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Old 01-07-2013, 10:56 PM   #1
Syborg1211
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Default Let's talk monolights

I'm starting to play around with studio lighting and want to get a good strong monolight with a beauty dish to start off with. I have a cheapo 100w monolight with a stand and umbrella, but the thing is just too darn weak. I have an SB-700 that works pretty well with the umbrella, but I want something wall powered as well as a modeling lamp. I could also then free up the SB-700 for a fill or background light.

What are some good 400-500w monolights? Right now I'm debating between the Elinchrom D-LITE4 IT 400Ws and Elinchrom Style BX 500 Ri. Any other good candidates that compete with either in roughly the same price range (3-600)?

How much of a difference is there between these two units besides the 100w? Will I really miss the 100w extra? I could almost get two D-LITE4's for the price of one BX500, but I also know my personality and I might prefer to get one BX500 now and add another BX500 later when the money shores up.

Someone mentioned in the review of the D-LITE4 that the fan is noisy, but how would the BX500's fan compare? Is fan noise something I should really be concerned about?

Thanks for any info!
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:19 AM   #2
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How weak is your 100w monolight truly? What kind of exposures are you getting? I have a couple of AlienBees B800's (320 Watt-seconds) and, at full power, I can easily achieve ISO 100, f/11 or so. I usually have to turn them down to half power or less just to stay in the f-stop range that I want. Of course, a generic umbrella is not the most efficient modifier, but either your "100w" monolight isn't really putting out 100 Watt-seconds, or you're trying for a very, very bright exposure (or your subject is very far away from your light source).

Going from 400Ws to 500Ws is a quarter of a stop difference. So, like moving from f/11 to f/13. Or moving from a light-subject distance of 4 ft to a light-subject distance of 5 ft.

I am a fan of the AlienBees: they perform very well for the price, they are built very well, and the modifiers are relatively cheap and easily available. I like the direct-sales distribution method too, it really does seem to provide a better value.

The fan noise on the B800's is negligible. You can hear it, but it's not loud or distracting.

I have no experience with Elinchrom products but they are quite a popular choice.
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Old 01-08-2013, 01:13 PM   #3
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How much of a difference is there between these two units besides the 100w? Will I really miss the 100w extra?
There are numerous differences between the units, too many to list. Any specific "features" your looking for that you must need?

Will you miss 100w? That depends on what you will be shooting and what apertures.

The newest digital bodies have made high powered studio strobes not as important as they used to be. The difference between a 400-watt and a 800-watt strobe is only equivalent to increasing your ISO by one stop (or opening the aperture by one stop).

Also there can be a problem with having too much power. The strobes output can only be turned down to 1/16 there power, and even then there can be a slight change in color output and flash duration.

You might want to look into getting two different size strobes for versatility.
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Old 01-08-2013, 11:08 PM   #4
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Thanks for the tips and info, gents. I don't think my 100w monolight is really 100w. It's the adorama budget monolight that's discontinued probably for being crap. I was trying to shoot through a white satin umbrella 2 feet away from my target (me for testing), and there was just too little light even at f/4. Maybe the slave detector is slow or something. I'll try it again when I get a hot shoe to pc sync adapter for my D600.

I looked into those AlienBees, and I'm pretty impressed by them. I think I'll start with the B800, their beauty dish, and a 30 degree honeycomb grid. Trying hard not to get the B1600!

Here's the shot that inspired me to get a beauty dish:

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Old 01-09-2013, 11:13 AM   #5
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Why a beauty dish and not a normal diffuser?
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Old 01-09-2013, 01:36 PM   #6
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Why a beauty dish and not a normal diffuser?
Well the beauty dish from AlienBees does include a white sock for diffusing, but I'm guessing you really meant to ask why a beauty dish and not an umbrella or softbox. The beauty dish is supposed to offer more contrast and slightly harsher light, but makes great skin look fantastic with a sort of inner glow. The pic I linked earlier is using a 40cm beauty dish, but I think he's using a diffuser on the dish. My understanding is that if I put the diffusing sock on the beauty dish it will act somewhat like a softbox with softer light and less contrast.

