Q&A: How High Should Your Modifier Be?

You know I love answering questions that I get online, and this question came in from one of my followers on social media last week. 

She asked: "How high should my modifier be from my subject" 

Great question!  

There is no right or wrong answer... it's really just about the look you want.  I LOVE catchlights and soft shadows, so this is how I do it:

If you have any questions, please leave a comment in the space below!

Happy Shooting!
Sandra

FREE Guide on Metering For Film

Metering for Film, FREE Guide | Sandra Coan Photography | Resources for Film Photographers | How to Meter

As film photographers we know that metering is extremely important.  It can make or break and image.  But how to do is often a point of confusion!

That's why I've create this online guide on how to meter for film in ALL kinds of light.  In the guide you will learn how to meter for color and black & while film in natural light, with strobes and with a speedlight flash.  And here's the best part.

It's totally FREE!

So follow the link and get your copy today!!

What You Need To Know About Using Strobes

The number one reason photographers stay away from studio strobes is that they fear that they don't understand them.  Strobes seem techy and complicated.  And if by chance they could get them set up, they wouldn’t even know where to begin. I get it!  I used to feel the exact same way.  In fact, my lights sat is storage for years for this very reason.

But the truth is you already know most of what you need to know about working with strobes.  For reals.

Why?

Because light is light.

It doesn’t matter whether your source is the sun shining through a window or a bulb shining through a soft box, the same rules apply.

So if you already know the basics of working with window light then you already know the basics of working with strobes.

Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Studio lighting | Strobes and film

Just think of your strobes and soft box as a portable window.

Do you know how to place a subject when working with window light?

Of course you do!!

Then guess what, you know how to do it with a strobe and a soft box too!

Do you know how to meter your people when working with window light?

Yup!

Well then guess what, one easy adjustment to your meter and you can do it with a strobe!

Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Studio lighting | Strobes and film

Does having only one good window in a clients home interfere with the flow of your shoot?

Of course not! You do that all the time!!

Then guess what, having one light and one soft box won’t hinder you either. In fact, it will be even better because you’ll know that the light coming out of the strobe and soft box will be perfect, consistent light every single time you use it!

How great is that?!

The only thing new to learn is what equipment to get and how to set it up in a way that will work with your vintage film cameras and create soft, luminous, natural light looking photos each and every time you shoot.  And I can show you that!

Sign up for my film photographer's guide to studio strobes today!  It will change the way you shoot film, for the better!

 

 

Five Film Stocks And One Creepy Doll (Sorry)

Sometimes I think that I missed my calling.  I really should have been a scientist.

This thought usually comes to me late at night when I'm lying in bed mulling over things.  

I run experiments in my head.  

I come up with theories and imagine ways to test them.  

And then when I finally do drift off to sleep, I dream about my obsessions.

For the last several years my obsession has been shooting film with strobes.  I think about it all the time. I read about it.  I Google it.  I even dream about it.  It's a little ridiculous.

A couple weeks ago I became curious about how different film stocks would look when shot with strobes.  

I already know that I love the look of Portra 800 when shot with natural light and Fuji 400h is my go-to strobe film... but then I started wondering "how would Portra 800 look with strobe?  Or Ektar!! Or.. or..."  I'm sure you can see where this is going....

So I decided to run a little test.  

Five film stocks all shot the with the same light, same backdrop and same subject.

Science!!

Here's a bit of what I got!  (And yes, I know my doll is super creepy... sorry!)

Okay... this first set was shot with a Contax 645, a 7 foot OctoDome set at 45 degrees to my subject, a dark (Thunder Grey) back drop and metered for the shadows.

Sandra Coan | Tips for Film Photographers | Film Stocks | Film and Strobes

And here's the same set up with a cream backdrop.

Sandra Coan | Tips for Film Photographers | Film Stocks | Film and Strobes

Isn't it fascinating?!

And for those of you who want more information on using strobes with film sign up for my newsletter here 

Have a great day!

Sandra

P.S. All images were shot using a Contax 645 and processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

Metering Film In All Kinds Of Light

I often get email from film photographers about how to meter in different lighting situations.  A few days ago I received this question:

"Sandra, do you meter differently on darker, overcast days?"

