Setting goals and achieving them

August 24th, 2015



Setting goals and achieving them

Goals and objectives. Goals and objectives. Goals… and… objectives. We hear this all the time and think we are on the right path, but the reality is we are not. There is an art to goals and objectives, not only in setting them, but in achieving them.

We all have different goals for our business and even our craft. How we shoot. Working with lighting. Growing revenue. These are all valid goals. Achieving them is never a straight or easy path. Lots of zigzagging Here are some simple ways to change the way you see and attack your goals. Ultimately, goals not achieved can be very deflating to your momentum – so putting goals and objectives together that can be realistically achieved is extremely important.

Goals give us the direction we need. As creatives, direction is laughable. We love to chase squirrels. It’s what we do. However, the business owner in us all needs to be focused. Chasing squirrels comes at a price to the business.

When it comes to setting goals there is a great formula we used when in corporate. It’s by no means a new idea. I am hoping that I can show you some ways to apply it to the business of photography and help you find your path.

When it comes to setting goals, follow the below principles and I promise you that you will start making massive strides in your accomplishments.


1) Get Specific. Goals have to be well defined. For example, setting a goal like “shoot more weddings” is useless. How many more? We have to have specific goals. For example, set a goal like, shoot 30 weddings. That’s very specific. In addition, set what are called “stretch goals.” Every year in our business we have year end goals and stretch goals. This forces you to keep pushing even if you hit your first goal. You never want to coast. If you can, keep pushing. It’s an amazing feeling.

2) Must be Measurable. Setting goals that cant be measured is really frustrating for anyone. “Be more active on social media” – how will you know if you have achieved this? Build my Facebook page to 1000 likes. Post on social media 3 times per week. These are goals that are very measurable. Seems like common sense, but you would be surprised how many people miss this simple concept.

3) Must be Achievable. What is the point of setting a goal that is so difficult you cant achieve it. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for setting challenging goals, but to set goals that are in dreamland don’t help you or your business. Once you realize they are not attainable – you will quit on them.

4) Relevance. Set goals that are relevant to the direction you are taking your career. For example, setting a goal to shoot more weddings, when you don’t want to be a wedding photographer, again, makes no sense. Goals should be part of a master plan. For example, many of you may still be working full time jobs and want to quit some day to be a full time photographer. Ok. Awesome goal. So, set goals that are relevant to going full time. A great goal might be to put your business plan together in the next 60 days. This would make the goal – achievable, measurable, relevant and specific.

5) Time. You must have hard deadlines associated with your goals or like all artists and business people, life will get in the way and you WILL procrastinate. I have seen it over and over again, even within my own business. We all get busy and we tend to put things on hold. Put a time and date on the calendar and force yourself and your team to march to that beat.

Coming up with an excuse is never the issue. We all have a plethora of reasons why we are not achieving our goals. Something is always getting in the way. Following and adhering to the S.M.A.R.T framework is not going to fix all your squirrely chasing, but it surely going to help you and your team get on track and stay on track.

What goals have you set for 2015 and how close are you to achieving them? We are heading into the 4th quarter of the year, its time to hunker down and get serious.

Good luck.

Canon 5DS Review

August 18th, 2015


Canon 5DS Review

Recently, I got my hands on a pre-production Canon 5DS. YAY, MORE MEGAPIXELS! I hope everyone realizes, its NOT just about megapixels. It’s about the size and quality of those pixels. Medium format will ALWAYS win out over a DSLR in the battle for size and quality. A 50 megapixel medium format camera and a 50megapixel DSLR will not yield the same results and there is a hefty price tag to drive that point home. However, medium format is not without its own set of challenges. These challenges, as a wedding and portrait photographer, are what have led me back to the DSLR platform.


If you have been following my journey, you know I have been dabbling with medium format in search of the latest and greatest in pixel quality and resolution. I have worked with the Phase One IQ250 and IQ260 and then of course, the Hasselblad H5DC. For the record, the H5DC won over the Phase One IQ250 for a multitude of reasons for me. The number one reason, their focusing system was superior to the IQ250. I realize, these companies are constantly releasing updates and new features, so that assessment will probably change over time, but that’s not what this is about.


My testing of equipment is rarely about tech-specs or anything scientific – I will warn you about that up front. Want to geek out on tech specs, etc – google 5Ds review and you will get a plethora of results for features that may or may not be relevant to you. I don’t give a shit what the companies say, how many milli-seconds something takes, etc. For me, that’s all marketing mumbo-jumbo. It’s about what works for me and my business and what doesn’t. Like many of you out there, I am an active working photographer. So, I wonder if this will help my business and my work improve, and if so, how? So, below, are some of the results of my initial testing with the camera.


Detail. Holy crap. The one thing I love about Medium-Format was the level of detail in the images. Well, the 5Ds did not disappoint. As you can see in the image below. This was a senior portrait shot in our studio and the zoomed image is tack sharp and crystal clear. At 3:1 zoom in Lightroom, you can see my reflection with no pixilation. My current Canon 1Dx turns to mush at 3:1.


Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.37.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.41.14 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.38.10 PM

Larger file sizes. Get ready for more and larger memory cards. These images at full RAW are coming off the camera at ~70mb. If you are working on an older laptop, you better be ready to upgrade.

Noise. If you are shooting high ISO – there is going to be noise. When you have that many megapixels, noise gets amplified. This is something that haunts medium-format to this day. Get over about ISO 800 and things get unusable fast. However, the 5Ds performed much better in low light than I expected. Below are some images shot at ISO2000. There is always going to be noise, but I was pleasantly surprised at how useable the images were. Then of course, use the built in noise reduction in Lightroom and the world is good again.


Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.57.14 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.57.19 PM

After noise reduction applied.Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 4.58.36 PM

Speed. If you are shooting in a studio and controlled environment, medium format is going to perform like a boss. However, this is where I was running into trouble. If you are in the field or a wedding photographer working in diverse and uncontrolled lighting situations – you need speed. Gear should always enhance your ability to create a shot. It’s a tool. The gear should never get in the way or slow you down. Speed is not just how many frames per second you can click off. I am not a sports photographer. Speed, to me, is defined in terms of how quickly I can change settings, adjust focus points, move from dynamic scene to dynamic scene, adjust exposure, etc. If you are used to working with the Canon system – the settings and adjustments are all pretty much the same.

