Category: Shooutouts

What I’ve Learned From Photography Groups

I’ve been a participant of photography groups since 2013. I’ve joined various photography groups of all different types, such as all-around photography groups and genre-specific groups. I’ve attended group events, ranging from workshops to “shootouts”. I was even a leader of a group. Here is a random list of things I’ve learned from photography groups as either a member/attendee and as a group leader.

  • Leaders have different leadership styles. As a former group leader who planned many events, I was more of an organizer than leader. I was very easy-going with how people wanted to attend my events. I was fine with attendees either following my plan or doing their own thing. However, not all leaders are like that and are the complete opposite of me.
  • Good luck trying to get portfolio-worthy shots as a leader or event host. You will spend more time organizing and dealing with participants than actively shooting.
  • If you have specific goals or want to try something out, it’s better to set up a shoot by yourself or invite one to two people to come with you.
  • As a leader or event host, you can’t make everyone happy. There will be someone who will complain or criticize you, telling you how they would have ran the event. However, if you reply back with “Then why don’t you host an event yourself,” 9 out of 10 times they will refuse to step up and make excuses for themselves.
  • There will always be cliques within a group, especially if a model and photographer has already worked with each other in the past.
  • No matter how many rules you make to ensure that no one gets left out, photographers would still gravitate to the same model/s and models will typically gravitate to the more assertive (less-shy) photographer/s.
  • The term workshops, shootouts, and meetups are used interchangeably, when they should not. In my opinion, here are the differences:
    • A workshop is an event when you’re learning a new skill. Typically the leader will be the one teaching the skill or feature someone who will.
    • A shootout is just a group of photographers taking pictures for their portfolio.
    • A meetup is similar to a shootout, but sometimes people treat it as a networking event or just to hang out with people of similar interests.
  • Organizing a photography event will take plenty of your time, regardless of how organized, formal, or informal you want it to be.

Is it Natural Light or Flash?

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs and social media, I want to be a versatile photographer. I want my natural light work to be just as good as my off-camera flash / strobe work. Even though I started off with natural light, when I first learned and gained experience with off-camera flash, my natural light work was faltering. A photographer friend of mine even told me to stick to off-camera flash ONLY at one point!

In 2019, I was diagnosed with early stages of endometrial cancer, which greatly affected my health. Because I was getting tired during shoots and experiencing hot flashes, I knew I had to keep things simple during my shoots. I put away my wagon that carried my speedlights and strobe, and hardly took it out. I would only bring my camera and my old Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 tank of a lens.

During shoots, I had to thoroughly read the light and adjust my model accordingly in order to get the right composition in camera. During the editing process, I tried new Lightroom settings to give my photos the “pop” that OCF would normally give. I mostly played around with the curves tool and radial filter in Lightroom until I got the desired effect.

My Strobe Dilemma

Throughout my photography journey, I’ve had mixed feelings about owning a strobe. Was it necessary or not?

I have used off-camera flash (OCF) since 2013. Learning OCF did wonders for my photography and have brought my work to another level.

At first, I thought I would need to buy expensive Nikon speedlights at about over $400 per unit, and then buy a PocketWizard set for another $200 or over just to fire those speedlights.

Thank goodness for Yongnuo products. Over the years, I have accumulated about 8 Yongnuo speedlights. Each speedlight had a triggering system built-in. All I needed was something for the top of my camera to fire off all those speedlights. The cost of my whole entire Yongnuo setup was STILL cheaper than one Nikon speedlight and PocketWizard set. What was even more sweet was that my Yongnuo receiver allowed me to make adjustments from my camera, instead of going to each unit and making adjustments from there.

I didn’t have much space in my house to setup a studio. Multiple Yongnuo speedlights sufficed and did its job.

I was able to survive shooting in very harsh mid-day sun without shade and only 3 Yongnuo speedlights. If I wanted a more shallow depth of field, I would just put an ND filter on my 85mm lens.