Short Answer:  Nope.

Long Answer:  I meter using incident metering in all lighting situations.

Incident metering means that your meter is reading the light that is falling on your subject rather than the light that is bouncing off your subject.

I like this technique because when using incident metering it doesn’t matter what my subject’s skin tone is or what color clothing they are wearing. The meter is only going to read the light that is falling on them and therefore my readings are super consistent.

I always shoot my film at box speed and set my meter to the bulb out position. Then I meter for the darkest shadow I can find when shooting color and for the highlights when shooting black and white.

I meter this way on cloudy days, sunny days, with window light and with strobes.

It's super consistent and super easy!!  And I'm all about consistent and easy!

Here are a few example of this metering technique in different kinds of light.

Sandra Coan on metering film in all kinds of light. Tips for film photographers.

The photos above were shot on a cloudy day in late afternoon light.  I used incident metering and metered for the shadows.  (Contax 645, Portra 800)

Sandra Coan on metering film in all kinds of light. Tips for film photographers.

Above we have an example of what an incident reading in the shadows looks like on a sunny day in mid afternoon light. (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

Sandra Coan on metering film in all kinds of light. Tips for film photographers.

Here we have incident metering (for the shadows) with indoor window light. (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

sandra coan, metering in all kinds of light.  Tips for film photographers.

And in the photos above I was photographing inside with strobes, also taking an incident reading in the shadows.  (Contax 645, Fuji 400h)

All of these images were taken in very different lighting situations, and they were all metered exactly the same: Incident, box speed, bulb out, in the shadows.

If you need a little more help with your metering, check out my posts on how to meter for window light and how to meter with strobes.

And for more tips on film photography...

How To Choose The Perfect Photo Lab

I believe that as film photographers, our lab is our creative partner.  

It is the photographer’s job to choose a film stock, find the light, pose the subject and create the photo.  It is the lab’s job to properly process the negatives and scan the images in a way that meets the photographer’s vision and expectation.  Both bring their expertise to the table.  And the end result is a beautiful image born out of working together.

The importance of this partnership can not be overstated. The lab you choose will effect the look of your photos.  You can take the same negative and have it scanned at five different labs and it will look different every time (trust me, I’ve done it!)  

So how do you go about finding the perfect lab?  With all the choices out there, how do you know which one is right for you?  How do you find your perfect partner?

  1. Do your research:  Look at the work that is coming out of the lab?  Check out their Instagram feed.  Compare the work you see there to the work you see from other labs.  The differences may be subtle, but they are there.  Do they work with photographers who's work you admire?  Once you’ve found a lab that you feel would be a good fit for you and your work, move on to step two… 
  2. Introduce yourself:  Many photographers are shy about this, but I think it’s really important.  Pick up your phone, or sit down to you computer and just introduce yourself!  “Hello!  My name is_______, I’m using your lab for the first time and I’m so excited!”  Something like that.  It’s important because once you’ve introduced yourself you can go on to step three.
  3. Communicate your preferences:  Labs are staffed by people.  And people can not read minds. If you want your film to look a certain way it is your job to a) choose a lab that is capable of producing good work, and then b) tell them what you like!  “Hello!  My name is ______, I’m using your lab for the first time and I’m so excited!  I shoot primarily color film and I’m going for a light, airy look with soft, peachy tones.  Here are some example of work of mine that I just love!  Thank you!  And again, I’m so excited to be working with you.”
  4. Keep the lines of communication open, even when times are hard:  This step is really important!  If scans come back that you don’t love.  Please don't complain abut it on Facebook!  Talk to your lab about it first!  Give them a call.  Have them pull your negatives and give you feed back.  Perhaps it was an exposure issue on your end, or perhaps it was a scanning issue, but if you don’t pick up the phone and ask, you will never know.  Remember, a good lab wants you to love your work.  And they will be happy to help you trouble shoot when you have problems.

Another good sign that you are with the right lab is that they will be open and welcoming to your communication.  They will be willing to help you grow as an artist.  And they will recognize that you are in the creative process together.  