Lens selection. Without a doubt, the 5Ds wins here. With damn near over 70 lenses in its EF lineup – there is a lens for every situation. One of the challenges with some of the medium format systems is the lack of lens selection, not to mention, the high cost of glass because the shutter is in the lens. When something goes wrong, the replacement cost is astronomical.

Focusing system. 61 point focusing system. What else is there to really say? You want a sharp image? An advanced focus and metering system is going to win out every single time. If you find yourself practicing one of the most ridiculous shooting techniques out there – focus recompose – then you are fighting the physics of your optics. Your images will be soft and if you are shooting wide open – 2.8 or 1.2 – images are guaranteed to be soft and damn near unusable. This is where the additional focus points come into play – place that bad-boy on your subjects eye and bam, “Houston, we have sharp images!”


After shooting both a senior session and a wedding this week with the 5Ds, I am now going to add this to my bag. This is a strong primary and/or secondary camera for your business. I have been using the 1D series for about 8 years now and have desperately been waiting for an updated version of the 1Dx camera body, but unless something ground breaking comes out this year, the 5Ds is going to be my new primary camera.

The image quality is incredible and you get all the benefits of the Canon platform.

Now, how long before they come out with those 1tb memory cards?

The Assistant’s Manual with Alissa Zimmerman

August 1st, 2015

The Assistant’s Manual | The Beginning with Alissa Zimmerman


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As professional photographers and business owners, I’m sure you’ve poured your heart and soul into building a business that allows you the freedom to do what you want when you want, and live your creative passion every day. With the success of building that dream comes the reality of overloading yourself to the point where you can no longer do it alone. Enter your new photo assistant, right hand, second in command, etc. Whatever the title, if you’re at a point in your business where you are ready to hire the newest addition to your team, below are a few steps to take in the first few months to ensure a successful journey for both of you.


Whether you’re hiring part-time or full-time help, an assistant will help the flow of photo shoots, office management and daily routines, allowing you to focus on building and perfecting your brand even more.


The Training Process


About three years ago, Sal had the time to dedicate all his energy into training me to be the assistant he needed. Here’s how you have to think about it: You’re setting this person up for success. You are investing a lot of money in this person so she can be part of your team. You have to put in the time needed to train her.


Below are three steps Sal took in the beginning to make sure I was set up to be successful.


Step 1: Put your assistant on the bag.


When I first started working for Sal, he had me “on the bag” for about three months before I could really serve as any kind of beneficial assistant. I learn by observing, then asking questions. Having me sit back and watch the process to make sure I really understood his style of photography was probably the best thing he could have done to ramp me into the assistant he needed.


I had to give up every weekend during this training period to sit with a gear bag and watch how he and Gage (his assistant at the time) worked together on a wedding day. By doing this, Sal was able to not only show me the process and workflow, but he also built loyalty in me and used this as a chance to see whether or not I would last. If I could give up every weekend for three months to sit with a bag for eight to 10 hours a day, I had what it took to work side by side with him, and he knew he could rely on me.


Step 2: Be accessible and patient with your assistant.


Naturally, with any new hire, there are going to be a lot of questions, and even more mistakes made. What may be second nature to you seasoned vets out there may be a foreign language to your new assistant. Patience is key when it comes to hiring bodies, especially when hiring someone you are grooming to be your right hand. Making sure your assistant understands not only what you’re doing but why is the most important thing you can do while you’re still in the early part of training.


Sal has a three-strikes kind of rule for making mistakes. His motto is “Run into a new wall.” Meaning, don’t make the same mistakes over and over again. The first time, he’s very lenient—it’s a coaching moment, really. What happened? How did it happen? What is the solution to make sure it doesn’t happen again? The second time the same mistake is made gets a very firm correction from Sal (you don’t want to get the firm correction point, trust me). Third time? Welcome to your worst nightmare.


Step 3: Make your assistant uncomfortable.


Yeah, I said it. Make them squirm. Push your assistant to the edge, then push just a little harder and see how they respond. I hated every second of the training process under Sal, but it made me who I am today. You have to push assistants to step out of their comfort zone and feel the pressure. To some, this may seem like a sick and twisted way of training, but it is exactly how I learned.


I was convinced for a solid four months that Sal’s only mission in life was to put me in situations where I didn’t have the answers or any clue what I was doing just to watch me go into full-blown panic mode, for his own personal entertainment. Two and a half months into the job, I was on the bag for a wedding that allowed over three hours for creatives. Sal flew through the locations and got everything he needed, with over an hour remaining. As I sat by a tree guarding the bags, ready to switch lenses at any moment, Sal decided to change things up a bit.


“Alissa! Get over here!” I ran over to him, and Sal handed me his camera. In front of all 26 people in the wedding party, he said to me, “Your turn. Take a stab at it. Change the posing and show me what you can do for a group shot.”


I have no poker face whatsoever. I can only imagine the sheer terror that washed across my face in that moment as my heart started pounding, hands started trembling and armpits started sweating profusely. There was no way for me to recover from the reaction everyone had just witnessed, but Sal hopped in and walked me through each part. Step by step, he had me start with the bride and groom. He made me pose them, then he critiqued and explained what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.


Constant and Consistent Communication


As the primary photographer, it is your job to communicate your expectations clearly and make sure your assistant understands what you need at all times. Sal has always been very clear about what he needs from me in any given situation. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in him, but I am never unsure what I should be doing—anything from what light setup he wants to when he wants his coffee. Be direct and confident in your direction, and always make sure your assistant understands what you need.


As the assistant, it is your job to be a sponge and remember to stay open-minded to critiques and direction from the primary. It’s very easy to get caught up in the stresses of learning your new role, and to start taking things personally. If the photographer you’re assisting tells you to go get the flash, trigger, battery pack and a different lens for a shot, go get it. Don’t read into it—they’re not being rude or treating you like less of a human being. That is your job. Do it, and do it with excellence.


As the assistant, it is also your responsibility to speak up when you don’t know the answer. Your job is to make the primary photographer’s job easier, so if you’re afraid to speak up when you’re uncertain, that is actually creating more work in the long run when issues arise. It is OK to raise your hand and admit you have no idea what your boss is talking about.