However, I am a newbie and this is all based on things I've read. I'll post test images in a couple weeks or however long it takes for the AB's to get in using UPS ground shipping. I have a 43" umbrella that I'll be testing this beauty dish against as well.
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Old 01-09-2013, 01:56 PM   #7
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Thanks for the tips and info, gents. I don't think my 100w monolight is really 100w. It's the adorama budget monolight that's discontinued probably for being crap. I was trying to shoot through a white satin umbrella 2 feet away from my target (me for testing), and there was just too little light even at f/4. Maybe the slave detector is slow or something. I'll try it again when I get a hot shoe to pc sync adapter for my D600.
What's your shutter speed? It should be pretty slow, like 1/100 or 1/60. Don't worry about motion blur: the flash provides 90% of its light in like 1/1200th of a second, stopping all motion pretty effectively. Your only exposure controls when using studio lighting are ISO, aperture, and the light controls. Shutter speed leaves the equation entirely.
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Old 01-09-2013, 02:20 PM   #8
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What's your shutter speed? It should be pretty slow, like 1/100 or 1/60. Don't worry about motion blur: the flash provides 90% of its light in like 1/1200th of a second, stopping all motion pretty effectively. Your only exposure controls when using studio lighting are ISO, aperture, and the light controls. Shutter speed leaves the equation entirely.
I see. I think I was using 1/125 or 1/160. Most of my favorite pictures on flickr are using 1/160 or higher. Isn't the point of the higher shutter speed to cut out any ambient light from random light sources?
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Old 01-09-2013, 03:07 PM   #9
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I see. I think I was using 1/125 or 1/160. Most of my favorite pictures on flickr are using 1/160 or higher. Isn't the point of the higher shutter speed to cut out any ambient light from random light sources?
Yes, but at ISO 100, f/8 or higher, any ambient light indoors (aside from actual light sources) will be a solid black dark void. 1/125 or 1/160 *should* be ok though (most cameras have a minimum shutter sync speed of 1/200, certain cameras go down to 1/500) -- but when dealing with possible flash sync issues, it's always better to keep it at a slower shutter speed until you're comfortable with your system and know for sure what's going on. I just can't imagine that a strobe of ANY kind won't give sufficient exposure for a portrait with the strobe 2 feet away, through a white umbrella, at f/4. It sounds like it's either severely busted, or it's missing sync.

When you really want to get hoppin' with the shutter sync speeds is when you're shooting outdoors in bright daylight, but you want significant lighting from your strobes to darken the sunlight relative to your strobes. So you find one of those cameras that can sync a strobe at 1/500 and bash down that sunlight. Even without 1/500, you can get pretty good results.

I shot this photo one afternoon when I wanted to try out my lighting outdoors. This photo was taken on a sunny afternoon in the fall in Texas. I used one B800 (not sure but probably at 100% power) through a Paul C. Buff Large Foldable Softbox (which IIRC dims the light by about 1 stop), about 4 feet away to the left side of the photo (sun on the right side of the photo). Exposure was ISO 100, 1/160s, f/8.

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Old 01-09-2013, 07:32 PM   #10
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Just looked back into my test shots' settings. I went as low as 1/80, f/4, ISO 800 to get some barely acceptable exposures using that crap monolight. Once I switched to the SB-700 with the exact same umbrella setup, the shot was totally overexposed at the same settings, and only then was I able to drop the ISO down to 100, aperture up to f/8, and shutter to 1/160. What's the Sb-700's equivalent to in monolight w/s terms?

