Exciting Lighting Photo Contest Winner

The image above was selected as the winner for my Exciting Lighting photo contest. The image was taken by Kevin (Flickr screen name “TheOriginal_kevie“). I selected this image from the entries because the lighting was unique and the concept and feel of the image was very interesting as well as attention-grabbing.

Congratulations to Kevin, who will get to attend David Ziser’s Digital Wake-Up Call workshop as my guest, when it comes to San Diego. Great job Kevin!


Photoshop For Fun: Magazine Cover

My good friend Chuck took this picture of his daughter for her 1-Year pictures the other night in my studio. He’s recently gotten into photography and wanted to do some cool high key shots and needed more lights and the white seamless background.

I helped him with the lighting setup, which included 3 Nikon Speedlights total, 1-SB800 and 2-SB80DX units. The SB800 was used in a soft silver reflective umbrella at 1/4 power to light his daughter. I put the two SB80DXs on Justin Clamps and up high to light the background. They were set to 1/2 power. The SB800 was to his daughter’s right about 4 feet away and aiming down at about a 45 degree angle. He shot it with D40 with a Nikon 55-200mm lens and the lights were triggered with CyberSyncs.

I popped his memory card into my MacBook Pro to check out what he had captured. I really liked the feel of this image, so I processed it completely in Lightroom and then moved over to Photoshop to take care of the “magazine cover” aspect of the image. I e-mailed it to him and his wife last night and they loved it.

There are lots of creative things that you can do with Photoshop besides just process images. It’s also great for graphic design and just plain ‘ole puttin’ a smile on somebody’s face… my favorite thing to do with my photography.

Photo by Chuck Long. Disclaimer: This image is the sole work of Chuck Long and Stephen J. Zeller and is in no way affiliated with American Baby magazine.

Back To Basics: Composition

One of the easiest and most effective way to improve the quality of the images you shoot is to take a look at your composition. Composition is one of the things that can make a good photo, well… great. If you already have an interesting subject, good composition will take that photo to the next level. Today I’m going to explain a few things to help you do just that!

Fill The Frame!
This is probably my most suggested tip to people who ask me what they can do to make their photos better. Remember when we were little kids and we wanted to take pictures with our parents cameras? Remember them telling us to make sure that your aunt was in the center and you didn’t cut her head off? So what did we do? We framed the shot so that her head was EXACTLY in the middle of the frame, leaving a lot of dead space at the top of the photo.

That’s exactly what you don’t want. You want your subject to fill the frame in most cases. Notice the picture above. I even cut off the top of Danny’s head just a little bit. That’s ok! Most of the frame was filled with my subject which is what we’re after here.

I shot the photo with my D90, 70-300mm VR lens, Aperture Priority mode, ISO 200, Cloudy WB, f5.6, 1/125th, @ 135mm focal length.

So next time you’re out shooting, remember to look around the viewfinder and fill the frame with your subject! This will dramatically improve the quality of your images.

Swing Away

Working of the inspiration from my golf hobby, I decided to shoot something that would be a little harder… a golf club. Why would that be harder? Because it’s metal and shiny… which can be a potential nightmare if it’s your first time trying to light something so reflective. My hats off to all the jewelry photographers in the world.

For this setup, I wanted a little harder light than I usually use so I used a an SB80DX and an SB800 with only the diffusion domes. I used another SB80DX with a Rosco 80 blue gel on the black seamless paper background. I triggered the lights with CyberSyncs and SU-4 mode on my SB80DXs. I had the CST on the D90 and a CSRB on the SB800. The SB800 fired the SB80DXs which were using their built-in optical slaves (SU-4 mode).

Here’s the setup shot:

For my camera setup, my D90 was in Manual, f8, 1/125th, ISO 200, Flash WB. I used the Nikon 16-85mm VR lens @ 85mm. I had the camera on my tripod to ensure extra stability. The reason I used the Flash WB preset was because I knew I would need a warmer WB setting while shooting something metal with no finish on it. A cooler WB setting would have left the image feeling a lot more cool than what I would have wanted. Since I shot RAW, I could have fixed it in post… but why do that when you can do it in camera?