Establishing Process


We are such a process-driven company, it’s almost impossible for me to understand how companies can function without it. I remember thinking Sal was an absolute crazy person when I first started (who am I kidding, I still think that), but now I realize his OCD behaviors all serve a very important purpose. Process will always save you when things don’t go according to plan.


Establishing a process between you and your assistant is essential for all strategic parts of your business, and will make your life so much easier. You have taken the step to hire a new person to work alongside you; now it’s time to let go of some of the mundane tasks keeping you from doing what you love.


Every Friday night before a Saturday wedding, our gear-prepping process is always the same. It started with Sal doing it all by himself; then he let me sit and watch; then he let me do a few parts of the process; and now we each have specific duties within the main task of prepping gear. I know what I own and Sal knows what he owns. About a year ago, Sal was traveling home from a trip the night before a wedding and asked me to prep everything on my own. Guess what happened? I forgot to put the extra battery in the gear bag. It really is inevitable—you have to start implementing processes and operating under Murphy’s Law. If you do, your day-to-day workflow will become second nature and the number of things causing you stress will continue decreasing over time.


The importance of proper training when you are ready to hire your first assistant should never be overlooked. You’re taking a step in the right direction to build and perfect your business. You’re investing time, energy and a lot of money into this person. It is your job as the business owner, visionary and primary photographer to equip your assistant for success.


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Outdoor Photography with Blair Phillips

August 1st, 2015

Outdoor Photography with Blair Phillips


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The sun can be one of the biggest enemies of outdoor photography. I used to hate working until 9:00 every night in the summer months because I was relying on nothing but natural light. I would book the majority of my sessions in the late afternoon and evening. When I reached my breaking point, I was ready for a change. That’s when I learned off-camera lighting. The turning point in my career was seeing the results I got from taking my studio light outdoors. Now I was able to go home at 5:00 every night. I even regained my love for photography.


Managing your outdoor lighting may seem like a lot of added stress and work. Let me break it down for you with two simple techniques that take the guesswork and stress out of the equation. First, let’s look at the basics.


Time of day


Early in the morning and later in the evening are the best times to shoot outdoors in natural light. But when you use studio light outdoors, you can shoot any time of day and manipulate your scene into several different looks. One little light can change your world forever. We now photograph our sessions beginning at 8:00 in the morning, and the last one at 3:00 in the afternoon. I can go out in the middle of the day in the blaring sun and create beautiful images straight from camera. In years past, I always had to find some shade to work in.




This subject will always be ripe for debate. I can only give my opinion based on what I have tried and am currently using. I started with one Nikon flash unit. I quickly realized that one flash was no match for the sun in the middle of the day. I was using that flash at full power trying to overpower the sun. It nearly melted from repeated full-power flashes. I didn’t really like the harsh look I got from it, preferring the look I got from softboxes in the studio.


My light of choice is an AlienBees 800 or 1600. One of these lights equals four or more times the power of a single flash unit. I use AlienBees’s portable power system to operate the light out in the field. The bigger the softbox, the softer the light, so my best results come from the Westcott rapid box. This is a large softbox that opens and closes like an umbrella. I also use an AlienBees CyberSync trigger transmitter to make my lights fire. This equipment is absolutely bulletproof, and I have used this setup for several years with no shortage of abuse.


When I began using outdoor lighting, I quickly became frustrated having to carry everything. The most frustrating and embarrassing thing was trying to keep my light from blowing over. I developed and manufactured a cart that makes outdoor lighting extremely portable and so easy. My light cart has large pneumatic wheels that allow you to simply roll your light, softbox, triggering device and even your camera bag anywhere you want to go. This way, all of your lenses are right there with you. No more relying on everyone to carry all of your gear for you. This gives me freedom and motivation to explore new locations. Shooting outdoors has become so much fun again. Nothing shows a lack of professionalism like asking your clients to help carry your gear from location to location. This setup helps validate your pricing and prove why you are worth it.


My methods


Starting out with additive outdoor lighting can be a little intimidating. It only gets easier. There are essentially two ways I tackle it.


Method #1


One technique I use is when I’m shooting into a darker background. With this method, I expose for the shot as if I am relying on natural light. I turn my light on and turn the power down really low. All that I am looking for is to add a really nice fill flash into the eyes. This method allows you to shoot at very shallow apertures. The main objective for using additive outdoor lighting in this way is to first achieve proper exposure on your subject’s face without the lighting firing on it. Once you have good exposure on the skin, simply turn your light on, adjust the power to its lowest output and then take a shot with the light hitting your subject. This typically supplies just enough light to brighten the eyes. It avoids dark eye sockets and helps bring the eyes to life.


Method #2


The second method is to overpower the sun. Use your camera’s built-in meter to determine proper exposure for the sky. This will darken down the overall exposure of your image. Now you need to add a large amount of lighting back on your subject to achieve proper exposure on her. Turn your light output to nearly full power while using it on your subject. If the amount of lighting on her is too bright, simply turn down the light output. If she is too dark, turn up the output. The main objective of this method is to darken a really bright sky while maintaining proper exposure on your subject. This method also brightens the eyes and eye sockets.


Unleash the creative animal inside of you and get your lighting outdoors so you can own your life again. If you have been using off-camera lighting for a long time, it may be time to completely change the way you do things. This could be as simple as changing your modifier, placing your main light outside your comfort zone or adding a second light to the mix. Whatever the missing link is, no one can help you find it but you.


So grab an extra light, get that thing outside and make some magic happen.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Using Hard Light with Craig Lamere

August 1st, 2015

Using Hard Light with Craig Lamere

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For the most part, whenever I hear shooters talk about how to light people, around 95 percent of the conversations are about how to create soft, diffused light. Everyone wants the biggest softbox, they want the deepest octa or they want a set of continuous light to get that pretty, diffused window-light look. What I seldom hear from longtime shooters—and very rarely from new shooters—is how they want to create hard light.


With that in mind, this month I want to talk about a type of light that is way overlooked by most shooters. Hard light—by which I mean a nondiffused, specular, direct light—is thought of as a big no-no by a lot of shooters. But to me, it’s one of the coolest and best types of light, one that makes your work pop and stand out from the crowd.