Edit: Also, that shot of yours is pretty awesome. It looks like a studio shot with a fake staged background it's so good!
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Old 01-09-2013, 08:01 PM   #11
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Haha, yeah I know, it's a "fake fake" (although that doesn't make it good necessarily... and BTW, her eye actually is in focus in the original, but for some reason the tinypic resizing seems to have gobbled up some of the resolution). Just to show it's a real outdoors shot, here's another one from the same session, same lighting setup:

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Old 01-14-2013, 10:52 AM   #12
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Got the setup in. Man that beauty dish is enormous! It's so big that the B800 can't be angled downward more than like 5 degrees on a stand. I had to go and get a boom arm, which was freaking way more expensive than I expected to get a good counterweighted one.

I'm pretty happy with the B800 for now. I can see needing more power later though. The amount of light lost when using a diffusing sock made me feel like more power would only help the situation.

I unfortunately didn't get a chance to do a really good umbrella vs beauty dish vs diffused beauty dish comparison as my model (wife) got tired by the time I wanted to mess with that.

Here's a few of my favorites from my first shoot ever with a proper light:







Any tips would be appreciated! I know I need to crop out some reflections in the wall and be more mindful of that next time. I'm guessing a dedicated background light is supposed to get rid of that?
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Old 01-14-2013, 03:09 PM   #13
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A "very large" beauty dish should give a softer shadow. A proper beauty dish should have a smaller dish in the centre that blocks some of the direct light, otherwise you're not getting much in the way of diffusion. I'm just not seeing really any diffusion on the shadows, which gives it a 'cheap' feel and looks like a bare flashbulb.

You might be able to work around this by moving further from the wall, but I have to ask, does your dish have a centre circle to block the flashbulb from illuminating directly? Look at your example photo and at the softness of the shadows. You should try to figure out why you're not seeing that.

If it, indeed has one of these, then the dish is simply too far away. My experience shooting one of these is that they're most commonly in front of or in-line with the camera, usually up high. My fav placement is directly above the shooter, maybe 7' off the ground and a tiny bit off centre, but not enough that her nose is casting a big shadow.

I'll point out that beauty dishes are one of the least flexible diffusers and 90% of their use is shooting a young woman (and only one with great skin) direct head-on. In my opinion, they are generally only good for getting one "look". I'm not a fan of them used much off-axis, they generally don't work well for any sort of non-human objects and are the most difficult to pack up and move around. But they do well with beautiful women, shot on-axis high. You know... fashion magazine covers.

But, good luck with it! I think you picked the most challenging one first... :-D

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Old 01-14-2013, 04:57 PM   #14
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A "very large" beauty dish should give a softer shadow. A proper beauty dish should have a smaller dish in the centre that blocks some of the direct light, otherwise you're not getting much in the way of diffusion. I'm just not seeing really any diffusion on the shadows, which gives it a 'cheap' feel and looks like a bare flashbulb.

You might be able to work around this by moving further from the wall, but I have to ask, does your dish have a centre circle to block the flashbulb from illuminating directly? Look at your example photo and at the softness of the shadows. You should try to figure out why you're not seeing that.

If it, indeed has one of these, then the dish is simply too far away. My experience shooting one of these is that they're most commonly in front of or in-line with the camera, usually up high. My fav placement is directly above the shooter, maybe 7' off the ground and a tiny bit off centre, but not enough that her nose is casting a big shadow.

I'll point out that beauty dishes are one of the least flexible diffusers and 90% of their use is shooting a young woman (and only one with great skin) direct head-on. In my opinion, they are generally only good for getting one "look". I'm not a fan of them used much off-axis, they generally don't work well for any sort of non-human objects and are the most difficult to pack up and move around. But they do well with beautiful women, shot on-axis high. You know... fashion magazine covers.

But, good luck with it! I think you picked the most challenging one first... :-D
I agree that I was not able to replicate my example shot. I definitely need to play around with the distance of the dish and find its sweet spot. I did have the reflector disk installed, and I used a diffusing sock for most of these. I had the disk about 1" from the bulb, but I should play with that distance too.

