Pern's Ponderings

Check here periodically for my musings on photography. In this space, we'll explore how I achieved particular photographs, tips and tricks to get the most out of your camera or even just my thoughts on the world at large. 

Technology and Technique

A self portrait taken using a remote trigger and off-camera flash.

I'm a gadget guy, always have been. I love the latest and greatest tech with all the bells and whistles, even if I end up never using half of them. So it's easy sometimes to look at all the amazing photography gear available and think, "Wow, I could make such a better photograph if I had just had Lens X or Lighting Y."

There is no question that good gear does not make a good photographer. While technology has allowed us to expand our creativity and achieve new artistic expressions, great gadgets are still no substitute for technique and ingenuity. But they can certainly help. 

As a photographer, I greatly prefer natural light and most of my work involves nature, landscapes and outdoor photography. As such, I have not invested a lot of money in lighting equipment or studio gear. My trusty Canon 320EX Speedlite mostly suits my needs.

However, I was recently working on a small photo project that required a self portrait. I wanted a dramatic contrast between light and shadow and needed an off-camera light source to achieve the desired effect. 

Without any studio lighting equipment, it would have been easy jump online, check out a photography shop website and drool over a three-light setup with soft boxes, gels and light stands. Instead, I improvised.

Rather than buying a light stand, I hung my Joby Gorillapod tripod from a door and mounted my Speedlite to it, giving me the angle of directed light I needed. 

Then I set my camera on my large tripod and moved into position. 

But, while I had to improvise my lighting, I am fortunate enough to have the kind of gadgets that make taking a self portrait much easier. My Canon 70D is equipped with WiFi and my smartphone allowed me to compose my shot in real time, rather than setting a timer, jumping in front of the camera and hoping I achieved the pose I wanted. I looked at my phone's display to position myself properly in the frame and used the remote trigger to fire the shutter and flash.

I achieved the image I wanted on my third shot and moved forward the rest of my project. Truthfully, I could have achieved the same shot using a desk lamp, a timer, a ladder on which to prop my camera and some trial and error. I also could have gone the other way and invested hundreds of dollars in lighting units, backdrops, stands and mounting units to achieve the same image. 

The bottom line is that the technique, understanding my lighting, was the most important part of creating this image. But sometimes having a nifty gadget at hand can make things a little easier. 

by Brian Pernicone