Richard Photo Lab is the perfect fit for me!  They are consistently awesome.  They are always open to talking and helping me trouble shoot when I need it, which has helped me grow as a photographer.  And they support me and my business, knowing that if their photographers are successful they will be too. 

They are my creative partner.  

We are in this together. 

How to choose the perfect photo lab. Tips for film photographers by Sandra Coan

for tips on film photography 

How To Mix Natural Light With Strobes

Mixing natural light and strobes.  Tips for film photographers

I love the look of natural light.  But as a film photographer who shoots almost exclusively inside there is often not enough natural light to properly expose my film.  

One of my favorite things to do when in this situation is to set up a strobe to "boost" the natural light.

In the video below, I'll show you how I do it!

To learn more about off camera lighting and film

Four Reason I Love Using Strobes With Film

I first began using strobes with film in the winter.

I live in Seattle, and it’s really dark here most of the time.  I knew that if I was going to shoot film all year long,  I was going to have to learn how to use artificial light.   And I wanted to shoot film, so I got to work.

The more I worked with the strobes, the easier it became.  What was once scary and risky became the new normal, and soon, I was as comfortable shooting with strobes as I was shooting with window light.

Then the summer came, and my beautiful daylight studio was filled with light once again. 

I was excited to turn off the strobes and go back to my first love, window light.

What I discovered when I turned them off however, surprised me.  

I found that I didn’t love shooting with natural light the way I had before.   I had actually grown to prefer the strobes, even on super sunny days. 

Sandra Coan, studio photography on film

Here’s why:

1. Strobes are consistent.  When my strobes are on, my meter readings are always the same!  I meter once at a shoot.  Thats it.  Having that consistency really helps with my workflow and allows me to fully concentrate on my client.  My sessions are more efficient and I’m able to work with 100% confidence, knowing that all my exposures will be spot on.

2. I love the tones I get with strobes.  Strobes are daylight balanced, so they are a little warmer than window light.  You see, even on sunny days, window light has a cool quality to it (much like a shadow),  That is why in the photo below, the natural light photo looks a little blue, especially in the whites.  The strobe image however has bright white whites, and adds a little shine to the baby’s hair.  I love it!

Sandra Coan, studio photography on film | tips for film photographers

3. I'm in control.  Yep, I'm a control freak, especially when at work.  And when I'm working with strobes I'm in control of my light 100% of the time.  I make the light do what ever I want it to.   When I work with window light, the window light dictates what I can and can't do.  When I work with strobes, I make those decisions.... and I freaking love it!

4. Film loves light.  And when I’m shooting with strobes I know that I can give my film as much light as it wants, all the time!

Interested in learning how to shoot with strobes?  Let me teach you! 

Sandra Coan, studio photography on film

To learn lighting and film...

Q&A: Where to Place A Strobe on Location

Yesterday I received a question from a past student about where to place her strobe when working in a clients home.  

It was such a good question that I decided to share my answer with all of you!

I hope you find it helpful!

And if you ever have questions of lighting or film, please do not hesitate to ask.  I'm always happy to help!

Interested in learning about using lighting with film?
Let me teach you! 

My Year Of Bad Photos

Most film photographers believe that in order to shoot film 100% of the time they need to shoot outside.  They really struggle when the weather turns cold or rainy or when they are asked to photograph a subject indoors. I know this because this is my story too!

I’m a photographer in Seattle, WA.  Struggling with not enough natural light is my middle name!

Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Film photography | Film and Strobes

January in Seattle.  Sigh.

 When I became serious about shooting film I really felt that I only had two options;  push my film or go back to my digital camera and embrace hybrid shooting. I really didn't want to go back to my digital camera, so I settled on pushing.

I did my homework. I asked questions on all the forums I was on.  I was ready!  And excited.  This was going to work!  Woohoo!!!

And then the scans came back. Super contrasty.  Wonky colors. Just yuck!

Not at all like the soft, airy images I was used to.

Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Film photography | Film and Strobes
Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Film photography | Film and Strobes

Defeated, I went back to my digital gear.

That was nearly four years  ago.

If only I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now.

Here's the story, you can shoot film 100% of the time - even inside, even on super dark days. 

