HDR vs Multiple Speedlites  When I used to shoot Real Estate photography, all I cared about was speed.  I wanted to get in and get out because that’s what most of my real estate agents wanted.  However, that’s not what their clients wanted, I’m sure.  The sellers want the best representation of their house looking it’s cleanest.  Sure it helps if you can make the photos really pop and attract attention to them vs some other boring shots.

If you can make a home look absolutely pristine, comfortable, and clean, this equates to a fresh blank slate when it comes to thinking about moving in and starting another chapter of your life, or your clients life.  Grungy, Dirty looking walls with ultra colorful furniture might stand out but it’s not gonna help sell the house!

Now, when I go to a real estate shoot I really try and think my shots through.  I try and figure out where I want the light.  Where should I bounce it and where don’t I want it to go(windows, mirrors, etc.)  I use four speedlites for my real estate shoots with large umbrellas to help create a large source of light.  This helps the light wrap around objects in the room to help diminish harsh shadows.  Just take a look at the fan in the top photograph compared to the bottom.  The words “natural light” sure sound nice when they fall off the tongue but the truth is that it’s generally coming from one direction or two at best.  This means that light will not be reaching the corners of rooms or where the ceiling meets the walls etc.  This ends up looking dirty and unpleasant.

Take a look at the walls in the bottom photograph.  Nice, clean, white, the way they actually look when I’m standing in the room.  The way your clients want their homes to look as well.  Take a look at the fan in the bottom photograph and more importantly, behind the fan.  No harsh shadows of the fan.  Nice evenly lit ceiling. Beautiful Kitchen

Lastly, color casting.  HDR is full of it!  I had to work 15 minutes just on the color cast of the HDR photograph on the top.  There were greens and blue all over the walls.  Even after the correction, they just don’t look clean.  The bottom shot had to be balanced with a gray card and then I was done.  This is a one step process.  It takes far longer to shoot a house this way but the benefits are plain to see.  Furthermore, Once the shoot is over my turn around is extremely quick as I don’t have nearly as much work to do when I need to edit these photos for my client.  Score one for the speedlites!



I’m one to do a ton a research before investing in equipment.  I want to make sure my cash goes as far as it possibly can when purchasing new equipment.  To that end, I attempt to squeeze every ounce DeVaan45of performance from the equipment I currently own.  This holds true for computer parts I’ve bought, musical recording equipment, and of course photography.

There’s one piece of equipment in particular that I feel is starting to limit my ability to accurately control my light.   From the tittle of this post I’m sure you’ve already guessed that it’s my umbrellas.  They are, without a doubt, one of the easiest modifiers to, both, setup and use.  Pop it open just like any normal umbrella you might use in the rain (I’m from Seattle, and last I checked true Seattleites don’t use these things).  Push the shaft through my light stand adapter and away we go, easy peasy!

Umbrellas light quite efficiently in both bounce and shoot through form, albeit using as bounce (how I have been lately) I have definitely noticed some increases in specular highlights and hotspots on my subjects faces. A perfect example of shoot through vs bounce umbrella light can be found here. These can, of course be fixed in post, but as we all know, if you can fix it before it goes into the camera it will save you time and headaches!  Now for the bad…. these things spill light EVERYWHERE!

Lighting is all about control of that power.  You have to really understand how it reacts and reflects to understand how to use it properly.  I see time and time again people buying expensive and powerful strobes before they actually have learned how to harness the power of the lights.  Your light needs direction and a purpose.  This is why I urge any who  are just getting into off camera lighting to purchase an umbrella a light stand and small speedlite to start.  It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles.  Just good old manual control of its power.  The Nikon sb-28 is a great place to start.  I shoot all my photographs with these small speedlites.  Back to the point at hand here.  Once you have learned to use your umbrellas you will realize their inherent flaw.  They send light everywhere (which can be a good thing depending on the situation).

