Budget Flash Review - Altura Photo Flash Kit

Altura Photo Studio Pro Flash Kit

Canon: Altura Photo Professional Flash Kit for Canon DSLRs (SALE $129.99)
Nikon: Altura Photo Professional Flash Kit for Nikon DSLRs (SALE $139.99)


What is included in the flash kit?

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  • 2 Altura Photo AP-C1001 Speedlite Flash for Canon/Nikon DSLRs
  • 2 protective pouches with battery holder and belt strap
  • 2 flash stands with 1/4" tripod mounts
  • 2 hard flash diffusers
  • 1 wireless trigger/transmitter + 2 receivers
  • Microfiber cloth

 


Key Features

  • Power output 1/1 - 1/128 in 3 stop increments
  • Power supply: 4xAA batteries
  • 5 flash modes (TTL, Manual, Strobe, Slave 1, Slave 2)
  • 180˚ bounce, swivel, and zoom head
  • Wireless trigger sensor
  • Compatible with E-TTL flash functions
  • Off-camera support (S1/S2 modes)
  • Large backlit LCD screen
  • Metal hot shoe with electrical pin components
  • Built-in flip down flash diffuser and bounce card
  • Overheating protection with automatic temperature detection
  • Memory function saves previous settings
  • Power saving sleep mode

The Review

Ever since I started shooting portraits, engagements, and weddings, I've had to either rely on outstanding natural light, or rent flashes from a camera shop. I have never purchased flashes for my camera considering that they are rather pricy. For Canon, you can currently buy the following flashes. The Speedlight 430EX ($299), 580EX ($499), or 600EX ($549). As you can tell, they are quite expensive, and the price can add up quickly when adding multiple flashes to your setup.

After talking to a fellow wedding photographer, she mentioned the Altura flash units. She stated that they work extremely well, and were comparable to the Canon Speedlights for just a fraction of the cost. After reading some reviews and doing some research, I made the purchase. I was able to get two flash units along with wireless (off camera) capabilities for under $150.

The reviews on Amazon are wonderful. Currently there are over 1,000 reviews with an overall 4.4 out of 5 stars. 

I took a look through the positive and negative reviews and gathered thoughts and opinions from several users. Many users state that they were skeptical before purchasing the unit because of the price. All of these reviews also stated that once they started using the flash, they were blown away at its ability to compete with the Canon Speedlights. Other users who reviewed the flash stated that the major difference between this flash and the Canon flash is the price. Why pay hundreds of dollars more when you can get a similar product for a fraction of the cost? As for the negative reviews, most of them had to do with a faulty unit. The majority of the negative reviews that I read stated that their flash stopped working after a day or two of use. These negative reviews are normally not a deciding factor for me because of the warranty that comes with the product. Altura also has a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, so if I hate it within the next 90 days, I'll return it, no questions asked.

Upon receiving the flash units, I immediately popped one on my camera and started experimenting with the settings. The ease of use shocked me initially. It was extremely easy to change the power output settings, zoom focal length, and flash exposure compensation. With the TTL mode, you can start using the flash with automatic camera settings and the flash unit will change the power output depending on lighting conditions. The manual mode is extremely easy to use and gives you the flexibility to change the power depending on your lighting needs.

With the wireless transmitter/receivers I'm excited to try the endless lighting possibilities using the flash units as slaves. I can also use one on camera as a master and the second as an off camera slave. As I use these flash units more, I may write another blog post with comparison photos for you to see.

If you have any questions about this flash kit, feel free to comment here or email me directly through the contact page. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Palouse Roadtrip 05.19.16

At the time of taking this day trip, it had been months since Melissa and I went out to take photos. I was itching to get out and go somewhere that I had not been before. After some thinking, we decided that we wanted to go to the Palouse region of Eastern Washington. During this time of the year, the Palouse is normally shining bright with gorgeous greens. We planned to depart Seattle with enough time to catch sunset at Palouse Falls State Park. Then we would spend the night in our car and hit the greater Palouse region in the early morning. 