You can create soft, luminous images at every single session regardless of the weather. 

And you can do it without pushing your film or relying on your digital gear.

How?  With strobes.  

Sandra Coan | Tips for film photographers | Film photography | Film and Strobes

Learning how to use strobes was a game changer for me!  And you know what?  It's not that hard!

I'd love to teach you how!  Click on the link below for information on my film photographer's guide to studio strobes!

New Year, New Beginning

There is something so magical about January 1st.  In theory, it’s just another date on the calendar.  But to me, it’s signifies a new beginning.  A fresh start.

I like to treat each calendar year as an opportunity to try something new. Challenging myself to try something new helps me push myself and my business.  

Sometime it’s small things… like raising my prices a little or deciding to take a workshop on something I’ve been trying to learn. And sometimes it’s big things… like deciding to teach my own workshop or pursuing publications and speaking engagements.  

Whatever it is, I set my intention and the start working toward my goal on January 1st.

Last year my goal was to speak at a professional conference.  

In October, I was given to opportunity to speak at Click Away, but that intention was set in January and I started working on what I wanted to say long before I was even asked to speak.

That is the power of setting your intention.  That is the magic of the New Year.

So my question to you is this...  What are your goals for the New Year?  

What new project will you begin?

Will you learn something new?

Raise your prices?

Or maybe start the business you’ve been dreaming about for years?

Whatever it is.  Set your intention.  Take the risk.  And let the New Year be your new beginning.

P.S.  If starting or building your business is in your New Years plans, be sure to check out my exciting new project!  Visit www.ladybossworkshops.com for more information.

Sandra Coan, studio photography on film

for more tips on film photography and business

Five Tips for Photographing Christmas on Film

Nothing says "Kodak Moment" like Christmas morning!  And I know you want to capture those special memories on film.  Here are a few tips to help you make the most of this special day.

1. Be prepared.  Christmas morning moves fast!  You don't want to miss the action because you're running around like a crazy woman searching for your gear.  Make sure you have everything you need;  film, camera (with fresh batteries) and light meter, set aside and ready to go.  I preload my camera(s) on Christmas Eve and set them out on the table next to Santa's milk and cookies along with my meter and extra film.  That way, come Christmas morning, I'm ready to go!

2. Choose your film wisely.  I don't know what happens at your house, but in mine, kids wake up super early on Christmas.  Like, super early.  Too early for good light.  And too early for strobe (my eyes need time to adjust before I can deal with bright light... hahaha)  So I shoot Ilford3200 in the morning and then move to slower films as the day goes on.

Sandra Coan, film photographer

3. Push for a little pop!  Christmas is full of color.  To really get those colors to pop, try pushing your film a stop.  Just remember that pushing does not add exposure.  So if you don't have enough light to get a good exposure, choose a different film stock or bust out the OCF.

Sandra Coan, film photographer

4. Meter.  Metering is so important when shooting film! So make sure you have your meter on hand for perfectly exposed photos!

5. Send your film to a good lab.  These are your memories people!  Don't trust your memories to bad processing.  As film shooters, our lab is our creative partner, so make sure you are using a good one!  I personally love Richard Photo Lab and, as luck would have it, they are having a killer sale at the moment!  Here's the link!

Most importantly, don't forget to put down your camera at some point and join in the fun!

Merry Christmas!
Sandra

Sandra Coan, film photographer

for more tips on photography and business

Easy Studio Lighting Set Up | Studio Lighting For Film Photographers

Almost every single photo I take these days was captured on film, using strobes.  

When I started using studio lighting several years ago, it was really just a way to make it through the dark days of winter.  Now I use them all the time.  

Studio lighting has allowed me to shoot film all year long.  It has given consistency to my work, helped me define my style and build my brand.  I couldn't do what I do without it!

I'm often asked how I set up my strobes during newborn shoots.  So at my newborn session this morning, I decided to step back and snap a quick photo of my set up.

This is my typical set up for photographing newborns and toddlers on my white bed.