I was happy with speedlights for years, but still wanted a strobe. Why? Well, these were my arguments for not getting one:

  • As mentioned above, I didn’t have much space in my house to setup a studio. I didn’t need all that power from a strobe.
  • If I were to use a strobe outdoors, I would have to buy a battery pack because the strobe had to be plugged in. What a pain in the ass to haul!
  • I would also have to buy a new wireless triggering system, but it wouldn’t have the same functionality as my Yongnuos.

So what drove me to get a strobe?

Back in late 2016, I was assisting a wedding photographer who just purchased the wonderful Profoto B1. Because there was no time to set up a light stand, I HAD to be the light stand. I held the B1 above my head with my arms stretched out, similar to John Cusack holding his boombox in the movie “Say Anything”.

I thought the B1 was a cool thing to have, but unfortunately, I didn’t have over $2000 to spend. However, I still wanted a strobe that was affordable AND have these features that the B1 has (in this order):

  1. High speed sync (HSS), so I can shoot faster than my camera’s flash sync speed (usually between 1/200-1/250 seconds) and be at a wider aperture (at least f/4 or wider). I wouldn’t need to use my 85mm lens with an ND filter on it.
  2. An onboard battery pack, so I don’t have to deal with wires or a stand-alone battery pack. This makes it more portable for outdoors shoots.
  3. Powerful enough to over-power the sun, especially with large modifiers. Using 3 speedlights was great and all, but because I wasn’t using any modifiers, lighting was a bit harsh.
  4. TTL (through-the-lens), so the strobe’s power can be adjusted automatically with objects that are constantly moving, especially ones that are moving forwards and backwards like children and dogs. Because I haven’t used TTL as much in the past, this feature wasn’t as high in priority than the others. It would have been nice to have, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker.

I did a Google search and stumbled upon the Godox AD600 (or the Flashpoint XPLOR 600). Then, I also saw the Godox AD200 (or the Flashpoint eVOLV 200), which was more portable, but less powerful than the AD600. However, one AD200 unit had more power than my 3 Yongnuo speedlight setup.

When I finally had enough money to purchase a strobe, I was set on getting two AD200 units because they were way more affordable. However, during a photographer’s meetup at Floyd Lamb Park, I was introduced to the Orlit Rovelight RT 601 and was able to test it out. It was comparable to the AD600 and had all the features I wanted (except for TTL, which was fine with me).

The next day, I visited Adorama’s website and saw that the TTL version of the Orlit Rovelight with the receiver was much cheaper than getting two AD200’s, as well as half the price of getting the TTL version of the AD600. Needless to say, I ended up choosing the Orlit Rovelight 610!

Orlit RoveLight RT 610 with a 40-inch brolly box (umbrella softbox).

Below are the images from the Floyd Lamb meetup, using the Orlit Rovelight and a 48-inch octobox. I love the softness of the light!

So how does a strobe affect me moving forward? To be honest, not much. I just got cool new gear! And it gives me more and more opportunity to be versatile and practice more with studio lighting!

Jeneration Apparel Mansion Shoot

When I heard from a Facebook group about a fashion “shoot out” in a mansion, I jumped at the chance! I didn’t let a tiring and hot day of photographing soccer kids the morning before stop me from taking advantage of this event.

The location is in a quiet neighborhood near the Lone Mountain area of Las Vegas. It’s a spacious property that sits on about half an acre of land. There was a pool in the backyard, as well as a mini-tavern and gorgeous gates and doors with intricate designs. The biggest plus of the house was the clawfoot tub in one of the bathrooms, which is rare in many homes.

All the models wore dresses by Jeneration Apparel, a clothing company based out of Denver.

The Dry Lake Bed Chronicles

I’m not sure if “chronicles” is a good word, but I wanted a more flashier title to highlight the locations I frequently go to for photo shoots.

There are many wonderful places for photo shoots in the Las Vegas area, but they are also limiting. Some areas, like Red Rock Canyon, are owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which requires an exorbitant permit fee. The various hotels on The Strip, which are privately owned, absolutely prohibits professional photography onsite.

