Capturing Portraits with Alien Bee Strobes


Ria & Luke


More than ever I am convinced that learning occurs on at least two levels. I hear about something or hear about it but it is only after I put what I’ve learned to use that it comes alive. Action involves time. Time is essential to learning, both while executing an action as well as those in-between times when I’m not doing anything.

In a group email from Bikkhu Samahita, he American-born Buddhist monk wrote about thīna-middha, one of the hindrances that a meditator has to overcome to arrive at neighborhood concentration, the threshold of samadhi. The hindrance is translated as “lethargy-and-laziness,” commonly present in the practice of neophyte meditators and associated with doubt or the absence of faith. The bikkhu uses traditional Theravadan scriptures to discuss how thīna-middha can be overcome:

What is the starving cause that makes Lethargy-&-Laziness cease?
 There is the quality of initiative.  There is the quality of launching action.
 There is the quality of tenaciously enduring persistence. Frequently giving 
rational & wise attention to these three mental elements, is the starving 
cause for the non-arising of Lethargy-&-Laziness, and the starving cause 
for the arousing and stirring of already present Lethargy-&-Laziness. 
 Samyutta Nikaya 46:51

Generating initiative that leads to decisive action and persisting in action if at first it does not win the desired effect one overcomes a sluggish, lazy mind. Action is energy and energy must be expended to win energy.

Likewise in learning, one must use the body to incorporate an idea if that idea is to turn into insight (vipassana in Pali). But action has to be coupled with perseverance when one pauses between action and listens, listens with the inner ear that the inner heart feels what the intellect knows. When both beat to the same rhythm, learning is accomplished.

Well I knew that professional photographers used strobes to take pictures. I started out taking still pictures with video lights because my initial idea was to dive into video and filmmaking. It was only three to four months ago that I bought my Alien Bees, two 6000K and one 8000K flashes triggered by a Pocket Wizard.

Since then I’ve grown quite proficient using strobes, a development that came along with wanting to shoot more location pictures, without putting up my elegant white or black backgrounds and complicated ensemble of video lights.

For this afternoon’s shoot I used only the large Alien Bee triggered by Pocket Wizard to take these family photos. Somewhere along the way I’d also learned that increasing the ISO to about 160 even in daylight or strobe light turned out richer pictures. The results exceeded my expectations.

I am certain I shall learn more about using strobes, especially to take portraits if not model shots. I’ll start combining strobes for more interesting lighting effects and I’ll even experiment with shutter speeds, aperture and focal lengths. The journey of mastering the craft continues. I am excited and thīna-middha is getting pushed further at bay.


Styling and Branding Images

Frozen Falls at Gaylord Palms Resort


I continue to take workshops and webinars to improve my photography. Again and again I hear the presenters talk about branding. These are top names in their photography niches. They talk about their beginnings and how they got to the top. Invariably branding is part of the process.

Branding is not as simple as creating a logo for our photography website. Branding is essentially creating expectations. We evolve the kinds of images we enjoy making and that we are good at creating. By looking at our portfolio, prospective clients can see what we do. If they like what they see, they may contact us to create similar images for themselves. This is the theory of branding.

I am still in the thick of choosing my style of images. I am also still exploring the kinds of images I want to capture. I’d like to hurry the process up but I am not as focused as these photographers. I have many other interests.

Having said that I feel I am making progress. The image with this entry shows one of the falls at Gaylord Palms Resort that I took with a slow shutter speed. This is the first time that I’ve used this technique shooting a scene of moving water. I like the high contrast look of the image and decided to make this even more obvious by sharpening lines so that the image almost appears like a line drawing.

I’d like to use slow shutter speeds for panning moving objects. I’ll need to practice this. This would allow me to take more exciting photos of my models.

Craft and Serendipity in Night Shots

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I took this photo last night at Epcot. I shot 119 photos with no flash, just using high ISO and adjusting aperture and shutter speed, because I wanted to capture natural light. I may be able to use ten of these digital captures. I could have captured more usable images if I had a tripod. I have a couple of folding monopods. I should add one of those to my list of travel items. I took a couple of pictures using the railing surrounding the lake at Epcot and the photos came out better, but not by much.

A long shutter speed requires a perfectly still camera and I can never achieve that kind of motionlessness. I hold my breath as I press the trigger but I still mostly get squiggles of light.

I took advantage of this lack of manual control and processed one of those squiggly photos to use as my FB profile image. Mistakes can often turn out serendipitously creative images. The professional, of course, should be able to take the image he or she has in mind more and more. Still, those out-of-control shoot moments can be valuable.

Good photographs require learning the technical and aesthetic craft and taking the time to take good photographs. I am not yet a professional photographer because I take pictures on the fly, while I am doing something else. The only time I come close to focused photography work is when I shoot models and portraits but even then I often rush the process instead of taking assiduous care that I capture what I mean to capture.

It comes down to investment in time and effort. Isn’t this true of life in general? The wisdom of adulthood, someone said more succinctly, is already contained in the lessons we learn in kindergarten. It just takes a lifetime to make those lessons mature into wisdom.