I have my strobe (an Alien Bee 1600) and light modifier (a 5 foot Photoflex Octodome) set at 45 degrees to my subject.  This is a digital capture, but I did photograph the baby on film and my settings were ISO 400 (I shoot Fuji 400h film) at f2.8 1/60

Sandra Coan, Studio Lighting for Film Photographers

Please let me know if you have any questions about shooting film with studio lighting.  And if you are interested in learning more, please visit my workshop page, and sign up for my newsletter!

have a wonderful day!
Sandra

Feel the Fear, and do it Anyway

I just got home from the Click Away conference where (for the first time ever) I got up on a stage and spoke to a ballroom full of people.  

My speech was about the Three Things You Need to Know to Build a Six Figure Business - know what you do, know who your people are, and know how to communicate what you do to your people.  All really good stuff that I believe in with all my heart! 

I’m happy to say that the talk was well received.  And I’ve since heard from people that were moved and inspired by it.  

But in the days following the conference I realized that I left something out, something I didn’t even know I was leaving out until I got home.  

And that is what I want to share it with you now.

For some reason my husband and I own two copies of a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”.  The funny thing is, neither one of us have ever actually read it.  Despite that fact, “feel the fear and do it anyway” has become sort of a mantra in our house.  When things are hard.  When a choice feels risky.  When we are at a crossroads, we look at each other and say those words.

When I started my business -way back in 2000- I remember being terrified.  Could I really do it?  What if I failed?  What if people hated my photos?  

The fear and the self doubt were overwhelming sometimes.  But you know what?  I felt the fear and did it anyway!  

I’ve since learned that the fear that comes with doing something new is a good thing.  It keeps us on our toes.  Makes us work harder, push ourselves a little bit more.

I think being in business is a lot like being in therapy… for it to work, you need to be vulnerable.  You need to take risks.  You need to be willing to put yourself out there.  You need to allow yourself to be scared.

Those are all things I’ve felt in my journey as a photographer.  But if I’m being honest, I haven’t felt them for a very long time.  Until last Saturday that is.  Getting up on that stage at Click Away brought them all back.

There I was again….

Can I really do this?

What if I fail?

Who the hell do I think I am?

But you know what?  I did it.  It scared me, but I did it.  I felt the fear and did it anyway.  And it was amazing!

So that is what I want to share… 

If you are going to build a business that you love.  One that is both emotionally and financially fulfilling, yes, you need to know what you do, you need to know who your people are, and you need to know how to communicate what you do to your people. All of those things are important.  

But you also need to let yourself be scared.  It’s okay.  Feel the fear, and then push past it.  Feel the fear, and do it anyway.  It will be worth it in the end.  I promise. 

Sandra Coan, film photographer and business coach

Strobes and Film VS. Strobes and Digital

The lag-time between shooting and seeing results that we film photographers endure is so hard, especially when you are learning something new!!

When I first started with strobes I would practice with my digital camera to see if I was getting it right.  I wanted the feedback right away!

Here is what I learned.

Digital and film react to light very differently.

When I meter my film for strobes, I meter just like I would if working with window light.  For me, that means metering for the shadows (especially with color film).

This doesn't work with a digital camera.

If you shoot your digital camera at the exact settings and ISO that you are shooting your film camera at, your digital image will look totally blown out!

Both of these images were shot at ISO 400, metered for the shadows, at 2.8 1/60th.  The image on the left was shot with a Canon 5D Mark ll and the photo on the right was shot with a Contax 645 and Fuji 400h (processed and scan by Richard Photo Lab) 

Both of these images were shot at ISO 400, metered for the shadows, at 2.8 1/60th.  The image on the left was shot with a Canon 5D Mark ll and the photo on the right was shot with a Contax 645 and Fuji 400h (processed and scan by Richard Photo Lab) 

Why?

Because, when working with strobes, there is about a three stop difference between the highlights and the shadows. Film, as we know, has a tremendous latitude, and looks great when over exposed.  Digital sensors do not.

Try this instead..

If you want to test your lights with your digital camera before trying it with film, meter for your highlights.  And with both mediums, make sure the power on your strobe is turned down low to create a soft, natural-light looking image.

What to learn more about shooting film with strobes?

Registration is now open for my lighting workshop!  Follow this link to read all about it! 