Here are three ways to either create or find this type of light.


Modeling lamp as constant


A strobe head comes with two lights. One is the actual flash tube that creates the light you use to make your image. The other is what is called the modeling lamp. The modeling lamp is used as an approximate guide that shows you how the light is falling in conjunction with your strobe.


Here’s a memorable early experience I had shooting strobes with barn doors.


I had been shooting strobes for a long time, always with an attached softbox, a strip light with a grid or a beauty dish. I decided to practice with my barn doors. I put them on and turned the head on. The light that came out, because the lamp was at full power, was super bright. It reminded me of a Fresnel light. I shot my session, but kept thinking about how bright the modeling lamp was in my Einsteins.


I wanted that old black-and-white Hollywood feel with a lot of depth of field, but with a hard edge. I also wanted that “shoot what you see” feel, the latitude of shooting you get using constant lights, but in a harder form. I knew the light from the modeling light was not going to be strong enough to shoot at f4 or more without really pushing the ISO; if I wanted to be past f4, I would just shoot the strobe as a strobe and not try to use it the way I was hoping to. I figured I’d shoot at f2–f1.2 with my 85 L 1.2.


I scheduled another practice session for the next day to see if the lamp with the barn doors was bright enough to use as a continuous light. It was. It was awesome to just put the light where I wanted it, to use the barn doors to control exactly how I wanted the light to fall. I achieved a very crisp and edgy light.


Because I was using my strobe as a constant light, I used my constant rule, which is to spot-meter in camera. There were two small issues I had to resolve that were no biggie. Because I was using the modeling lamp as the main, I had to employ a custom white balance since the light was crazy warm in tone. I moved my ISO to 400—which for today’s bodies is nothing as far as noise goes—so I could shoot at the speed I wanted. I’m a hand holder, so I like to shoot at 1/500th and up because I’m kind of shaky.


Hard light indoors with the 7-inch reflector


When my first set of strobes showed up on my doorstep all those years ago, I was so excited that I tore open the cardboard boxes to get at my green AlienBees 800s. There was a black plastic cover over the modeling light and flash tube.


There was also a silver round thing in the box that I never really paid any mind, because all I could think of was getting to the studio and trying out my softboxes that had been delivered the day before. The silver thing was a 7-inch reflector. At the time, the only thing I knew to use it for was to get a grid for it and use it as a rim or hair light modifier. I had been shooting everything in studio with my 4×6 and 3×4 box to get that soft feel or with my white beauty dish to get a little harder look. I was getting bored and wanted an edgier look and feel to some of my images. So I wondered what would happen if I shot with this 7-inch reflector. Shazam. That’s what happened. I have never been more surprised by the light from any modifier more than I have been from using the 7-inch silver reflector.


The 7-inch reflector has about an 80-degree spread, which is about two-thirds the spread of a white 22-inch beauty dish and about twice the spread of a silver beauty dish. Because the 7-inch reflector is so shallow and the sides are so close to the flash tube of your strobe, it is very direct light; and because it is such an efficient modifier, there is not a lot of light loss. There is no baffler or diffuser between the light and the subject, so it produces just about the hardest light you can get.


When I shot the 70-inch reflector the first time, I shot it very directional in my studio. I was trying to shoot a Rembrandt pattern, and because of how specular the light is, it falls off like mad in a hurry on the shadow side. You can go from properly exposed to clipped in a few inches, depending on how close you place the head to your subject. I found that the modifier, if you are going to shoot really directionally, works best at a medium distance so some of the light can get into the shadows. I started playing with different patterns and found I really liked the light I got when I placed the strobe in a butterfly or loop position because of how the hard shadow was lessened. The hard edge is still there, it is just not as pronounced or long as it is in some other lighting patterns.


The hour before Golden Hour


Every photographer’s favorite time of day, the Golden Hour, is the hour before sunset. That’s when the light is perfectly soft and naturally diffused, making it near impossible to get a bad shot.


But there’s a time of day a lot of shooters overlook: the hour right before the Golden Hour. The hour right before the sun sets provides a very intense hard light. Some people say there is hard light outside in full sun most of the time throughout the day. True, but the light an hour before the Golden Hour is such good light because of the angle.


Shooters get hung up on natural light versus studio light, and to me light is light and the how, what and why you use it are the same. When you are thinking about how you would use your 7-inch reflector in studio, you’re taking the same things into consideration as you are when you’re considering how to use the hard light of the sun outside. If you were shooting in your studio, you would not just stick your strobe anywhere and fire it and hope you have a good image. You would place the light at the angle and direction you want in order to achieve the look you want. So, why would you just go outside at any time of the day and just shoot? You wouldn’t. That’s why I love the hour before the Golden Hour so much. The angle of the light at that time is perfect for butterfly or loop lighting.


Eyes get a full blast of awesome specular light in the hour before Golden Hour. The only real downside to this is the light is so intense at times that your subject’s eyes will start to water if you have her looking into the sun too much. I have the subject pose and then close her eyes until I set focus and compose the shot. Then I tell her to open her eyes wide, and I get the shot.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


Lightroom CC Workflow with Dustin Lucas

August 1st, 2015


Lightroom CC Workflow Part 1: Storage & File Management with Dustin Lucas


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


In recent articles, I compared Lightroom CC to previous versions and other programs, concluding that Lightroom was the superior total workflow solution for large-volume photographers. I’ve used Lightroom for years, and have continually changed my practices and refined the best ones.


With this article, I embark on a five-part series in which I will break down a simple and powerful workflow primarily using Lightroom CC. Over the next four articles, respectively, we’ll cover catalog management, processing images, output methods and archival/backup strategies.


Storage: In Camera


Let’s start by deciding on the type and number of memory cards you should buy. You need to determine the file size your camera records and roughly how many images you will be taking in a session.


For a wedding, I will have a little over 3,000 images from the primary and 2,000 from the second shooter. Shooting in Raw format, you will average a file size of 30MB for a full-frame camera. Get familiar with your camera’s card slots and in-camera backup options. For weddings, you should be recording to both cards at the same file quality and size. That’s because you are lowering your data-loss potential by having two storage devices instead of one.


