(This is my entry to one of my favorite photography sites around. Just thought of sharing this to everyone who visits this site.)
The way I see it, the term "Photographic Equipment" can be anything that would allow or assist a photographer to create and present a picture in the best way he or she sees fit, however mundane or crazy the method/s may appear to be.
With this in mind, I do believe I can confidently say that the one photo equipment/gear that made quite the fundamental impact that forever changed the way I did photography...
...is a compact mirror.
Yes, a compact mirror. The kind that sits in the cover of a lady's powder press, make-up, or something of the sort. (I'm trying to clarify this one bit of detail since I'm a guy, and I really don't know how to properly explain this, but yeah.)
It all started during the days I got my first DSLR body, the Nikon D60, outfitted with nothing more than an 18-55mm. kit lens. Back then, I knew nothing much about photography, save for the basics of adjusting and balancing the shutter, aperture, and ISO settings. As for any other concept beyond that, I've yet to discover, understand, appreciate, and properly utilize in real-world shooting - one of which is the concept of using a flashgun. I could remember the times I would stand with my cute D60, and watch a group of professional wedding photographers fire away with their monster D2x'es and SB-600/800 speedlights. I understood that, compared to pop-up flashes, a speedlight can give out a much higher flash output so that these guys can properly illuminate their subjects. That’s pretty much a no-brainer there for me. What I couldn’t understand is why most of the time, they would point the camera-mounted flash heads *upward*, or why would the heads tilt and swivel in the first place, when all it’s trying to illuminate is the subject which is just plain smack right in front of it. Since I had no access to any flashguns before, I decided to push my musings back in my head for the time being and continue enjoying photography using only available light, until the day I attended a small reunion with my friends.
When it comes to group gatherings here, group photos are always a must, especially if one of us is toting his or her fancy camera (mine, in this case). So I took some shots, and added some pop-up direct flash for a change (since the venue then was somewhat ill-lighted). Of course, when we looked at the photos on the camera screen, they all looked ghastly - stark white subjects and a ridiculously dark background due to the small flash - one of the reasons I “disliked” the usage of flashes. This also made me think a bit: “a pro photographer spends quite a lot on expensive flashguns like the ones I saw before, so surely, these things can offer much more than simply make ghouls out of human subjects.”. This also reminded me of that little “oddity” - the flash’s ability to tilt and swivel its head. Unfortunately, there was no way I’d be able to bend the pop-up flash of my camera to make it point upwards (not without breaking it, anyway), so I was thinking of a way to redirect the pathway of the flash itself, until I saw one of my friends applying press powder on her face... with the help of a compact mirror.
And an idea struck.
Borrowing the compact, I removed the powder container, and angled the mirror at 45 degrees to bend the flash’s light directly upwards, while asking my friends to pose just one more time (and yes, they were giving me puzzled looks in the process.). The shutter is pressed, the flash shot out and up towards the ceiling... and lo and behold, I “discovered” bounce-flash technique.
I was totally amazed at what I saw: my friends all looked “human” in the photo, no one had any scary red eyes, and the room mysteriously brightened up. Basically, the light was even and flattering in the entire frame, subject, background, and all, and the harsh light-to-shadow effects caused by direct-flash went away. But of course, I didn’t know how to explain this “phenomenon” back then; I only knew that the photo is so beautiful (compared to my previous shots), and that I wanted more of this.
My friends couldn’t agree more, and they instantly wanted solo shots using this technique. I turned my camera sideways to take portrait-oriented shots of them, which in turn redirected my flash (with my impromptu flash modifier) to a wall on the side, and I eventually discovered that in doing so, the horizontal transition of light to shadow on the subjects created a “3D” effect, making them “pop” out from the photo.
At the end of the reunion, I was beside myself as I reviewed the shots. Sure, my new camera was covered in face-powder due to some leftover particles from the compact, but I didn’t mind. I was too happy at the realization that bounce-flash photography can do wonders to my photos, and that a speedlight can actually also give me the results that I had (which is of course much easier than propping a mirror to your pop-up flash with one hand while holding the camera with the other), and much, much more. This also paved the way for me to go on a decision to become a portrait/wedding/event photographer that I am now.
As of this writing, a mirror is no longer part of my camera bag’s inventory, due to the simple yet unfounded fear that it might shatter and scatter broken glass shards amidst the bag’s compartments. However, I still use mirrors in various situations when needed (or if available), one of my prime examples of which would be found in this Father-and Son portrait photo:
Camera Settings: 1/160 sec. shutter speed at f/4.2, ISO 400,at 30mm. focal length
Here, I bounced my flash forward and to the left above, flagging the flashhead with a Black Foamie Thing (thanks, Mr. Neil, you’re the best!) to eliminate any spillage of direct light. What I bounced on, however, wasn’t just a plain wall: I asked the dad to stand *near* a fairly small wall-mounted mirror. Most of the bounced light softly covered them both with flattering light, but some of the light reflected from the mirror *accented* their faces a tad bit in contrast to the rest of their bodies, the effect of which is what I wanted in the first place.
So there. I’ve encountered a lot of fantastic gear and useful methods and techniques that helped me hone my craft as a portrait photographer, ranging from great lenses, cool wireless transmitters, excellent strobes, photo software, bounce-flash photography, the Black Foamie Thing, and many more. But I only got to know and appreciate all of these... thanks to the simple compact mirror that started it all.
Gear used in this shot:
AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm. f/3.5-5.6G ED lens
The Black Foamie Thing