you that you’ll pay a great deal more. Besides, it was fun.

Catching the Elusive Water Drop

For some reason people, myself included, like water drop photographs. Catching that moment of the splash is a lot of fun (hence the proliferation of them on my site) and it’s actually not all that hard.

First, lets talk the basics of it… To catch the drop, you have to freeze that moment in time and we do that with light. In general, to make this happen, here are my basic ingredients:

1. Flash mounted off camera, with a snoot, and at about 1/16th power.

2. The camera positioned at a fairly low angle to the water surface and focused where the drops are striking (more about that in a moment).

3. Set the camera to a low ISO (I use 100 usually), an aperture of f/8 or f/9.5, and a shutter speed of about 1 second.

4. From these settings, you can probably guess that the room is going to have to be very dark, the darker the better. Why? Well that ensures that the only light being captured is the light of the flash.

5. Some sort of pan, I usually use glass bakeware but there are lots of options, to catch the water. Fill it up, preferrably to the rim with a much larger pan underneath to catch the overflow.

6. Some source for the drops suspended above the drip pan. There are a lot of options here from baggies to expensive machines with precise control. I started with baggies and used the more expensive zip lock because they didn’t result in an uncontrolled stream. Eventually I rigged my own using a watering jug for rabbits, some 1/2″ clear tubing, and a readily obtained water valve from the Home Depot. All the parts fit together nicely, were very cheap, and gave me much better control of the water than a baggy did. At some point I’ll post a DIY article on it, however, baggies are fine as well and you can use a straight pin to make a small puncture that gives a reasonable flow.

7. A light, or multi-coloured, backdrop behind the water pan. You’ll want to bounce the light from the flash off it instead of aiming directly at the water.

So, now that you have all the parts, it’s time to start shooting. First things first, get everything into position. Generally, I place the camera on a sturdy tripod a few feet from the drip pan aiming straight on and attach my cable release. The flash is then placed on another tripod about two feet away, with the snoot on, and aimed at the backdrop so that the light bounces off that and hits the water from behind. The snoot will help to keep the light focussed tightly in the area you want it.

Next, you have to focus the camera on where the drops are hitting. There are a couple of ways to do this:

1. Place a bolt in the drip pan until the drops strike it and then focus on the bolt. When satisfied, remove the bolt.

2. Place a nice, straight, object such as a ruler or a skewer, across the pan horizontally until the drops are hitting it and then focus on that where the strikes are.

I use both methods, go with what works, but bear in mind that autofocus is not going to work well and trying to manually focus without a focus aid is near impossible. Alright, now that you’re focussed, you’re ready to go… So, turn off all lights (use a flashlight to move around if you need, but turn it off when ready to start), position yourself so that you have the cable release in one hand and a finger of your other hand on the “test” button of the flash. When ready, fire the camera and then manually press the flash test button to trigger the flash.

Now, of course, you’re very unlikely to get the perfect shot the first try, so the goal here is to fire often and at will. Any time I set out to do these shots I will usually take between 200 to 600 or more pictures. Why not? I doesn’t really cost anything with digital and you’re more likely to get some wall art this way! So, don’t stint on the shutter count here.

DIY Studio Light Table for Product/Macro Photography

You can buy these, of course, but for about $100 (give or take), you can build one yourself. Since I’m on vacation, I decided to spend the time to build one and then share the process on my site (which is remarkably un-grumpy for me).

I’m not a professional photographer, so the idea of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a lighting table for product/macro work just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There are, of course, plenty of examples of this sort of thing from the DIY perspective, but none were quite what I was looking for, so I rolled my own and now I’m posting the details if you want to give it a go.

First, materials:

  • 11 1″x2″x3′ pine boards.
  • 2 1″x2″x6′ pine boards
  • 10 1.5″ L-brackets
  • 8 0.5″ L-brackets
  • 32″x48″ clear plexiglass (the most expensive part)
  • Lots of smaller wood screws with a head large enough for the brackets
  • Clamp lights, as desired, for lighting from the sides or underneath
  • Black or white curtain (mine has black on one side, white on the other)

I chose clear plexiglass because it gave me the most options overall. When I want to light from underneath, I can still have the black or white of the curtain provide a consistent background. If I need “infinite” white, or another colour for that matter, I can lay the curtain over the plexiglass or other fabric as needed. All in all, it seems to be a good option.

So, now all you need to do is build the frame:

1. Build the base. Using 4 of the smaller pieces of wood, create a basic box structure with the 1.5″ brackets. This will provide some additional stability. You could, optionally, with some more wood build cross braces as well, though it doesn’t seem necessary.

2. Use 2 of the smaller pieces of wood to build the front “legs”. I used the 0.5″ brackets and then an additional bracing screw to make it solid. Note, the legs are on the inside of the base with the wide side facing the sides of the table.

3. Use the 2 larger pieces of wood to build the back “legs” again with the same brackets and positioning as #2 above.

4. Build the upper table portion with 3 pieces of the smaller wood basically the same as the base (minus the back). Note well: this is 3 pieces, the front and two sides as we don’t want a back piece visible in any shots.

5. Attach the upper table to the “legs” so that the edges of the frame are even with the tops of the 3′ legs. Use a level, if you have one, to position this as it makes it easier. As does, for that matter, an extra set of hands or some clamps (I used clamps). I used the 0.5″ L-brackets for this as well, though there is some small spill-over when attaching to the rear legs.

6. Using one of the small pieces of wood and the 1.5″ brackets, create a lower back brace about 20″ from the ground with the wide side facing out and behind the legs. This should be high enough to be useful and low enough to stay out of the picture (though you can drape your backdrop over it).

7. Using the last of the small pieces of wood and 1.5″ brackets, create an upper back brace about 1′ from the top of the rear legs with the wide side facing out and behind the legs.

8. Position the plexiglass so that the ends are about center on the front “table” brace and the upper back brace. I used small screws to hold it at the front and then drilled a couple of holes at the top and screwed the top into place to keep it firm.

9. Have a beer. Okay, this step is optional, but it worked for me.

So, the beauty of this, because it is wood, it’s very easy to attach other things to it such as lights, diffusers, reflectors, etc. I was originally going to do this using PVC pipes, but the connector options just weren’t there and, to be honest, I’m kind of happy that it worked out this way. At the very least, I have to imagine that it’s a little tricky to clamp lamps onto round tubes…

Here’s some shots of the finished product (excuse the basement mess). Bear in mind that I’m shooting the stand, not using it, so the reflections are from ceiling lights that I would normally have off before doing any work.

Now, here’s some shots using the newly created table: