Dublin Zoo

Testing out the 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens on a bright Friday morning in Dublin Zoo. Some nice shots (pity about the bars on the macaw cage!), and great results from Canon's so-sharp-it-hurts zoom. Still working through the post-processing on the shots, so watch this space for more pictures in the next day or two!

The Clown Portrait Shoot

Clowning around in a new and colourful shoot with Megan! Click here for full gallery. More to come!

The Fighter Portrait Shoot

My sister Megan very graciously donned her Krav Maga gear for a quick shoot last week. Some dynamic effects with clouds of chalk dust!

Check out the 'Latest' or 'Shoots' page for the full spread.

Happy shooting!

- Kevin

The Writer Portrait Shoot

Some more practice with the new lighting kit in this portrait shoot with filmmaker John McGovern, here taking on the guise of a 1950's writer at his desk, bourbon and cigarettes at hand. Fair play to Mr. McGovern, who remained a good sport despite me nearly blinding him with cigarette smoke. Some great effects with the lights catching the smoke, and some very moody photos!

Check out the 'Latest' gallery for the full shoot.

Happy shooting.

- Kevin   

Let there be lights!

So, I've been playing around and getting to grips with my new lighting kit, the Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 Soft-box Kit. Inside the box there are two 400W/s flash heads, two tripods for positioning your lights, two Portalite Square 66cm soft-boxes, and a 16cm Umbrella Wide Reflector for throwing light out into the scene over a 90° angle. In addition, you get a 3.5m Sync Cable for directly connecting a flash head to your camera or flash meter, and a final nifty bit of kit: the EL-Skyport Transmitter. This little device slips into the hotshoe of your camera and communicates wirelessly with the flash heads to synchronise the flash perfectly, foregoing the Eyecell receptor on the back of the heads, which would normally look for a flash to trigger other lights. Everything comes in two nice and sturdy cases, keeping the heads well protected and minimising wasted space. The whole kit is very portable and not particularly heavy (although I wouldn't wan't to be lugging it across the city on my back on a regular basis!)

 

First impressions were good. The build-quality of the lights is pretty high. Plastic shell looks and feels nice and durable, the handle is tough and secure, and the buttons and display on the back are high-quality. The heads lock tightly into the tops of the tripods, and a lever allows the position of the lights to be adjusted handily. The tripods are pretty standard, but don't feel cheap. I would avoid knocking into them accidentally though; I'm not sure it would take too much force to tip the whole thing over. The locking mechanism on the front of the heads keeps the attached accessory tight and steady. If you've never assembled a soft-box before, be prepared. It's notoriously fiddly, and in my trepidation in applying too much force to anything, it took a few frustrated attempts. After getting a bit braver, I eventually got the hang of it, and these soft-boxes seem like they can take a bit of punishment.

Finally, all set up, my gracious model Jenny agreed to step in for a quick test shoot. Being in quite a confined space, and without any backdrop, I decided to just play around with the lights and get my bearings, instead of diving straight into the established lighting set-ups. I just moved them about, using the modelling lamp to give myself an idea of how the light and shadows would fall on her face. The modelling lamps can be cycled between lowest power, proportional to the flash power, full power, and OFF. I used a 50mm f1.4 lens, and manually set the shutter speed to around 1/125 sec. and the aperture to f5.6. Not having a light meter, I had to go by eye and histogram to find the right exposure. The flash heads allow you to adjust the power of the flash in 1/10 stop increments over a range of 4 full stops. It's worth noting that in a small space, these powerful lights are often too bright even at their lowest power setting, so adjustment of your aperture or even use of an ND filter may be necessary. The EL-Skyport transmitter worked very well, triggering both of the flashes 95% of the time (a missed trigger is usually down accidentally obstructing the little antenna on the transmitter). I found my camera's sync speed to max out at around 1/200 sec., at which point the images begin to exhibit the black bar at the bottom as it catches the shutter sliding closed. I thought it might be a bit higher, with the transmitter offering a faster SPEED mode, but alas 1/200 seems to be the cut off for my Canon 5D Mk II. As the in-photo ambient lighting levels are normally controlled by adjusting the shutter speed, again it may be necessary to enlist the help of an ND filter in small, bright environments. 

