Outdoor flash

One of my favourite techniques is to use outdoor flash. And now that sunnier weather and longer days are here, I will be using it more and more. Back in the day, we used to call the technique syncro-sun flash. It is not an easy technique, but once mastered, it gives you great control over your image.

When photographing with natural light alone, you can control the light by using reflectors and gobos and indeed create some very excellent lighting on your subject. The problem is your background. How the background is exposed is at the mercy of how you expose your subject. In the studio, you can control the exposure of your background independently of your subject, however, when photographing using only natural light, you loose this control. But, when you add flash into the equation you can regain that control.

Here’s how it works. ambient light exposure is controlled by three things, ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Flash exposure is also controlled by three things – ISO, Aperture, and the volume of light coming from the flash, also known as Flash Output. Notice that flash exposure is not affected by shutter speed (maximum flash sync speed is a limitation of your camera which I will talk about in the next post). This means that if I have my flash is lighting my subject, then I can control the exposure of my back ground relative to my subject by changing the shutter speed. For example, if I want my background lighter, I would use a slower shutter speed, if I want it darker, I would use a faster shutter speed.

Here is trick number 1 for using this technique – your subject should be placed in spot that is one or two stops darker than the background. This will give you more variety when you are adjusting the background exposure.

Subject is darker than the sky
Subject is darker than the sky

In this first image, I was photographing up into the sky. I wanted the clouds to have this dramatic effect so I set my exposure to darken the sky down and bring out the clouds. However this caused my subject to become very dark in the image.

By exposing my subject with a flash, I was able to get the following image

Subject balanced to background using a flash.
Subject balanced to background using a flash.

In my next post I will discuss how to set up this type of image.

Why a Professional Headshot

Headshots are a staple at my studio – Grinke Creative Inc. Primarily the are business headshots but do headshots for performers as well. From a business perspective, a headshot, be it for a business person or a performer, is one of the most important photographs they can have. so it amazes me how many professionals will use poorly produced selfies, old images that no longer represent them properly, or no image at all. There are indeed many good reasons to have a proper headshot – here are five of them.

  1. If you want people to take you seriously, you need to look like you are serious about what you do! A quality professional headshot will tell people that you are serious about what you do.
  2. An updated professional headshot presents a more honest representation of who you are today.  A current professional headshot lets potential clients know that you are keeping up with the times and staying current while an old headshot tells people that you are not moving forward or growing.
  3. For many potential clients, the first connection that they make to you is through your professional headshot. It is important that your headshots connects them to you in a way that is consistent with what they will see when they finally meet you. For example. If you are in a suit and tie in your headshot but when potential clients actually meet you, you are dressed very casually, this will create an immediate disconnect that will confuse the potential clients and possibly cost you their business.
  4. A professional headshot builds trust with potential clients.
  5. A bad headshot can damage your credibility.


Loose The Headphones

One thing I love to do is go for hikes. It started out several years ago with the need to  walk the dogs. In other words, it was another chore that needed to get done. So I would grab my device and headphones, put on a favourite podcast or some music and take the dogs for their walk. It was something I had to do and having the podcast gave me a chance to catch up on topics that interested me.In other words, the podcast were a distract from the chore. It took a while but eventually I was not really listening to the podcasts, essentially they became background noise to my own thoughts. So one day I decided to leave them at home – the headphones, not my thoughts.

What a difference this made. All at once I started to observe. Instead of my mind being busy blocking out the constant sound coming from my headphones, my mind was made available to take in what was around me. Not just the visual, but the sounds as well. What a difference. The chore of walking the dogs became something I really looked forward to.

In an earlier post I talked about a concept called Neurochromes. Essentially it is a visualization process to help you understand what will make a great image. What I discover when I gave up the headphones was that I started seeing all kinds of potentially great images. I was taking Neurochromes. It put me into a very creative space. From time to time I took a camera with me to capture some images. I’m not sure how much the dogs liked this because it meant stopping every time I decided to take a shot,  but hey. Interestingly, when I did stop I began to hear things. No, not in my head, I began to hear things around me. The sound of the city below the hills where we were hiking, other hikers, the dogs running through the forest, wildlife. And these sounds lead to new photographs and new ideas. It’s quite amazing.


