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Why I Love SmugMug

SmugMug is the best. It is a major part of my business.

For many years now I have used SmugMug as my main photo and video hosting site. I use it to deliver images to clients, hosting images or video on my website or other sites, selling digital files, prints, and merchandise. I love it and it is an integral part of Tom Sparks Photography. It is easily customizable and easy to learn. If you are looking for a solid web platform for sharing, showing, and selling your photography, I heartily recommend SmugMug. Check it out. This link will provide you with a 20% discount.

Check this link out and see for your self. This link will provide my friends with a 20% discount when you start your SmugMug:


One of the Best One Light Tutorials I've Seen

This video tutoral by Jay P. Morgan is one of the best demonstrations about using one light. The basics are the first 4 minutes or so. The rest is more a demonstration of a shoot using the one light set up.


Budget Lighting Tools For Photographers

On Thursday July 18th I taught a 2 hour seminar on budget lighting for photographers. Here are links and reviews for some of the tools I use as well as some that have caught my eye.

I do enjoy saving money, but I like working with solid equipment even more. So, even when working with budget gear, I am looking for solid performers. There are trade offs with budget gear and often one of the trade offs is durability. Generally, I have found that if you take a a little care and patience with your gear, you can get this stuff to last.  Prices listed are as of publication.

Light. I'm going to start with light because none of the other accessories are useful if you don't have a light to pair them with. I think that if you know what you are doing with light, even a low cost light can get you great results.  My current favorites are the Yonguo 560's and the Neewer TT560's. My personal style is to shoot manual 90% of the time so these tools are mostly manual.


Neewer TT560 $39.95 I have two of these strobes in my case. They are very basic but have the features I use the most.  You can use this in manual mode or one of two slave modes. S1 is slave mode and fires when it sees flash. S2 is slave mode for using a preflash function such as red eye reduction. In @2 mode the strobe won't fire when it sees the first flash of light and waits for the second burst of light.  There is no zoom on this strobe. It does have a PC socket and an external power socket. I like that this unit has a metal foot and the thumb wheel to tighten it down rotates smoothly. It also has a built in slide out diffuser and a bounce card. It tilts and swivels for full range of motion.

Guide number of 38. Easy to use controls for variable power in 8 increments. Red LED flashes to warn of low battery power. 4 Double A batteries, socket for external power.

Yongnuo YN560 II $60.59 This is a great strobe. A few more features than the Neewer strobe listed above. I personally have one of the Younguo YN560's. It has served me well. I've dropped this one a few times and is still going strong. It a fully manual strobe. Has a metal foot, easy to read read out. Manual, S1 and S2 modes so you can use it as a slave with or without pre-flash. This does have the zoom feature and the power settings have fine tuning. You can also turn the chime on or off that alerts you when the flash is ready. There is a built in slide out difuser and bounce card. It tilts and swivels for full range of motion. It has more features, but to be honest, I don't remember what they are as I don't use them.

Sigma EF-610 DG ST $135 This is a fully functioning TTL strobe. (TTL for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, Sony) I own the Sigma EF-530 DG Super and I have worked this thing to death for almost 5 years. (I have a new flash tube on order because I've worn the old one out). My biggest gripe about the 530 is the plastic foot. I had to have it replaced once. Metal is so much better. This strobe has all the TTL functions that you need and can work as a commander or as a slave TTL strobe. It works in full manual as well. It puts out a lot of light with a guide number of 61. Features auto zoom which zooms in or out based on your focal length. It also has slide out difuser and bounce panels. The head rotates and swivles. Also look at the "Super" version of these strobes, they offer a little more functionality and is about $100 bucks more. I've loved my Super and I would buy another except that I tend to shoot manual so I haven't been so tempted to get another TTL strobe.

Canon: Nikon: Pentax: Sony:

Light Stands

Light stands are light stans. Yes there are differences, but I have been using the same pair of cheap 6 foot stands I bought 5 years ago. They have been knocked over, blown over, used in salt water and otherwise abused. They are very basic and they do the job for me. (except when I am photographing pole dancers or arial silk dancers or really tall people.) I've also purchased taller stands for when I need more reach. So I'm not going to spend a lot of time reviewing but here are a couple that I like and that work well. They are either the same as I have or very similar. I do recommend buying taller stands if you can afford a few pennies more. While the shorter stands will get you there 95% of the time. It is that 5% that you will curse only having 6 foot stands.