We gathered my camera equipment, some snacks, bedding, and the pup before heading out of town. We hit some pretty nasty traffic going through Seattle, but quickly hit the i-90 express lanes once we got past downtown. I was super pumped seeing the sky with such dramatic cloud formations to start the drive. I only hoped that they would continue over the mountains for sunset.

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After we got through Seattle, it was smooth sailing for awhile...until we got closer to Ellensburg. Road construction on i-90 has been a pain in the butt ever since I started going to school in Ellensburg back in 2009. It's the one thing I don't miss about the Seattle-to-Ellensburg drive. Cloud cover was still looking good at this point and I was remaining hopeful that they would not thin out with the 2-3 hours we had left to drive. 

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We finally arrived at Palouse Falls State Park around 7:30, which gave us about an hour before sunset. We walked around the park and I found a spot to shoot the falls from. I'm so glad that the park rangers took the chainlink fence down so that we were able to get closer to the canyon rim. We stayed here, shooting the sunset for about an hour. The clouds did not provide the color that I was hoping for, but the sunset was still decent. Here you can see a behind the scenes photo of my Palouse Falls viewpoint.

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After sunset was complete, we packed up and departed the State Park. We then drove into Pullman and car camped close to the WSU campus. We figured that this would be a good starting point for the next morning. Our alarms went off around 5:30am and we got ready for a full day of photographing the beautiful Palouse region. For a complete set of the processed Palouse images, visit the Palouse Region page!

Basic Landscape Editing Techniques

After several people asked about my editing style and techniques, I decided to make a  brief tutorial on how I manipulate my landscape photographs in order to bring out the color and detail of the beautiful landscapes. Editing used to be something that I struggled with, but once you get the hang of things and understand what each tool is properly used for, it isn't so daunting. Now, editing is one of my favorite pastimes and is a total stress reliever. 

The most important part of manipulating photographs is shooting the initial scene in RAW mode. RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the camera sensor when you take a photograph. When shooting in a file format like JPEG, lots of image information is lost due to compression. RAW files allow a photographer to bring out all the colors and details that the camera captured when shooting the landscape. This helps to have a seamless editing process.

In this brief tutorial, I will show you a basic editing process that I follow for quick fixes. I use Lightroom CC for my RAW editing and then Photoshop CC to resize for web and place my watermark. Keep in mind that some photos require spot fixing and more time tweaking to make the image look realistic. For this fix, we will use strictly Lightroom.

Here is an image of Mt. Rainier as seen from Reflection Lakes at sunrise. When I took the image, I wanted to expose the mountain properly because it is the focus of the image. In doing so, the foreground was under exposed quite a bit due to the lack of light. Here is what the shot looked like straight off of the camera.

The first step for this image was adjust the exposure because I felt like the image as a whole was a bit dark. I added +.5 to the Exposure slider in Lightroom (see image below). 

After I adjusted the exposure, I brought the Highlights slider to -100 because the sky was overexposed. You won't always need to bring it too -100, but for this image it was what it required. Bringing the Highlights down darkened the sky and took away the bright white tones in the sky and mountaintop- just what I was looking for.

Now that the mountain and sky are starting to look better, I focus on the foreground. I started by bringing the Shadows slider up to +90. This lightened the dark areas, or shadows, and made the green trees start to pop. Be very careful with the Shadows slider. If you camera does not have a large enough dynamic range, bringing the shadows up too high can yield very grainy results (also known as noise). In this case, my camera was able to handle the +90 Shadows without adding much grain at all. See the photo below for how the greens are brightened.

Next, you may notice the shadows area that I recovered look a bit flat. At this point, I like to play with the contrast a bit. I actually prefer not to touch the actual Contrast slider. In order to add better contrast, I use the Whites/Blacks sliders. I moved the Whites to +10 and the Blacks to -40. You will notice that the trees and mountain have gained a bit of contrast to make it look more realistic with the depth in colors (see image below). 

Finally, I like to make the colors pop. If you bring the color sliders up too high, you will see the colors begin to blow out and this will look extremely unrealistic. Be cautious with the color sliders. I normally don't like to move the color saturation sliders above +50 and find that I am normally satisfied around +30. 