If you have only one card slot, I suggest shooting with multiple low-capacity cards. You are decreasing the chance of losing all your photos from one corrupt card. You don’t need two memory slots to be safe from corruption—you just need good practices.


Having two card slots allows you to shoot in multiple formats separately in camera. This means you can shoot a smaller JPEG format for same-day processing and slideshows. You can store these files on a single card throughout the day, which is very handy for editing on the fly. A disadvantage of shooting Raw + JPEG is that you have to import from multiple cards and sort that data. Recording in small JPEG is the answer.


Factoring in about 500 images recorded, you would need two 16GB cards; with 1,000 images, you would be using two 32GB cards, etc. I like to use slot 1 as the “active” slot for swapping out multiple smaller memory cards throughout the day, and slot 2 as a total backup with a 128GB card. This option is limited to 3,500 total shots for the day, but it requires fewer cards to be handled. Of course, for those of you using 36MP and higher cameras, you will need more storage overall.


There are many ways to determine what workflow is best for you. Find out what makes the most sense. Do not base your decision purely on cost, since memory cards are always gaining capacity and going down in price.


Storage: Card to Computer


It can be daunting to figure out what you need to transfer images from your cards to your computer. Let’s start by breaking down how your data can and should be saved in multiple places. Think about on-site and off-site locations. If you have a separate studio space, you should have storage options both in your studio and at home. If you work entirely from home, look into online storage solutions. (Refer to my December 2014 article, “Mastering Your Digital Workflow: Import and Backup.”)


You need to invest in a multiple hard-drive system when working with a large volume of images. This allows for the chance of a drive crashing so you don’t lose your entire collection of work. This is where RAID comes in, which stands for “redundant array of independent disks.” You want copies of copies when storing massive quantities of files.


RAID Systems


Keep in mind that we are using multiple hard drives within one storage device. Let’s distinguish storage devices by naming the first one “working” and the second “backup” (or “secondary”). For the working drive, stick with a single hard drive system for portability, directly connected to your computer for the fastest performance. A few options for a backup storage drive are RAID 0, 1, 5 or 6. RAID 0, or stripped drives, give you full capacity of all combined hard drives and up to twice the read and write speed. This is a good option to work off of for the performance increase, and, paired with Thunderbolt or USB 3, you will have little lag. However, if a drive fails, you lose everything on this system. This option is the highest performer but carries the most risk of failure. Not a good option for archiving or backing up.


RAID 1 mirrors the drives, giving you an identical copy, but it reduces your total capacity by 50 percent. So what does that mean exactly? Say you purchased two 2TB internal hard drives for your storage device—potentially you now have 4TB total. RAID 1 configuration chops your capacity down to 2TB. You gain some performance in the read speed, but nothing for writing data. This allows one drive to fail without losing any data at all. This is very important when configuring a backup plan. This is a good starting storage solution for your backup.


I suggest using RAID 5 configuration because it requires at least three drives. If you have three 2TB drives, RAID 5 shrinks your total capacity from 6TB to 4TB. The advantage is that you gain back capacity and still have the safety of a single drive failure. This configuration is very popular among photographers and gives you great reliability at a nonenterprise level. RAID 6 can lose two hard drives and requires at least four total to configure. This is a great option for setting up a server that is continually reading and writing data for your archive of image files. A major issue with RAID systems is that if there is a corrupted file or issue while writing data, both drives will have the same problem. You will need to set up a backup drive to update daily so you can prevent corruption down the road.


You definitely want to invest in data integrity. I see a lot of studios using systems from Drobo, which has created quite a name for itself. The Drobo 5D has given photographers ease of mind with a built-in battery backup for power outages. Drobo’s BeyondRAID technology has given us the next level of RAID protection, with more hands-free maintenance and faster data recovery. Proprietary file software does raise the question of difficulty in recovering data from a crashed drive. Research the flexibility of swapping hard drives into newer systems, and keep compatibility issues in mind.


File Management Within Lightroom


I have adopted a few practices for managing files and folders. Let’s start by ingesting our files directly into Lightroom by first creating a catalog. (Look for my article on cataloging in the next issue.) I create a file named “Short Wedding Catalog” and save it on my local hard drive. From there, I import the images with the Copy option selected to ingest the images from the memory cards or external hard drive to my working and backup drives. Once this process is complete, I move to Library Mode and begin creating my folder structure directly in Lightroom.


On the left-hand side, you can drop down the Folder panel. As you can see, the only folder I have so far is named “short wedding 5.15.” I create an “Originals” folder and move all the files into it. I select all the files and click the plus symbol right above the folder source, and choose “Add Subfolder.” I check the Include Selected Photos option after naming the folder “Originals.” I hit Create to begin moving the files and change the actual location they’re in. In Finder, I am seeing the same folder structure as well. It’s that simple.


If you are importing your files into Lightroom before making these folders, use Lightroom to create your folder structure. Once you begin moving files around, it becomes difficult to relink the folders without losing the organization you’ve created. The alternative is to use Collections to organize files solely within Lightroom so you don’t affect the storage folders. You can import into Collections, but I wanted to demonstrate Lightroom’s abilities for folder structure in this section.


Conclusion and Continuing With Catalog Management


Hopefully now you have an idea for some storage options for your current workflow. A RAID system is definitely the way to go for your working drive so that you have access to all your data when you need it and save yourself from losing files. Invest in a storage solution based on your current and future volume. By allowing Lightroom to manage your file and folder structure, you can control everything in one place. This is a huge time saver.


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Canon vs. Sony, Part 2 with Joe Switzer

August 1st, 2015


Canon vs. Sony, Part 2 with Joe Switzer


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We have a winner! What lens brand should be in your camera bag for the second half of 2015? In Part 2, I focus on Sony A-mount, Sony E-mount and Canon L series lenses. Last month, Canon was ahead of Sony, with a score of 3 to 2, judging on depth of field, color, sharpness, manual focusing and lens flare.


This time, we are adding a group of A-mount Sony lenses to the mix, including a 135mm, 50mm, 85mm and 16–35mm. We really wanted to go exclusively with Sony E-mount lenses because of weight and the automatic focus option, but wanted a shallower depth of field, which was the primary reason we purchased over $10,000 in new Sony A-mount glass.