Another problem is that I was using the on-camera flash to trigger the B800. When I was right under the dish, the dish would cast a flash shadow onto the subject. I have a hotshoe to pc sync adapter on the way soon to fix that problem.
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Old 01-14-2013, 05:10 PM   #15
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I agree that I was not able to replicate my example shot. I definitely need to play around with the distance of the dish and find its sweet spot. I did have the reflector disk installed, and I used a diffusing sock for most of these. I had the disk about 1" from the bulb, but I should play with that distance too.

Another problem is that I was using the on-camera flash to trigger the B800. When I was right under the dish, the dish would cast a flash shadow onto the subject. I have a hotshoe to pc sync adapter on the way soon to fix that problem.
Point your on-camera flash away from the subject. The B800's sensor should pick it up even if it is pointed behind you (assuming an enclosed room).

EDIT: Oh, you probably meant on-camera as in, built into the camera itself. If you don't have a speedlight with a movable head, try building a reflector/blocker out of cardboard to direct that light upwards instead of towards the subject.

EDIT 2: Yeah, that on-camera flash is clearly a big problem with those photos. You can see from the catchlights that the beauty dish is up and to the left, but those shadows are from a light on the right side of the lens. Definitely do whatever you can to get rid of that flash. Re-reading the thread, you do have a speedlight: use it (manual mode, turn it way down, 1/32 or something out to suffice) and point it away from the subject. Oh, and yeah, booms are pretty much required for beauty dishes, and yes they are stupid expensive

EDIT 3: Needing more power isn't really a problem until you're at, like, ISO 400 and f/8. What were those exposures at?
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Old 01-14-2013, 06:06 PM   #16
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Point your on-camera flash away from the subject. The B800's sensor should pick it up even if it is pointed behind you (assuming an enclosed room).

EDIT: Oh, you probably meant on-camera as in, built into the camera itself. If you don't have a speedlight with a movable head, try building a reflector/blocker out of cardboard to direct that light upwards instead of towards the subject.

EDIT 2: Yeah, that on-camera flash is clearly a big problem with those photos. You can see from the catchlights that the beauty dish is up and to the left, but those shadows are from a light on the right side of the lens. Definitely do whatever you can to get rid of that flash. Re-reading the thread, you do have a speedlight: use it (manual mode, turn it way down, 1/32 or something out to suffice) and point it away from the subject. Oh, and yeah, booms are pretty much required for beauty dishes, and yes they are stupid expensive
My speedlight was out of batteries, and I knew I had the hot shoe to pc sync adapter on the way so this was really just a test shoot with the on-camera flash. I used my hand to reflect the light for some shots, but that got tiring quickly. Admittedly, I hadn't really used the on-camera flash in Manual mode before so I had it turned up too high and was trying to use the flash exposure compensation to drop it down. Now I know how to turn it down though.

Edit: In that one shot where the background is darker, I had the light above and pointed down. I think I also used my hand to reflect the on-camera flash because there's no fill at all in that shot. That darn thing was adding much more light than I thought!

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Old 01-14-2013, 10:30 PM   #17
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The on-camera flash can be quite bright if you're close to the subject like that.

A couple of other pointers.

1) The first shot (the best one, the only one without the shadow from the on-camera flash) has a hotspot on her forehead. This can be fixed with makeup, or it can also be fixed/minimized by adjusting the placement and angle of the beauty dish. Think about what you know about the focus and the plane of the sensor, there is also a similar effect with the plane of light. With a bright source such as a studio strobe only a couple of feet from your model, the tilt of the modifier by 6" one way or the other can result in part of your model's face being brighter than the rest. Use your modeling light to see this effect before you get behind the camera. (I usually turn off the Tracking on my modeling lights, I'd rather always see them at 100% brightness so that I can more easily see the light+shadows while I'm positioning the light.) It is also common to "feather" the light (get it so that the subject is illuminated by the gradient/edge of the light, not directly in the middle) to somewhat compensate for stuff like this.