 Raveli 10 ft.  Works well. Cheap. Savage 10 ft. Works well, better than the Raveli

There are tons of options and here are many others: Plethora of Light Stands

Triggers:  This area can kill you on a shoot. If you have to go the supper cheap rout, but spending a few more dollars up front can save you headaches and keep you focused on your clients. ALL triggers will work best with fresh batteries. My biggest issues have been when I haven't put in fresh batteries.

Cactus V5 $79.95 a pair. A friend of mine bought a these for his friends to use when they came to his studio. One day he and I went outside to see how far apart we could get until they quit triggering. We couldn't get far enough away. They just kept going. I am sure there is a limit to the range, but it is more than a couple hundred feet! They use AAA batteries. I use both recharables and alkaline. Cactus recomends the alkaline over rechargables, but both have worked for me. These little beauties have a quarter inch thread mount so you can mount them on a light stand. Each unit can function as either transmitter or receiver. You can select chanels and if you have multiple receivers, you can set them on different chanels and then set it up to fire one chanel or the other or two at the same time. (read the instructions) You can mount an older trigger onto one of the recievers and set another type of hot shoe trigger to work in tandem with them.There is a nice 2 color led that lets you know that 1) signal is being sent and received, and 2) that the unit fires. The triggers also have a 1/8th jack port. The battery tray is easy to access. They are build well. I own 5 of these. They come with a floor/table top stand and a variety of cables so you can hook up to pc or mini-plug ports. These are just a simple trigger and will work with Canon, Nikon, and Pentax. I don't know if they have this in the Sony mount. These are not TTL triggers.

Cactus V5 Pair: Cactus V5 Single:


Others: Before I used the Cactus triggers I used a variety of others. The cheap ones work, but I was always buying replacements as the feet would break or they would just quit working. But the do the basic job. Some of my friends use the Yongnuo triggers with very good results and they are happy with them.

Plethora of Triggers


Connecting the light to the stand: If you don't want to just have your strobe contected to your stand at a 90 degree angle, then you need some kind of connector. An umbrella mount is pretty standard, there are a few varieties. Below is one that I use and then a link to a bunch of others.

Dot Line Umbrella Mount: One thing you should know if you haven't used one of these, the slot for the umbrella is angled. Put the umbrella in it so that the umbrella goes upward. This lets the strobe fire into the center of the umbrella.


Light Modifiers:  I use a couple of modifiers. So, if nothing else, get the little white shoot through umbrella for under $3. I also like the larger reflector umbrellas with a detachable black back. This gives you some options with one umbrella. Also, consider getting a medium sized silver reflector umbrella. They are cheap enough and you can an some fun specular lighting. I beat the crap out of umbrellas when on location, so I don't buy very expensive ones. I would rather buy a $12 umbrella and buy a new one when the wind rips it to shreds or knocks it on the ground. (if you use an umbrella in any kind of wind try these things. 1. a weight on the stand to stabilize it.  2. a person to hold the stand.  3. not using an umbrella)

Plethora of Umbrellas

 Softboxes: I love my softboxes. In some ways they are better on location. I find that they tend to be less likely to catch wind outdoors and crash to the ground.

ePhoto Large Softbox: $69.99. I bought two. I left one in Moab UT. I want it back! I'll be buying another. One of the things I like about this is that it folds up, kind of like an umbrella, but it is a soft box with a standard Bowens mount. It comes with an L mount bracket that your hot shoe strobe can connect to as well as the soft box. The nice thing about the standard Bowens mount is that this softbox will fit on studio strobes with a standard mount. They come with a case. I don't know why but it is listed as a 24" x 36" box, but the two I got where 36"x36". It has in internal baffle and the front baffle is detachable. Silver interior.

Also, check out these others: Plethora of Softboxes




Getting Great Portrait Light from Small Strobes

I am honored to be giving an evening seminar on creating great portrait light with small strobes. The focus will be on ways to light your subject at price points of under $50, under $100, and under $150.

I will be showing creative low cost (sometimes no cost) tools and methods to create flattering or dramatic light for your portrait clients, or even if you are just photographing your own children.

We won't be skimping on the awesomeness in the look of your portraits, just the dollars spent to get the gear you need.


The event is at the Inkleys Camera store in SLC on 21st South and State Street, on the second floor.

If possible, and I can get video of the event, I will try to post it as a follow up here.

7pm, Thursday July 18th, 2013.

You can RSVP on FB here.

Here is a Google Map.


New Section for Photographers

I just added this section to my website for photographers. I don't spend a lot of time talking about gear, but this is where I am going to talk shop, gear, technique, tutorials, links to great photography, etc.

It is mearly 1:33 am and I am bleary eyed so more will come later this week.