Vancouver SunriseThis morning I was out for a hike and happened to have a camera with me. Between two houses this view of the sunrise presented itself. If I was wearing headphones, I would have probably missed it – and that would have been unfortunate.

So really, all I am encouraging you to do is take the time to observe the space around you – with or with out a camera. What you discover will change the way you photograph.


Taming Harsh Window Light Photography

Happy New Year!

Todays post is on a window light photography technique. Window light can provide stunning light when used imaginatively. The rule of thumb when using a window as your light source is to use one that the sun is not directly shining in. I live in Canada so that would generally mean a north facing window. But, if the sun is on the east side of a building, then a west facing window will do, or if the sun is on the east side of the building, then a west facing window will work. If you have a cloudy day, then so much the better. Any of these scenarios will give us a nice gentle, soft, light source.

Sometimes though, you wind up with a window that bright sunlight is pouring through. So much for your nice soft light source. Attempting to use the window directly will create a very contrasty, harshly light image which may not be what you are looking for. So here is my go to solution for this situation. Do not use the window as the light source – directly.

Instead, find yourself a larger white reflector. I use the collapsible reflectors but a sheet or foam core board or anything white that is about 32″ across or more will work. Position your model to the one side of the window so the light does not strike them directly. Use your reflector to light your model by reflecting the window light back onto your model. This will give you that soft light and allow some directionality control of the light source.

Experiment with this technique. Once you have practiced with it, you will love the results you get.




Neuro-Chromes. If nothing else, it’s an interesting non-word. I was first introduced to the word by Bambi Cantrell, a portrait photographer out of San Fransisco. I don’t know if she coined the phrased, it was just the first time I heard it. I had been using the technique for years, I just never knew what to call it.

A neuro-chrome is simply using your brain to capture images rather than a camera. How many times have you been somewhere and saw something that would have made a great image? Well this is the start of a neuro-chrome. The next time you you have that experience, take the time to figure out why it would make a great image.

Take time to consider

  • the lighting – where is it coming from, is it a soft or hard light, why does it suit the subject, are there supplementary light sources
  • background – tonality in relation to the subject, distance from subject, texture, layers
  • the subject – what is it, why are you attracted to it, how is the subject light

I am a portrait photographer and I find myself doing this all the time. It could be anywhere but very often I am in a restaurant and I will spot a scene that would make an amazing image. I will take my “neoro-chrome” and later try to dissect the image and recreate it. This technique is one of the best ways I know to learn to see light. Once you learn to see light, you will have a much better understanding of how it works. Eventually, you will get to a point where you can predict light. And this is where you want to be.

Once you are able to predict light, you can walk into any situation and get the best shot possible. Try it, you’ll like it.

Be Intentional With Your Photography

One of the most common questions I get when people hear that I am a photography instructor is “What should I get?”. What size soft box should I get? What lens should I get?  Should I get a speedlight? However, there is no easy answer to these questions. In fact, deciding “what you should get” can be a very involved question.

For many photographers, and in particular new photographers, this can be a very difficult question to answer. If a person says that they want to photograph landscapes, then my answer will be quite different that if they say they want to photograph bugs. So I have to ask the question “what do you photograph?” Most of the time the response is “what ever”, they just want to have gear for everyday use, not anything specific. This is a problem, because, if you want to get better at anything, you have to be very specific about what you want to get better at. This means being very intentional about your photography.

I belong to a camera club, The North Shore Photographic Society, and I love attending the print nights. This is when the members bring actual prints of their work (not digital files) to be viewed and critiqued by other photographers. Members are at various levels and it is interesting to see who is photographing what. The photographers that are just starting out submit images that are all over the map. The same person could submit images ranging from landscapes to portraits. The accomplished photographers, many of them quite outstanding, tend to submit images of a similar type. There are some who submit only portraits, some who submit only birds, some who only submit landscapes, etc. While the goal of all the photographers is the same, to get better at photography, the more advanced photographers have discovered that to get better, they needed to become very intentional in their practice of photography. This is not to say that they are not capable of photographing other subjects, quite the opposite in fact, but to get better, they need to focus on their one area of photography.

So, when someone asks me “what should I get”, I tell that the most important thing to get is intensional about your photography. Once your are intentional about it, then the tools you need will become obvious.