DeVaan66 I recently shot two sisters in a covered area since the weather was not cooperating (rainy day in Seattle surprise, surprise).  This was done on concrete with a similar wall as a background.  I have been experimenting with gels and really wanted to add some color to the wall.  I set my key, fill, and hair light as I normally do for these types of shots but this time I place another light with a blue gel behind the subject pointing to the wall she was in front of.  I began to shoot only to notice the blue was not showing up at all!  I couldn’t figure it out and this was not the time to be playing around with new ideas!  I turned the gel flash up and down to no avail.  I changed the ambient and still nothing.  Then I started to think about distance.  I was too close the wall!  The lights that were lighting my subject were spilling onto the wall behind her undoing my attempts to light with the blue gel pointed directly at the wall.  Thankfully I was outside and was able to scoot further back until much less of my light was spilling onto the wall, however I ran out of room and some light inevitably would reach the wall.  Even so I was able to come away with some pretty sweet shots.  But this lack of control with umbrellas is starting to get on my nerves!

The Catch 22 is that if I use, say, a nice big softbox, this modifier will eat up my already not very powerful light.  As I understand it, the flash bounces of the back of the softbox and then passes through not one but two defusers before reaching the subject.  This is great for nice soft light if you have the power to push it but I don’t think my little speedlites have enough to light outdoors the way I like to.  So if I get a softbox, I will more than likely need more powerful lights, which means I will need a battery to power these more powerful lights.  Powerful lights come with a price of poundage which means I will need a sturdier light stand to support the heavier light and softbox.  This in turn means I will need more counter weights to keep the light stand from tipping over!  Starting to see how expensive this can become very quickly?  I think I will just learn wield my machete like a Samurai sword for now!

The Whoopsie Daisies Strobist info:Canon 7D, 10-22mm EF-s lens, sb-28 behind band camera left bare, sb-28 camera right bounced off umbrella for heavy fill, 430exII in front of band camera left bounced through umbrella as Key, Canon 430exII camera left pointed at red curtain. 🙂   I was just going through some band photos I shot from a few weeks ago.  Here are The Whoopsie Daisies an indie-rock trio from Woodenville Washington. Do yourself a favor and check out their song, “Rick Steeves Smokes Pot”.

I noticed that some of the best photographs are shot in between my posed setups.  I’ll actually say that half of my best are in between poses.  This photo shoot took place at The Mix in Georgetown Seattle. A cool tavern that focuses on both local and touring artists and doubles as a professional recording Studio. From their lips, “We are strong advocates of artist development and strive to work with each artist on marketing and promotion, to ensure the best possible turnout”. In my 4th pass through the photos I took there, I came across this not so obvious gem. Nate Fisher front manCanon 7D, 24-70mm 2.8 lens, sb-28 behind band camera left gridded, sb-28 behind band camera right gridded, 430exII in front of band camera left bounced through umbrella as Key, 🙂 I try to make sure I come away from every shoot with a little more information or insight on how I might approach my shoot the next time around.  This gives me another piece to the puzzle that makes for a perfect shoot.  I shot this entire set tethered to my computer so that i would have a better idea on face expressions and actual exposure as it can be quite difficult to see these important details on the back of any camera lcd screen.  I thought this was fail-safe.  I was wrong….

If you own a Canon as I do it comes with software utilities,  two of which are called, Digital Photo Professional and EOS Utility.  These programs combined let you connect your DSLR camera to your computer and either control your camera from the computer or shoot and see the results immediately on your computer screen, or both.  If you haven’t thrown these disks away already, you owe it to yourself to check this stuff out!  One word of warning(several actually);  The image that you preview on your computer is a Jpeg not the raw file which means the image you see on the computer is actually processed quite a bit.  It’s not the actual image your going to see when you get home and preview those raw files in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop.  The images that looked nice and bright on location were actually 2 stops darker than they should have been!  Lesson learned.

1. Use your light meter if you have one The light meter won’t lie(some need to be calibrated correctly). I found out recently that a lot of cheaper manufactures of umbrellas buy actual rain umbrellas, yes, rain umbrellas and fit them with their white silver and black photo material. The main concern with the design is not that they reflect the light evenly and effectively, but that the material stretches enough to give that curve shape while still maintaining structural integrity so as not to break during use. I invite you to take your light meter and hold it where you think your light is concentrated. Then move your light meter both above this spot and below it. You may come to find your light is actually concentrated where you weren’t expecting it to be.

2. If you do want an accurate preview of your tethered shot on location, open your photo up in camera raw, Lightroom or Photoshop itself.