Before we made the final decision, we took into account the overall feel and performance of all the different lenses and how they impact the team and our shoots. The Sony A-mount lenses require an adapter just like the Canon lenses do for the Sony A7s. The E-mount lenses require no adapter.


For the past month, we have been using both Sony and Canon lenses on our shoots, and mixing the footage in our final productions. Guess what? We couldn’t tell a difference between the lenses when we watched the final edited footage. (Obviously, you do see differences when you take your time to carefully compare side by side.) All the filmmaking was done with the Sony A7s on the picture profile 7 setting.


We tried out a total of over $20,000 in new Sony lenses for this article. It was back and fourth internally on which brand we were going to choose for our company. We feel like we made the best decision for our team, and hope that we can help you make the right decision for yours without your having to spend so much time and money.


The footage we captured was from a wedding in San Francisco, a corporate shoot and a few shots in my backyard.


Most of the Canon lenses used were the 50mm EF f/1.2, 14mm EF f/2.8, 200mm EF 2.8, 85mm EF f/1.2, 100mm f/2.8 macro and the 135mm EF f/2.0. Some of the Sony lenses in the competition are the FE PZ 28–145mm f/4 OSS, Vario-Tessar T* FE 16–35mm ZA OSS, Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8, Planar T* 85mm f/1.4, Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8, Planar T* 50mm f1.4 and the Vario-Sonnar T* 16–35mm f/2.8.


Depth of Field


Maybe your shoots don’t require a shallow depth of field, but this is very important to us. We like to be able to go as shallow as possible. Most of the time, our aperture is set as low as we can go because we like the way it brings out our subjects. The Sony E-mount lenses lost this battle to Canon last month. This time around, to level the playing field, we purchased the Sony A-mount lenses. You’ll notice that all the E-mount lenses don’t have the lowest aperture option. Sony A-mount and Canon L lenses have basically the same aperture.


The A-mounts we compared were Sony’s 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 and 135 f/1.8 versus Canon’s 50mm f1.2, 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.0.


On a typical shoot, we use the 50mm for more shots than the 85mm and 135mm combined. For that reason, the depth-of-field winner is more weighted toward the performance of the 50mm. What I wanted to find out is if I could actually tell a difference between the 1.4mm and 1.2mm. With the Metabones adapter, the Canon only goes down to 1.3. I could still tell a difference with depth of field, but it was minimal. Look at the brown dead leaves in the photo, and you can see that they are more blurred out on the Canon image. Sony A-mount lenses have a much better aperture than the E-mounts, but if having the lowest aperture is a priority, then Canon is for you, followed by Sony A-mount lenses and, in last place, the Sony E-mount lenses.




Both the Sony E-mount and A-mount lenses appear to have better color than all the Canon EF lenses. The color in camera on the Sony A7s was set to PP7, and nothing was color corrected in the video or in the photo comparisons besides exposure. With Sony lenses, the colors are more defined. You’ll notice that the colors pop more on the concrete outside the building; check out the reflection on the windows and the greens and blue. There’s a more lifelike look with less color correction in post. Sony remains the winner in the color category. This might not be a concern for you since you can slightly adjust color in post-production and get the same results.




It’s very hard for me to tell the difference, but if you put two photos or video shots side by side, the Sony lenses always look a little sharper. You’ll notice that when you look at the tree, you can actually see more leaves with Sony and that they are more defined. The more details and the closer we shot objects, the difference in sharpness was more obvious, but with the wider shots, it was harder to tell the difference. Many filmmakers I know shoot with details and sharpness turned down. The camera gives them the flexibility to edit sharpness the way they want it in post. Still, if you’re a detail person and are concerned about the sharpest lens, then Sony is for you.


Manual Focusing


There are situations where automatic focus is the preferred choice. With Sony’s E-mount lenses, you have the option of quickly changing to autofocus on the fly. My company uses manual focus 99 percent of the time. For years, we’ve never even had the choice of using autofocus because we filmed exclusively with DSLRs. We are more passionate about the feel and performance of the manual focus than with any tracking autofocus function because we know the exact spot and area where we want the focus to be. When you work 12-hour days pulling focus, you’d better be comfortable with the feel of manual focus, and the Canon is better.


The Sony 85mm manual focus was loud and grinding compared to the buttery-smooth feel of the Canon 85mm. Look at the 2.17-pound Sony 135mm f1.8 lens below compared to the Canon 135 lens on the right. The Sony felt like it had a gap and delay in the manual focus. I didn’t like that; the feel of the focus pull might be the single most important quality I value in a lens. You’ll end up holding your lenses more than holding your own children, so the way the manual focus performs is crucial. Canon remains the winner because of the way the lenses feel and perform.


Lens Flare


If you’ve seen the recent Star Trek or Transformer movies, you know what lens flare is. I can’t get enough of it on my shoots. Shooting into sunlight can be a challenge but can pay off with tremendous dividends. Some photographers and filmmakers try to limit lens flare. In many cases, the more you pay for a lens, the less flare you’ll get.


Some editors don’t mind less lens flare because they can add it in post-production artificially. I would rather shoot what I want in camera and be done with it. I always choose the lens with bigger flare. You can see with the 50mm that the Canon lens gives me a bigger flare than the Sony 50mm. In Part 1, we found that the Canon 14mm had larger flare than the Sony E-mount 10–18mm. The majority of my shots for any video come from these two lenses. This means Canon wins the lens flare category.


The Bottom Line


The overall feel and performance of a lens trumps everything. You don’t need to be wasting time and money on lenses that won’t give you the competitive advantage you’re looking for. So what lenses do you need to buy? Do you need to use both Sony and Canon? We tried that on our wedding shoot in San Francisco. Even though we were able to get the shots we needed using both brands, we felt that as a team we missed being able to swap lenses quickly between us and not miss any shots. Our creativity was limited because we were not in sync with our lenses.


Your lenses need to give you an unfair advantage against everyone else so you can have a better final product. Even though the flexibility of using Sony’s newest 28–135mm gave us more options during the wedding ceremony, the lowest aperture was 4.0, and that was limiting. Our style is to shoot as shallow as possible most of the time. Maybe your style is different. Perhaps your camera lens flare, aperture and autofocus mean something different to you than they do to me. It comes down to what you value as a filmmaker.


