Spring has Sprung! New Gear New Techniques: How to Shoot Fill Flash Portraits into the Sun. / by Zack Smith

How did I make this photograph you ask? Get inspired by Louisiana, befriend a tree, and wait for the fog....

ISO 100, 1/125 at f1.6 with Variable Neutral Density filter at 8 stops on my 35mm on Canon MarkIV, self timer. Canon 580EX off camera flash at 1/1 (full power) Orange Gel.

ISO 100, 1/125 at f1.6 with Variable Neutral Density filter at 8 stops on my 35mm on Canon MarkIV, self timer. Canon 580EX off camera flash at 1/1 (full power) Orange Gel.

What gets you off your couch? What motivates you to pick up your camera and find the next great photograph in New Orleans, Lafayette, Baton Rouge or Bunkie? For me, nothing gets me out of the office like a new lens, flash, or gadget to help tell the story in a different way. As you know I have been photographing that amazing oak tree at the Chalmette National Historic Battlefield for almost over a year. You can see some of my galleries on this blog (CLICK for one here!) where I have photographed this tree at sunrise, sunset, in the fog, and in an impending rain deluge! I have awoken from deep couch sleep to peer out of my window and see the sun 20º above the horizon knowing that tree was perfectly backlit. I'd race out the house with my 17-40mm f4 lens and get what I could. I enjoyed posting my photo galleries and explorations in light, but I needed some new inspiration: NEW GEAR!

Learning my new DSLR and flash was going to be on the fly and inspired by Louisiana

I don't have alot of time these days to be with that tree, so I have to photograph it when the moment hits. Usually the perfect combination of fog and sunrise will get me out the house, but with my recent acquisition of some new lenses have me very excited to see my tree in a very different way. When I shoot music festivals in Louisiana there are a few lenses I like to bring with me: a wide angle for getting those large establishing shots, my telephoto for when I am shooting from the photo pit at a far away stage, and a few primes for nice creative depth of field. You can see some of my recent music festival photographs at my Voodoo Fest Gallery and French Quarter Fest galleries.

Remember our lenses are our eyes and how we see the world through our camera

I have been playing around with the new 35mm 1.4 L lens and loving it. I have been working around with my 8 Stop Variable Neutral Density filter, shooting at 1.4 with my Canon 580EX speed lights. The only way that I can photograph into the sun AND use my flashes is to knock down the light that is entering my lens. As you know, our cameras have a sync speed that must be met so the light from our flash can be exposed on the sensor while not being interrupted by the camera's shutter. Most cameras sync speeds are at 1/200, 1/180 or around that speed. When you set your shutter speed FASTER than that (1/320 or 1/500 for example) the shutter is moving too fast across the sensor plane and your flash cannot get through, thus leaving you with a black bar across the image:

Let's talk about how I got the photograph at the header of this post - photographing shallow depth of field portraits using studio flash.

I recently purchased the Pocket Wizard TTL Wireless Radio 5 Pack for Canon, allowing me to control the output of my off camera Canon speedlights from my camera. This allows me to place my flash near my subject, then adjust the power of the flash from my camera thus helping me work faster and smarter!

I setup my 580EX at full power 1/1 in manual mode and put an orange gel taped to the front of it. I set a prefocus on the bench with my lens on Auto Focus, then set it back to Manual Focus. This is very important because if we tap the shutter again, the camera might want to focus on something else and all our hard work is for naught as our subject will be soft! Taking a test shot, I then zoomed into the shot to see if I was in focus. We need to remember that what we see on our LCD screen always looks great, especially when our focal point at f1.6 is only about 6 inches! We really have to get into the habit of zooming into our photographs so we learn how to see the actual focus. This is a great photo-habit to have!

After I took a few test shots with the bench, I was able to sit down (on the wet morning dew bench of course) and get in the shot. I forgot to mention that I was using my tripod for this shot, but at this point I assumed you knew that! I wanted this shot to be iconic in a different way as I have always shot the tree and very seldom am I in the shot. Thinking about the new gear that i just acquired I wanted to see if I could put all the pieces together and make one striking Louisiana inspired self portrait. Thanks for reading, and get out there...SHOOT FOR THE WALL!

Remember its FESTIVAL TIME IN NEW ORLEANS! Spots are open for my French Quarter Fest Photography Workshop so CLICK HERE to sign up now!