I was pretty happy with the shots I got in this first trial run, especially after giving them a bit of a boost in post-processing, but I'll let you be the judge. It's early days but I'm looking forward to more experimentation with these new lights!

If this post was helpful to you, or you like the photos, please like and share!

Happy shooting,

- Kevin

Choosing my first lighting kit

After a lot of option-weighing and review-reading and re-reading, I eventually made the plunge on my first studio lighting kit: a pair of 400W/s strobes from Elinchrom, complete with two soft-boxes, and featuring their EL-Skyport Remote System. If you are thinking of buying a lighting kit, either now or in the future, and aren't sure where to begin, perhaps the following will be of help to you.

Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 Soft-box Kit

After quite a lot of landscape and nature photography, my interests have been drifting more and more towards portraiture recently. I'd worked outdoors with natural light on a number of occasions, and was pleased with the results (especially during the golden hour), but I wanted the freedom to stage scenes and models, and play with creating dramatic lighting.

Amazon's slew of cheap (for lighting), no-brand kits had me quickly losing a sense of perspective. The prices were often all over the place between kits that seemed essentially the same. For many, it was impossible to gauge from the reviews, which were usually split evenly enough between glowing and scathing, and the sheer amount of FREE ACCESSORIES included with some of the kits had my eyebrow drifting skyward. I checked on a few other retail sites, but trying to make sense of the sheer number was like attempting to navigate in a blizzard. After starting to feel a bit snow-blind (or should that be strobe-blind?), I looked up a few photography blogs and reviews for advice on buying a first kit. It quickly turned me off the idea of these cheap kits - they were not mentioned favourably, if at all. Perhaps they work for some people, and that's fine, but I was looking for a kit that would conceivably see me through a few years of shoots, and that would be easy enough to upgrade and buy accessories for. A few hundred euro might seem like a good deal, but for me it's too much to throw away if the kit packs in after a few months, which seemed to be a common complaint from what I could tell.

I checked around the camera shops in Dublin and found that the majority almost exclusively stock Elinchrom lights and accessories. Elinchrom (www.elinchrom.com) are a Swiss-based company that make a range of flash heads from entry-level to professional use, and a wide array of lighting modifiers and accessories. They'd be a competitor of companies like Bowens and Interfit, and well regarded. I remembered they were mentioned in some of the posts I'd come across.

So I went back and started doing some serious research, scouring the web for any trustworthy reviews. I was attracted by the quality of the brand, but their stuff isn't exactly cheap (for me, anyway), so I wanted to make sure that they were getting the seal of approval. Happily, I found that opinion was very positive. I looked at a few different entry-level kits, the D-Lite RX One, RX 2, and RX 4. These heads offer 100, 200 and 400W/s power respectively. For the difference in price, the extra latitude offered by RX 4, I felt, set it apart. 

D-Lite RX 4 400W/s Flash Head

After some kind words of endorsement from a fellow photographer, my mind was made up. Now, it turns out most of the camera shops in the city don't actually stock their lighting kits in store, and I had the misfortune to be looking to buy just as the stockist for Elinchrom was about to shut for two weeks. Of course, it wouldn't have been the end of the world to have to wait, but luckily, after a few calls, I found that Hall Cameras (www.hallcameras.ie) on Talbot. St. had the kit in-store. They were incredibly friendly and helpful during the sale, and having bought other items there before, I would definitely recommend them; they certainly came through on this occasion, and offered the best price on the kit in the city.

For anyone who is looking to invest in their first lighting kit, I hope this post might be of some help in coming to a decision. I'm glad I went with Elinchrom and the RX 4/4 kit (which I will go into detail about in my next post); the build quality is solid, as a company they're clearly quite highly regarded, and lighting accessories and replacement bulbs, if not exactly cheap, are easy to get a hold of. If you don't want or need the extra power, the RX 2 and RX One kits would likely do the job.

Feel free to leave a comment or, if you found it helpful, like this post on Facebook.

Happy shooting.

- Kevin