All that being said, we have a lens winner—for us. By a unanimous decision, our team has chosen Canon. We did keep one Sony lens, though: We fell in love with the 0.9-pound Sony E-mount 10–18 f/4 because of its weight and automatic focus option. For our gliding and motion camera movement, we may exclusively start using that Sony lens.


Looking at the big picture, the lens flare, shallow depth of field and, most importantly, how it feels all mean more to us than color and sharpness. Now we’ll all be in sync for the remainder of 2015.


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Lighting 101 | Keeping It Simple with Lori Nordstrom

August 1st, 2015


Lighting 101 | Keeping It Simple with Lori Nordstrom


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Great portrait lighting is a must for the pro photographer. It can make or break an image, and even someone who doesn’t know good light will choose a properly lit image over one with poor lighting every time.


Light can come from one or many sources. When outdoors, the sun is your main light, while a reflector or other reflective surfaces is the fill light. I prefer beautiful natural light, but it’s not always easy to work with. Posing has always come easily to me, but I really had to work at, ahem, seeing the light. When good light starts clicking for you, you’ll start noticing light patterns everywhere and become aware of how to move a subject within the light for the best look. I’ve learned that for most portraits, I want to look for highlights in the eyes. Watching the eyes helps you control the image.


Lighting baby steps


When I moved to a studio space after having worked on location for several years, I purchased lighting based on the only thing I knew, which was natural light and window light. I had moved from Texas to Iowa, which is really cold all winter, and realized I would not be able to photograph outside all year as I had been doing where I grew up. I knew I would need some sort of indoor studio lighting, so I bought what made sense to me at the time, which was a 4×6 softbox (my window) and a large reflector.


I began photographing in my new studio with my new lighting, and, while I was in a new retail space and I was selling portraits, I still felt like I wasn’t as “real” a photographer as many of my friends and the instructors I saw who wrangled all sorts of lights and moved them around with ease to create beautiful work. For a time, I felt bad about my simple one-light system. I watched photographers I admired using a three-light system, or even five lights, adding not just a main and a fill, but a background light, a hair light and some sort of kicker. Off-camera flash is popular, but I still prefer the simple, sweet look of natural light or one light in the studio for my style of portraiture.


100 images that changed everything


Not long after purchasing my new lighting, I took a weeklong class with portrait photographer Darton Drake. This class made me believe in myself as I came to realize the power of using one main light. Just the fact that Darton himself was primarily a one-light shooter was enough to make me feel better about my lighting choice.


One of the projects that Darton had the class do was to take one subject, one light and just one prop (a chair) and photograph 100 different images. What a great lesson in posing and lighting. I encourage you to try it—it will teach you so much. I discovered a true love for lighting with one main light: a 4×6 softbox and one large reflector. To me, the 4×6 is the next best thing to natural or window light, my first love. The large softbox gives a wonderful, soft light and a beautiful “wrap” around the subject. I normally place my subject toward the backside of the 4×6, and place the softbox about shoulder height. This allows for a really natural fall-off and “vignette” of the subject.


Giant steps


Some would say this lighting is somewhat flat. But once you play with the lighting and practice the 100-pose challenge, you will find that the placement of the softbox and the subject makes a huge difference with just this one light. You can create many looks, from very dramatic to even and soft.


Get to know your lighting. Learn to really see what happens when you add or subtract light. Look at contrast and separation. Look at details, and especially the highlights in the eyes. But don’t beat yourself up, like I did, when choosing what works best for you and your situation. Get to know one light first, and then add lights as your experience—and, more specifically, your style—call for them.


My lighting gear:

Photogenic lights

Radio poppers

4×6 SweetLight softbox

72˝ SweetLight silver reflector


Action Plans


  1. Contact your local chamber of commerce.

Take a look at your chamber of commerce’s website, social media presence and annual directory. Are the images cohesive? If not, do what I did and offer to help brand them. Show them my before-and-after piece if needed.


  1. Offer extreme senior shots.

Offer a new “extreme” product to all your senior clients. Photograph a boy and a girl of high school age. Do as I have instructed in the video. Post to all social media outlets, explaining that you are now booking seniors for extreme sports shoots. If you need inspiration, check out our website and social media platforms for examples of posing, style and processing. If you need further help, just ask.


  1. Build your food/product images.

Contact a local restaurant and offer to take pictures. Explain that you are building your portfolio. Look everywhere for inspiration, and start creating. Begin building your commercial photography business this way, or to add to your existing business. As a bonus, a restaurant might just let you sample some of its cuisine.


I encourage you to experiment with all different kinds of lights. Choose strobes, ringlights, flashlights, chicken lights, etc.—whatever your lighting preference, just try something different. Think outside the box. Choose a light and a style that will help set you apart.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Off-Camera Flash Equipment with Lenny Volturo

August 1st, 2015


Shedding Light on Off-Camera Flash Equipment with Lenny Volturo


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If you’re in the market for off-camera flash (OCF) equipment but confused by all the options, you’re not alone. This month, I’ll help shed some light on the pros and cons of the industry’s leading systems.




These handheld flashes are great because they’re one of the most portable, they’re lightweight and compact, and they often have a lower cost of entry than other systems. Must-have features include through-the-lens metering (TTL) and high-speed sync (HSS). TTL allows the camera to automatically adjust flash power based on what it determines to be the correct exposure. High-speed sync is great because it allows you to shoot at any shutter speed, giving you the ability to shoot at wider apertures to achieve the look you want without the restriction of the camera’s built-in maximum flash sync speed. (For more on the benefits of high-speed sync, check out Michael Corsentino’s HSS article in this month’s issue.)


Recycle rate


In the minus column, speedlights have very slow recycle rates. Recycle is the length of time it takes a flash to recover after being fired; once recycle is complete, the flash is ready to deliver full power output again. A few AA batteries really can’t keep up, especially if you’re shooting at high power and fairly quickly. To combat that, you can purchase external battery packs that plug into your speedlight and decrease recycle time. But now you’re increasing cost and decreasing portability, and putting unnecessary strain on your speedlights that can damage them.