5 Tips for Photographing Kids on Film

Film is beautiful!  There is no denying it!  But many film photographer fear using it when working with kids.  I get it!  Kids wiggle and move, and film cameras are much slower than digital cameras.  But it can be done... and the results are worth taking on the challenge!

Here are my 5 tips for photographing kids on film.

1) Engage them.  Sing a song.  Play a peek-a-boo.  Be silly!

One thing I like to do is point to my lens and ask the child I'm working with if he can see my eye in the "window" on my camera. Once they are still and looking in the lens I snap the image.  It works every time.

5 Tips for Photographing Kids on Film, by Sandra Coan

2) Give them something to do.  This works great with toddlers!  Let them read a book. Put a sticker on the floor in front of them.  Let them hold their favorite stuffy.  Giving them something to do will keep them happy and engaged.  It also can lead to some fun photos! (Notice the sticker on the floor under the baby on the left's hand)

Notice the sticker under the baby's hand.  That sticker what super interesting to both babies!

3) Don't rush it.  When working with kids, it's natural to feel like you have to be quick in order to get a good shot. Feeling the need to rush is stressful.  Just remember, kids feel your energy.  If you feel stressed they will too.  So take your time.  Set up the shot.  Engage your little model and wait until the moment is right to take the photo.  I watched the guy in the photo below reading his book for a good five minutes before he looked over at me and I was able to get this image. Taking your time pays off!  

5 Tips for Photographing Kids on Film, by Sandra Coan

4) Use lights.  Using a strobe or a flash will allow you to shoot in low light AND the flash will freeze motion.  A total win/win, especially when working with kids.  So use strobes and flash, then let the kids jump on the bed or run around! They'll be happy and you'll have fun, perfectly lit photos that your clients will LOVE!!

5 Tips for Photographing Kids on Film, by Sandra Coan

5) Practice.  Like most things, getting good at shooting kids on film takes practice!  So photograph your own kids, or borrow a friend's if you don't have any of your own.  Just practice, practice, practice, practice.  The more you do it, the easier it will become!

5 Tips for Photographing Kids on Film, by Sandra Coan

for tips on film photography and business

Studio Lighting for Film Photographers

If you follow me on INSTAGRAM or are on the Little Bellows Film Forum then chances are you know how obsessed I’ve been with strobes lately.  Obsessed!!

I love having the tools to create beautiful, perfectly exposed film images even when there is not enough natural light to do so.  It rules!

But I also know that the idea of working with strobes raises red flags for some.  One of the most common concerns I hear is this:

“I love the idea of using strobes because I really struggle with not having enough light, especially in the winter.  But I’m known for soft, luminous images.  I’m afraid that strobes will look too “flashy” and not fit my brand.”

Boy howdy, do I understand!! This was my fear too!

I think for many photographers, when we think of“studio lights” we imagine the days of Sears family photos.  These sessions were often overly lit and jarringly sharp.  They looked like they were shot with strobes, and nobody wants that!

When used properly however,  strobes can give you a “northern light” look that is absolutely gorgeous.  That light combined with the magic of film is an unbeatable combo!

I believe that strobes have the ability to strengthen your brand.  Once you learn to use them, you can give your clients that soft, luminous look at every. single. session.  All year long!

Rock!!

Film photography with strobes, Sandra Coan

For those of you who want more information on using strobes SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER HERE (you’ll be among the first to know when my new workshop is released!)

How to Use a Hand Held Light Meter With Studio Strobes and Film

Hey Friends, Lately I have become obsessed with usingstrobes with my film work.  Mostly because I live in Seattle, a town notorious for dark raining days. For me to be a film shooter year round, working with strobes is a must! But I have to admit, I also use them sometimes on sunny days because I love the consistency!! Perfect light, every time! How great is that!

When I tell other film shooters that I use strobes, the number one question I am asked is how I meter... so today I thought I'd share how I do it!

And for you digital shooters out there, the same rules apply, except that when metering for digital work remember to meter for your highlights.

Hope this video helps!

-Sandra

Newborn Photography Seattle, Sandra Coan, film and strobes

for tips on film photography and business