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Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography by Kirk Tuck

Publisher: Amherst Media

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

A better name for this book might have been “integrating new flash systems”. The main thrust of the book is how to use multi-light flash systems like Nikon’s CLS (and Canon’s comparable system, the author says) to replace the heavier studio lighting equipment that some photographers take on location shoots.

After brief discussions of the history of artificial photographic lights, and the nature of light, the author begins an explanation of four systems for triggering multiple speedlights: radio slave; built in wireless systems; optical slaves; and off-camera cords. He then describes a number of pieces of equipment useful to setting up multi-flash systems, including speedlights, triggers; light stands, adapters, and gels for altering white balance. He illustrates how to use this equipment, including umbrellas, reflectors and softboxes to take portraits. He finishes up with a series of examples, showing how and why he placed and controlled his lights.

All of this information is useful, and occasionally I learned a few tricks (for the Nikon CLS system, using the SU 800 rather than an SB 800 avoids the pre-flashes that occasionally make people squint). But more often then not, I wanted more information. Some of it I found elsewhere (what do you call that thing that holds a reflector on a light stand?-a reflector holder- duh!) But other unanswered questions were more difficult. What mode should one shoot in for best results? Why did the author use manual flash adjustments rather then TTL (through-the-lens)? How did he decide which flashes to put on which channels?

Another problem I found was that all of the pictures were portraits, and all of the portraits had the same look. I suppose for a professional whose job is to deliver a certain standard look for a report or magazine, this is fine, but suppose you are looking for something more artsy. An answer might be that it’s up to the individual photographer to experiment, once he gets an understanding of the system, but I had hoped for more.

The author is right that modern flash systems offer photographers incredible opportunities and convenience that they never had before. Right now there seems to be a dearth of materials on how to get the most from these systems. The author added a little to the knowledge base, but there is room for a lot more information.

Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. Thanks, I will take a peek at this book

  2. Thanks, I will take a peek at this book

  3. I’ve been monkeying with multiple, optically triggered, miniature flashes. The formal portraits do come out with a monotonous tone. But, when your family is pressuring you to produce these periodic child portraits, they’re just the thing.

    However, I have experimented with bouncing them around room where the children are playing for more informal looking pictures and the results have been surprising. I’m thinking about keeping a couple of these gems in my bag just in case I have a call for them.

  4. I’ve been monkeying with multiple, optically triggered, miniature flashes. The formal portraits do come out with a monotonous tone. But, when your family is pressuring you to produce these periodic child portraits, they’re just the thing.

    However, I have experimented with bouncing them around room where the children are playing for more informal looking pictures and the results have been surprising. I’m thinking about keeping a couple of these gems in my bag just in case I have a call for them.

  5. Hey, thank you (guys) so much for these (book) reviews. I often find myself asking the same questions:

    “Why did the author use manual flash adjustments rather then TTL (through-the-lens)? How did he decide which flashes to put on which channels?”

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Hey, thank you (guys) so much for these (book) reviews. I often find myself asking the same questions:

    “Why did the author use manual flash adjustments rather then TTL (through-the-lens)? How did he decide which flashes to put on which channels?”

    Keep up the good work.

  7. I have to say that I disagree “that modern flash systems offer photographers incredible opportunities and convenience that they never had before”. I’ve found that in most cases they try to automate things too much, and can actually hinder your workflow!

    I’m quite disappointed with the Canon ETTL system for off-camera, studio-style work. While I have the STE-2 infrared trigger, the problem is that as soon as you put the 580EX into “slave” mode, you revert to ETTL! WHY??? What I would like to do is fire each 580EX at a power set manually (which you can do if you give up the infrared triggering). So, you either pony up for Pocket Wizards or other radio triggers and use expensive Canon flashes, or do what I have done: Buy the radio triggers (in my case the Elinchrom Skyport system – less than half the price of Pocket Wizards and very well regarded) and a couple of cheap yet wonderful Sunpak 383 Super flashes ($80 at B&H). Do that, and you have a wonderful portable studio system – and what you saved on the flashes paid for the radio triggers! :)

    Modern flash systems can be helpful if you keep your flash on-camera all the time, but even then they try to out-think you on occasion! I’ve heard that the Nikon flash system is better than the Canon system, so please keep in mind that my comments are based on experience with the Canon system. But… for studio-style photography, you cannot beat a dumb manual flash! Just set it and forget it… Black tux, white wedding dress, the flash doesn’t care – your photos will be exposed correctly every time!

  8. I have to say that I disagree “that modern flash systems offer photographers incredible opportunities and convenience that they never had before”. I’ve found that in most cases they try to automate things too much, and can actually hinder your workflow!

    I’m quite disappointed with the Canon ETTL system for off-camera, studio-style work. While I have the STE-2 infrared trigger, the problem is that as soon as you put the 580EX into “slave” mode, you revert to ETTL! WHY??? What I would like to do is fire each 580EX at a power set manually (which you can do if you give up the infrared triggering). So, you either pony up for Pocket Wizards or other radio triggers and use expensive Canon flashes, or do what I have done: Buy the radio triggers (in my case the Elinchrom Skyport system – less than half the price of Pocket Wizards and very well regarded) and a couple of cheap yet wonderful Sunpak 383 Super flashes ($80 at B&H). Do that, and you have a wonderful portable studio system – and what you saved on the flashes paid for the radio triggers! :)

    Modern flash systems can be helpful if you keep your flash on-camera all the time, but even then they try to out-think you on occasion! I’ve heard that the Nikon flash system is better than the Canon system, so please keep in mind that my comments are based on experience with the Canon system. But… for studio-style photography, you cannot beat a dumb manual flash! Just set it and forget it… Black tux, white wedding dress, the flash doesn’t care – your photos will be exposed correctly every time!

  9. Most professionals use flashes on manual so that the results are highly repeatable. That way, when the perfect lighting ratios have been achieved there are no changing variable is the camera is moved or the focus changed. It is the way David Hobby and Kirk Tuck set their lights. By using consistent output we don’t run into the problems that Rudi runs into.

    To Conrad: All the flashes are close to the same power capability so it hardly matters which channel you use. See above for the explanation about manual. It’s a book about theory and technique, not a retrospective. Buy an overview or history of photography if you want to look at some artsy stuff. If there is a dearth of published information about portable flashes and how to use em I haven’t seen anything other than Joe McNally’s book. Please show us where the books are. Not everyone wants to spend their time reading the web.

  10. Most professionals use flashes on manual so that the results are highly repeatable. That way, when the perfect lighting ratios have been achieved there are no changing variable is the camera is moved or the focus changed. It is the way David Hobby and Kirk Tuck set their lights. By using consistent output we don’t run into the problems that Rudi runs into.

    To Conrad: All the flashes are close to the same power capability so it hardly matters which channel you use. See above for the explanation about manual. It’s a book about theory and technique, not a retrospective. Buy an overview or history of photography if you want to look at some artsy stuff. If there is a dearth of published information about portable flashes and how to use em I haven’t seen anything other than Joe McNally’s book. Please show us where the books are. Not everyone wants to spend their time reading the web.

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