3. Read your historgram on the back of your camera! Somehow I always forget about this handy tool. It really does give a lot of real world data!

4. Don’t delete photos! If you have to, buy an extra card to store more photos or if you’re lucky enough to have a laptop to take on your shoots. “dump” your photos to your computer’s hard drive

If I had deleted the photos I didn’t think would work I wouldn’t have found that last treasure and I actually wouldn’t have used one of their favorite photos. I had to use faces they liked from poses they didn’t and Photoshop them on poses they did like. Non of these examples are shown in this post but the fact of the matter is I wouldn’t have been able to provide that option had I deleted the photos I didn’t think I would use on location. Happy shooting!

IMG_2615 With all the new portable battery packs such as the Vagabond II and Vagabond Mini from Paul C. Buff and the new Elincrhom Ranger and Quadra, Over Powering the Sun has been all the rage! All everyone seems to care about is if their particular strobe can get rid of the pesky sun. If you’re like me, than you haven’t taken the plunge into powerful studio/location strobes/battery packs and just don’t have that option available. I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t really, truth be told, want one for myself! My pockets are burning just thinking about it. I have, however, resisted the urge thus far and have continued to use my trusty speedlites. Two of which I picked up from Craigslist for $70 dollars or so. Compared to a $600 strobe and $300 battery, I’d say it’s money well spent and if you look at my portfolio online, http://www.nakean.com/Nakeans_Photography/Portraits.html you’ll find my photos can hang with the big boys who use the $1000 dollar Profoto, Elinchrom and Broncolor lights. There’s nothing wrong with these great professional lights but THE EQUIPMENT DOESN’T MAKE THE PHOTOGRAPHER. If one more person looks at my camera and says, “Wow, If I had that camera I could take awesome pictures”, I’m going to cry.

Tarilyn WeddingHowever, the question still arrives, “how do you deal with the sun and only the power of speedlite flash?” It’s actually quite simple. As the famous quote goes, “If you can’t beat em, join em!” There are ways to simply use the sun but I bet if you’re just starting you’re using the sun incorrectly. Let me guess, you’ve placed you subject in that beautiful direct sunlight with the sun to your back. This is wrong. Unfortunately, in lighting their entire face with sun you are no also forcing your subject to stare directly into this blinding light resulting in squinting. Unless your John Wayne, this isn’t going to be a good look! What you should try to do instead is place the sun behind your subject and use the sunlight as a rim light or hair light. This will also help separate your subject from the background. Secondly find a dark background such as trees or a building to shoot against. This will help your subject pop as well. This technique works with no light at all! You can bring in your battery-powered flash to make your subject pop just a bit more by bringing the ambient light down one stop and lighting your subject to the correct exposure. You are now working with the sun instead of against it to make beautiful portraits no matter where the sun is in the sky, no matter how strong the sun is.

An Amateur at Heart

Posted: May 1, 2011 in Photography

If there's a will.... Hello all, My Name is Nakean Wickliff and I’m a proud father and Seattle Strobist photographer.  As of this moment I have 4 speedlites (2 canon 430exII’s and 2 Nikon sb-28’s)  I will be writing about my transition from amateur to professional photographer as I take the plunge in world of service photography.  I’ll attempt to tell you all what has worked for me and what hasn’t.  I hope to help create a few shortcuts for you all as I know I’ve avoided several pitfalls by reading countless other blogs and articles.  I don’t claim to know it all or have all the answers but I will do my best to provide links to those that do as well as give my personal insight as everyone’s experience is just a little different.  I’d like to define the word amateur first.  The word amateur stems from an Old French word meaning, “lover of”.  It generally means he or she has no formal training.  None of these things are negative in my mind.  I come with an open mind ready to learn every step of the way.  I love what I do and it shows in my work.  Further more it is someone who generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science, without pay.  Olympic Athletes used to all be amateurs as well.  They were disqualified if found to have been paid for competing in their sport.  In this regard, there is nothing wrong with being an amateur.  With this said I believe I am in a bit of a transition as I always bring my camera everywhere yet am being paid for services such as weddings, and portraits.  I will always be an amateur at heart and this will help me to succeed in an ever changing competitive field of photography.