After the above adjustments, I got a result that I was satisfied with. Below you can see the before and after results with the newly added tweaks. These simple adjustments of the sliders took me about 5-10 minutes and reached a product that is beautifully exposed. The photo is now something to be proud of.

I hope that you found this quick tutorial helpful. Remember, this was a very brief adjustment to the photo and Lightroom has hundreds of other sliders to use. This will hopefully get you started when editing landscape photos with simple exposure changes. Once you familiarize yourself with Lightroom, you can start using the Brush tool to spot treat problem areas and dive into other features like Sharpening and Lens Correction. I'd be happy to write a tutorial on this in the future. 

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or if you need clarification on anything that I have talked about in this tutorial. Happy editing!

Mt. Rainier National Park 10.12.15

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4:00am and headed toward Mt. Rainier National Park in an attempt to catch sunrise over Reflection Lakes. As i entered the park, I saw oranges and pinks starting to glow underneath the cloud layer in the sky. By the time I made it to Reflection Lakes, I had missed the fiery skies by no more than 10 minutes. Since I missed sunrise, I decided to break out the GND and ND filters for some landscape shots of Rainier over the lakes. Here are a few of those shots.

After Reflection Lakes, I decided to make my way up the Bench Lakes trail for more reflection shots. On the way up the trail I noticed that a lenticular cloud was forming over Rainier.

"Lenticular clouds (Altocumulus lenticularis) are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form in the troposphere, normally in perpendicular alignment to the wind direction."

Once I made my way up the trail and to the lake, I set up my camera on a tripod for photos and my iPhone on the ground to capture a time-lapse of the cloud formation in action. Here are a few shots of the hike up to the lake and at the lake. There is also a video of the time-lapse photos.

Lastly, I made my way around the park to a few different waterfalls. 

Aurora Borealis Hunting 10.04.15

After many failed attempts at shooting the elusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), I was finally able to get some really nice shots last night. My lovely wife notified me that her aurora alert on her phone was predicting a good show. We drove down to Edmonds beach and set up on the jetty at Brackett's Landing. Below you can see a very short time-lapse of a portion of the show. Also check out one of my favorite shots from the night that I processed today. 


Hoh Rainforest Day Trip 09.07.15

After a tiresome work week, I decided that it was time to get away for a few days. We loaded up the jeep and took off for the Olympic Peninsula. We crossed the ferry in the afternoon and made our way towards Forks, Washington. On the way, we stopped by the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and Hurricane Ridge. After nightfall, we slept in the back of the Jeep and then woke up early in order to make our way to the trailhead. Here are a few shots that I took along the adventure. Make sure to check out the Nature page soon as I add photos from the Hoh Rainforest.

Trying Something New 08.31.15

Downtown Seattle has countless store fronts and bars with neon lights shining bright. I took this opportunity to try something that I haven't done before but have wanted to do for a long time. I set up my tripod in the back of the Jeep, weighted down the legs, and then attached my camera and 14mm wide-angle lens. Long exposures anywhere from 4-8 seconds were taken as I drove past these bright lights. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the night!

A Night In Seattle 08.31.15

I had a long day today so I decided to head down to Seattle for sunset. It was a very stormy and cloudy day today so I was concerned that the sky would be dull and boring. I pulled up to Kerry Park and couldn't believe my eyes as I looked over the top of the Space Needle. This is the first time that I have seen a rainbow from Kerry Park over the Seattle skyline.

Enjoy these photos that I snapped at Kerry Park followed by the final edited version of the rainbow over the Space Needle.

Murdock Wedding Ceremony 08.22.15

I thought that I would jumpstart this blog with a few shots from my wedding ceremony last weekend. For those of you who don't know, I was married in Maui back in June. In order to celebrate with family and friends back home, we hosted a ceremony and reception several months after the Maui wedding. 

Please take a few minutes to enjoy some of the photos from the ceremony last weekend. After you do that, make sure to check out the very talented photographer, Kevin Culala, and his photography page over at KJCPhotography. He did an amazing job shooting these photos!