I had to move my lights around quite a bit to get the exact look I was going for. I tried to think about where my light was coming from and where I would get reflections and really hot specular highlights. The two speedlights that were lighting the golf club were set on VERY low power. The SB800 was at 1/32 and the SB80DX was set to 1/64. The background SB80DX was at 1/4.

This was a fun, yet challenging subject and I had a good time working out the problems I encountered. Each day, we should challenge ourselves as photographers. It’s another way we can sharpen our skills and grow as artists. So what are you waiting for? CHALLENGE YOURSELF!

Review: CyberSync CST & CSRB

My CyberSync Review has been a long time coming and I’m now finally posting it. The reason I waited so long is due to the fact that I wanted to throughly test them out prior to posting a review. If you’re interested in my initial testing and opinion then check out this post. Now on to the review.

The models I purchased were the CyberSync CST Transmitter and CSRB Receiver. The CST will cost you $60 and the CSRB is $70. You purchase them directly from the manufacturer, Paul C. Buff, Inc. I would have to say they are the best priced, pro-quality wireless flash triggers available. Of course, this is just my opinion.


I’m starting with this area because the CyberSyncs perform VERY, VERY well. Great range and super reliability. I tested these outside at approximately 300 feet, line-of-sight, and they fired every time. I put a flash upstairs with the CSRB attached via the included 1/8″ to PC Sync cable and it fired from downstairs in my family room, my garage (with the door to the house closed), and even outside my front door (with the door closed as well). So it’s safe to say that if you need to trigger flash upstairs and around corners, the CyberSyncs will easily comply.

I’ve fired them over 500 times and I have yet to have a single misfire. That’s right. NO MISFIRES. I’m using the batteries that came with the units and I have not replaced them.

Design & Durability

These little babies seem to be very well-built. The battery compartments are easy to access, which is very nice. The CST battery door slides out to reveal a CR2450 battery. You can find them at any Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, Walgreens, or other similar store. The CSRB accepts two AA batteries and the battery door simply clicks into place much like the battery compartment door on most remote controls.

The antenna is in a fixed position on both units, which leaves no room for flexibility. If you were working in a tight space and struck the antenna on something solid they are more likely to break. I’m not a big fan of this, but if lacking a flexible antenna keeps the price down I’m all for it.

I don’t like that there isn’t a way to switch the CST and CSRB on and off. The CST isn’t really an issue because the amount of power consumed during a depression of the “Test” button is very minimal. The CSRB says on for one hour once the “Test” button is depressed or the unit is triggered by the transmitter. Accidental depressions in your camera bag are highly likely and will thus significantly reduce battery life. To counter this I simply reverse the polarity on one of the batteries and then place the cover back on. This prevents electricity flow and therefore won’t drain the batteries. Then all I have to do is flip that same battery back over before I start shooting. I think of it as my On/Off switch. Sure it’s a little clunky, but I’d rather do that than worry about batteries.

The transmitter fits very snugly into the hot shoe on my D90. I feel that it’s very secure even though it’s lacking a locking mechanism. Even if you bump it around it’s not going to come off. You’ll break it first.

I accidently dropped drop-tested one of my receivers from about 4 feet up onto a concrete floor. Everything stayed intact and worked just fine. I wouldn’t recommend doing this often, but if you happen to drop the unit you can feel pretty secure that you can pick it up and it will work.


What I like:

  • Cost-effective
  • Reliable
  • Durable
  • Low-profile
  • 16 Selectable channels
  • User-friendly
  • Uses regular batteries

What I don’t like:

  • No flexible antenna
  • No on/off switch

Overall I think the CyberSyncs are just as good better than the PocketWizard Plus IIs. Those PWs only offer you four channels and with the CyberSyncs you get 16, which means less chance of interference from other photographers. Also, you can buy a CST transmitter and (2) CSRB receivers for the price of one PocketWizard Plus II. That’s huge for photographers on a budget! If you’re a manual off-camera flash guy like me, then you will love the CyberSyncs for their price, performance, and durability. I would have no issues using these units out on a paying gig (and I have) because I know they will stand up to what I’ll put them through and I am 100% confident they will work.