To fire your speedlights, you’re going to need a transmitter on your camera and a receiver plugged into your speedlight. The most popular option is the PocketWizard. Going that route adds additional expense and something else hanging from your light. Alternatives include the Canon 600EX-RT or the Phottix Mitros+ systems, which come with built-in radio transmitters, eliminating the need for any add-ons.




The biggest issue you’re going to run into is lack of power. You should be OK when your subject is close to your light source and you’re not trying to battle the sun. When I’m out in the brutal Miami sun, I need all the power I can get. That means you’re going to want to start looking at larger, more powerful strobes. Current portable strobe options will give you anywhere from four to 10 times the power over even the best speedlight. So when you start talking about using four or more speedlights to get the power and flexibility that you need, you’re at or above the cost of portable strobe options.


If speedlights are already part of your kit, then I suggest you work with them to get your feet wet with OCF. Push their capabilities as far as you can. When you’re starting to feel like you need more power, you’ll know it’s time to consider portable strobes.



Portable Strobes


Portable strobes come in two flavors: “pack and head” systems and self-contained monolights.




These systems include a battery pack with a separate corded flash head. The two most popular choices are Profoto’s B2 and Phottix’s Indra500. A two-head Indra kit is just over $2,000, and a two-head Profoto B2 kit is $2,595. Both systems sport TTL, HSS, a modeling lamp (to help with focus and provide a preview of your lighting) and built-in radio triggering, with full control over all settings from their controllers. They also feature very fast recycling times: The Indra500 ranges from 0.1 to 2 seconds, and the B2 clocks in at an even faster .03 to 1.35 seconds.


Profoto vs. Phottix


I am a Profoto shooter, and I’ve had my hands on the Indra500 only a couple of times. For a little added insight, I reached out to my friend Rob Roscigno, a talented wedding and portrait photographer based in New York City. Rob’s been working with an Indra500 for several months.


“One of the immediate attractions to the Indra was that it has the Phottix Odin [radio flash triggering system] built right into the strobe,” says Rob. “This meant that I could combine strobes and speedlights with one system since I was already using the Odin system to trigger my Nikon speedlights.” Having that ability to mix strobes and speedlights is definitely a standout feature. For example, you could use the strobe as your keylight and a speedlight as a fill or rim/hair light, which typically don’t require as much power.


I asked Rob if there was anything he didn’t like.


“If I had one complaint, it would be having to use a separate head and battery pack,” he told me. “But for the convenience of mixing speedlights and strobes, I decided that having a separate head and battery was worth the small inconvenience.”


The Indra500 puts out 500 watts per second, while the Profoto B2 puts out 250 watts per second. That’s a one-stop reduction in light output, which may be underpowered for some applications. Both battery packs can power two flash heads, which increases flexibility, but you have to be willing to divide the pack’s power between the two flash heads. Therefore, if you wanted two lights at full power, you would need a separate battery pack for each head. When it comes to battery performance for each system, you’re looking at around 340 full power flashes for the Indra500 and 215 for the Profoto B2.


The Profoto B2’s, which are now a part of my location lighting kit, are extremely lightweight, weighing in at only 2.2 lbs. for the battery pack and a very slender 1.5 lbs. for the flash heads. I love how compact they are. The B2 flash head fits easily in the palm of your hand. I’ve used these über-portable strobes for fast-moving shoots in NYC, in extremely tight spaces and on 13-foot light stands, all with no issues. Profoto has also launched an entirely new line of light-shaping tools for its OCF systems. Each is extremely portable and very quick to set up, great for location work.


The B2’s corded flash head might be an issue for some, but for me it hasn’t been. The build is rock solid, just what you’d expect from a Profoto product.


Both of these pack-and-head systems offer great flexibility and portability, with plenty of power to get the job done.




The next category of portable battery-powered strobes is monolights. These have removable, rechargeable batteries built right into the head. They’re completely cordless and come with built-in radio control.


Profoto B1


The current king of this category, the Profoto B1, was released at the end of 2013 and was the first of its kind. It features 500 watts per second of power, TTL, HSS and a modeling lamp, and is completely wireless. The B1 provides up to 220 full power flashes and recharges its battery in as little as an hour. We use several of these in our studio and for location work. The downside is its weight, at just over 6.6 lbs. Your assistant may need frequent breaks from holding it, so use a light stand and sandbags when you can. The B1 is also the most expensive, coming in at $2,095 at this writing.


Other options


There are a couple of other options in the battery-powered monolight market. One is Dynalite’s 400 watts-per-second Baja, which comes in at $599. This unit has a 3.7 second recycle rate compared to the B1’s 0.1 to 1.9 seconds. It has only a six-stop power range, compared to the B1’s nine stops (same with the B2), allowing you more control to fine-tune your light output. The modeling lamp is a 5-watt LED, while the B1’s LED delivers 20 watts. Another possibly better-known unit than the Dynalite is the Flashpoint RoveLight. It’s a 600-watt second monolight carrying over the same features as the Dynalite.


Dynalight vs. RoveLight


Both units lack TTL metering. This may be a deal breaker for some. The RoveLight’s battery is capable of up to 500 full power flashes, compared to 550 for the Dynalite, and has a recycle time of 0.3 to 4.5 seconds (compared to RoveLight’s 3.7 seconds).


Build quality


The biggest concern for me with both units is build quality. They just don’t have the rugged feel of other units on the market. For more perspective, I turned to someone who has been using the RoveLight for some time, my friend Amanda Jayne, an Idaho-based photographer, who agrees: “The overall feel isn’t that of a high-quality piece of equipment, unlike the Profoto B1, which just feels sexy.”


I’ve heard people report issues with the RoveLight’s included remote, saying it barely works. Amanda doesn’t have much of an issue with the remote, though, and estimates she ends up opting instead for something like a PocketWizard in only very rare cases. It does get praise for its power and battery life, as well as the Bowens mount option that allows it to accept a wide variety of light modifiers; the same mount is included with the Phottix and Dynalite products. The RoveLight is also affordable at just $599, offering a lot of power per dollar.


All of the tools in this segment offer great power and the quickest setup to get out there and start shooting.




After reading this, you may still be asking yourself what the right system is for you. The reality is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s all about finding the right tools for your needs—tools that help you get the job done and offer the features that matter most to your work.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.