Because of this, I have six locations I frequently shoot at. In this blog post, I’m highlighting or “chronicling” a very versatile location – the dry lake beds.

There are two dry lake beds in town – one in Jean, NV and the other one just outside of Boulder City. Out of the two lake beds, I prefer the Boulder City lake bed for these various reasons: easy to access, not too far from Nelson, no hassles from the “permit police” (as far as I know), and to reiterate, EASY TO ACCESS! It’s right along US-95, which is the same highway you use to go to Searchlight and Laughlin.

I don’t go to the dry lake in Jean very often mainly because it’s land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Because it’s BLM land, I’ve heard stories from other people that there are rangers who approach photographers and check for permits. However, of all the times I’ve visited, I have not seen anyone, but I always proceed with caution when planning to do a shoot. Just with like any Vegas location, I keep my equipment minimal and discreet as much as possible.

Here is the map of the Jean dry lake bed with directions coming from The M Resort. These directions are the easiest way to get down there. Drive about 11 miles south on Las Vegas Blvd. Although the map said to make a left on Ranch Rd. after 11 miles, it is not marked. I always remind myself that Ranch Rd. is the “second white sign that is less obvious”. If you make a left on the “first white sign”, you will find yourself driving away from the dry lake bed. After a few miles down Ranch Rd., make a left on the unpaved path into the dry lake bed. There is a pretty tall clearance between the paved road and the unpaved road as you enter, so I advise you all to drive with a high-clearance vehicle. If you have a lowered car, I suggest not taking your car there.

Here’s a collection of photos from the dry lake bed dated back from 2013 to present:

Sunset Portraits With Off-Camera Flash Meetup

When I first started photography, taking pictures of the sunset AND the subject with the correct exposure was a huge struggle of mine. Because I started off as a landscape photographer, I always wanted a scenic background behind the subject.

The problem with using natural light is your backgrounds will be blown-out and white, especially if you’re trying to properly expose the subject. If you expose for the sky, your subject will be dark.

Whenever I see ads on Facebook that sell sky overlays for Photoshop, I always smirk because I know there is a way to achieve the same thing straight out of camera. The solution is learning off-camera flash.

My Aspiring Photographers meetup group and I spent a Wednesday afternoon at Wetlands Park. We did a short walk to a pond area where the backdrop is a beautiful sunset.

Photo by Ken Elsner
Photo by Ken Elsner
Photo by Ken Elsner

I did not take very many shots because I was helping others out. But when I had a chance to shoot, here were my results.

Harsh Lighting Meetup

I love shooting in harsh lighting because it’s a challenge, and I’m always up for a challenge. I’m firm believer that a great photographer can tackle any lighting conditions given to them, and should not shy away from shooting in conditions other than “golden hour” (one hour after sunrise or one hour before sunset).

As a co-organizer of the Meetup.com group, Aspiring Photographers, I organized a “harsh lighting meetup” in the middle of the dry lake bed at a time where the sun is at its peak. I chose the dry lake bed because there is no shade to hide. It was a very windy day, so not only the meetup tested our skills in harsh lighting, but also in harsh conditions.

Below are behind-the-scenes photos taken by the members of the group that I grabbed from our Meetup page.

Photo by Niraj Bhatt
Photo by Ken Elsner
Photo by Ken Elsner
Photo by Donavon Lockett
Photo by Donavon Lockett

During this meetup, I demonstrated the difference between using natural light in harsh lighting versus off-camera flash or a strobe. Normally, the sky would be blown out in a natural light shot, but because the weather was partly cloudy, there were some blue skies.

These are the results of using off-camera flash in harsh lighting.

Towards the end of the meetup as we were leaving, a dust storm started building. I was about to put my camera away, but when I saw a dust storm creating a cool backdrop, I quickly pulled out my camera and shot with natural light.