For more information on the CyberSync units, check them out here.

Digital WakeUp Call – You Just Gotta Go!

David Ziser’s Digital WakeUp Call 2009 Tour kicks off on March 30th. If you are only able to attend one photography workshop this year, I wouldn’t miss this one!

For those of you out there who don’t know David Ziser, he is an amazing instructor and photographer with the accolades to back it up. He teaches each year at Photoshop World and is a world-renowned wedding and portrait photographer.

“Wait, but I don’t shoot weddings!” Hold on, don’t click away yet! Even if you don’t shoot weddings there is no doubt in my mind that you will benefit from this workshop. Athletes cross-train right? Well, so can photographers! And you won’t believe what a difference it can make in your images, lighting, and work in general! If I haven’t sold you yet, keep reading because I’m going to show you a way to save $20.00 on your registration fee and give you a chance to attend the San Diego workshop for free, as my guest!

David is teaching DWC in 58 cities across the country. More than likely he’ll be heading somewhere close to you too. Here’s the schedule and registration page. I’ll be at the San Diego event on May 21st. If you happen to see me there, come up and say hello.

David made a special offer for Stephen Zeller Photography readers. Enter code ZSZDWC09 to get in for $59 – a savings of $20. That’s an incredible deal considering that you’ll go home with materials worth $250 more than you paid to get in:

* Tour Handbook: includes program notes, photography, marketing & more
* 2 Hour DVD with extended program content
* $100 Rebate from American Color Imaging
* 1 year membership to WPPI and Rangefinder magazine, a $99 value
* FREE 3 month membership to DigitalProTalkPlus.com, a $45 value
* FREE 3 month subscription to PPA Magazine, a $15 value
* FREE PPA Indemnification (no-fault) insurance for all new PPA members
* Over $2,500 in door prizes awarded each evening
* And a chance to win 1 of 4 Grand Prizes worth over $5,000

Bonus For Canon Shooters: David is a Canon shooter too. His demos are based on Canon gear.

Want to get in for free?

Enter SZP’s “Exciting Light” contest on Flickr.

Deadline: Friday, March 27, 2009 5:00pm PDT.

How To Enter

1. You’ll need a Flickr account. It’s easy and free to join.

2. Join the Stephen Zeller Photography Flickr Group.

3. Upload 1, 2, or 3 of your photos that represent “Exciting Light” (using off-camera flash) to your Flickr account.

4. Tag the photo(s) with “dwc09″. Please, no more than three entries per person.

5. Add your photo(s) to the Stephen Zeller Photography Flickr Group.

6. Promise to tell 5,972 people about Stephen Zeller Photography.


Friday evening, March 27th, I’ll choose my favorite entry. Photo submissions should be lit with some sort of off-camera flash or strobe. “Exciting Light” is the theme.

I’ll notify the winner by email on Saturday morning, March 28. Be sure to check the e-mail account you use for Flickr. I’ll also post the announcement on the Stephen Zeller Photography forum at Flickr, as well as here on the blog. The winner will get to attend the San Diego Digital WakeUp Call session as my guest! I’ll also post the winning photo here on the blog and the reasons that I selected it. How’s that for a photo contest?

Blogging Redux

Hello to all my loyal readers! (I think we’re up to 4 now.) I wanted to take some time today to let you know that I’m cutting back on blogging on a Monday through Friday basis for awhile. Keeping up with the blog for 5 days a week is tough, especially when I don’t do this for a living. It does take a lot of time, so what I’m going to do is MAXIMIZE the QUALITY of the time I devote to the blog.

In a nutshell, you will see more nuts-n-bolts photography stuff and less news, updates, and fluff. Sure, there will still be a review every now and then. I’m planning on posting twice a week for now and anything more will just be a bonus.

I hope you all can understand and will hang in there with me on this. I want to make sure that you are getting something really valuable out of what I’m posting and that’s what I am going to concentrate on. If you have questions, just ask as always. I hope that you guys have a great week and I look forward to bringing you more great photography content!