2) One of the more interesting things that you can do with studio lighting is create subject-background separation. You have to think about the ratio of the light hitting the wall to the light hitting the subject. If the light is 2 feet away from the subject, and the subject is 2 feet away from the wall, then the light is 4 feet away from the wall. So you have a 1:2 ratio (1 stop) to subject exposure vs. wall exposure. If the light is 2 feet away from the subject, but the subject is 4 feet away from the wall, then your light is 6 feet away from the wall giving you a 1:3 ratio (1.5 stops). If the subject is 8 feet away from the wall, then the light is 10 feet away from the wall, giving a 1:5 ratio (over 2 stops) which means the wall will be quite a bit darker than the subject. If you change things up so that the light is only 1 foot away from the subject, and the subject is 8 feet from the wall, then you have a 1:9 ratio (over 3 stops) which should make the background quite dark, if not black. (Part of this depends on your room and how reflective it is.) So keeping the exact same background (white wall), and the exact same lighting, you can make the background darker or lighter just by altering this distance/ratio. You can go from white, to gray, to black, just depending on this ratio. If you use the grid on your beauty dish then you will really be able to control the light and keep it from scattering to the wall, and the above ratios won't really apply so much (since gridded light is much more directional) but with the beauty dish by itself or with the sock, you will get this effect. You can see examples of this in the blog below.

http://www.zarias.com/all-of-these-a...ke-the-others/

Oh also when you're comparing BD vs diffused BD vs umbrella, don't forget to try the umbrella as a shoot-through vs. as a reflector. Shoot-through you are basically creating a sort of inefficient softbox. Reflected, well, it sort of throws the light everywhere. Umbrellas are great for having large modifiers for compact size and cheap price. However, they usually do not disperse the light uniformly, and overall they are not great compared to other (larger, more expensive) options like softboxes. But they can do wonders for portability. Did you check out the PLM's at the AlienBees site? They are true parabolic shaped umbrellas that can make the light do things that normal umbrellas can't. Pretty cool.
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Old 01-15-2013, 09:00 PM   #18
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The on-camera flash can be quite bright if you're close to the subject like that.

A couple of other pointers.

1) The first shot (the best one, the only one without the shadow from the on-camera flash) has a hotspot on her forehead. This can be fixed with makeup, or it can also be fixed/minimized by adjusting the placement and angle of the beauty dish. Think about what you know about the focus and the plane of the sensor, there is also a similar effect with the plane of light. With a bright source such as a studio strobe only a couple of feet from your model, the tilt of the modifier by 6" one way or the other can result in part of your model's face being brighter than the rest. Use your modeling light to see this effect before you get behind the camera. (I usually turn off the Tracking on my modeling lights, I'd rather always see them at 100% brightness so that I can more easily see the light+shadows while I'm positioning the light.) It is also common to "feather" the light (get it so that the subject is illuminated by the gradient/edge of the light, not directly in the middle) to somewhat compensate for stuff like this.

2) One of the more interesting things that you can do with studio lighting is create subject-background separation. You have to think about the ratio of the light hitting the wall to the light hitting the subject. If the light is 2 feet away from the subject, and the subject is 2 feet away from the wall, then the light is 4 feet away from the wall. So you have a 1:2 ratio (1 stop) to subject exposure vs. wall exposure. If the light is 2 feet away from the subject, but the subject is 4 feet away from the wall, then your light is 6 feet away from the wall giving you a 1:3 ratio (1.5 stops). If the subject is 8 feet away from the wall, then the light is 10 feet away from the wall, giving a 1:5 ratio (over 2 stops) which means the wall will be quite a bit darker than the subject. If you change things up so that the light is only 1 foot away from the subject, and the subject is 8 feet from the wall, then you have a 1:9 ratio (over 3 stops) which should make the background quite dark, if not black. (Part of this depends on your room and how reflective it is.) So keeping the exact same background (white wall), and the exact same lighting, you can make the background darker or lighter just by altering this distance/ratio. You can go from white, to gray, to black, just depending on this ratio. If you use the grid on your beauty dish then you will really be able to control the light and keep it from scattering to the wall, and the above ratios won't really apply so much (since gridded light is much more directional) but with the beauty dish by itself or with the sock, you will get this effect. You can see examples of this in the blog below.

http://www.zarias.com/all-of-these-a...ke-the-others/

Oh also when you're comparing BD vs diffused BD vs umbrella, don't forget to try the umbrella as a shoot-through vs. as a reflector. Shoot-through you are basically creating a sort of inefficient softbox. Reflected, well, it sort of throws the light everywhere. Umbrellas are great for having large modifiers for compact size and cheap price. However, they usually do not disperse the light uniformly, and overall they are not great compared to other (larger, more expensive) options like softboxes. But they can do wonders for portability. Did you check out the PLM's at the AlienBees site? They are true parabolic shaped umbrellas that can make the light do things that normal umbrellas can't. Pretty cool.

Thanks for the tips, slash! In your first point, are you saying that the hot spot would be avoided if the light was not shone so directly at her face? So I think in that shot the light was directly above her pointed straight down. Since her face is angled slightly toward the camera, I should have angled the light towards the camera as well?

I do like the looks of the PLMs at AlienBees. I would have picked one up if I didn't think the wife would already flip from the B800 + beauty dish.... and then boom arm lol. Next purchase will probably be some wireless triggers and a PLM. I figure I'll put wireless triggers at the top of my valentine's day list, ha!
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:01 AM   #19
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Thanks for the tips, slash! In your first point, are you saying that the hot spot would be avoided if the light was not shone so directly at her face? So I think in that shot the light was directly above her pointed straight down. Since her face is angled slightly toward the camera, I should have angled the light towards the camera as well?
There are different ways of doing it. Angling the light towards the camera would have the "feathering" effect, i.e. her forehead would be lit with the less-intense part of the light while the rest of her face would be lit with the more-intense part of the light. But then her body might be lit more than you want.

Another way would be to move the light towards the camera, but angle it at the same angle as her face, so that it hits her face evenly (although this will change the angles of the shadows).

It's all a bunch of tradeoffs, I'm not saying the hotspot could be 100% avoided without changing the way the lighting looks somewhat, but there are ways to avoid it, if it's something you're concerned about. (And hotspots are a common concern) Post-processing to bring that area down a bit would work just as well.
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Old 01-16-2013, 11:12 AM   #20
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Admit it, the whole point of this was to show off your hot wife.
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Old 01-16-2013, 12:35 PM   #21
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if he wanted to show her off, she would've been nekkid
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:39 PM   #22
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Admit it, the whole point of this was to show off your hot wife.
lol well I think she's hot enough to where I wouldn't need a beauty dish to accomplish that, and if i was showing her off, I'd have told you she was 5'11" when I posted the pics. Ok, now I'm showing off...
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Old 01-17-2013, 08:46 PM   #23
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Here's another question for you fine folks here: when in a studio setting with flashes, do I need to keep the VR of my lens on, or will I get sharper pictures with it off? I know when I'm on a tripod that VR should be turned off, but if I'm hand-holding with flash, does VR help or hurt?
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Old 01-17-2013, 09:11 PM   #24
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Won't necessarily be sharper than using tripod, but flash duration will control motion blur so VR off to increase responsiveness.
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Old 02-07-2013, 10:05 PM   #25
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Thanks again everyone for the tips. I thought I'd update this thread with a new shot that I'm pretty proud of. Still learning so any feedback would be appreciated!



This was a random chick off Craigslist, and I was pretty surprised by how it all turned out. I didn't think I'd find anyone nearly as good looking as her on Craigslist!
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