Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ho Ho Ho!

I was looking for someone to photograph, so I called my friend Cindy to see if I could photograph her dog Maggie. Maggie is a very special dog, one that seems to have a quiet dignity about her, calmly taking everything in stride. And yet, she shows a bit of mischief when she greets visitors to her home. She starts by bringing out a favorite squeaky toy as if to say, "Look what belongs to me!" as a reminder of just whose house this really was.

I was prepared to make a photo that everybody, including Maggie, would be pleased with. I came with 3 speedlights and two light stands with Zumbrellas attached. I would be relying on the a camera-mounted SB-900 to act as a commander and the two SB-800s serving as key (main light) and "kicker"*. The lens, a 60mm Macro, was mounted on an D80 body. This was a good call, since a dog portrait would be much smaller than that of a human adult. White balance was set to Cloudy because I wanted to add a little warmth to the Maggie's coat and the hardwood floors. Exposure data: 1/125 second, F 5.6, ISO 200.

When I'm working in somebody's home I am always reluctant to move furniture and such, so when Maggie seemed content to lay on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, that's where the shot was going to be taken. Let the subject has some input in the final image, I say, especially when I'm not fluent in "dog".

Lighting was simple. For a main or "key" light, I pointed one Zumbrella directly at her, high on camera right. The second speedlight, a kicker, had a Honl snoot wrapped around it and aimed at the back of Maggie's head. I dialed the output way down to just barely gave some separation from the background. You can see it just lighting the tips of her ears and where it grazed the right side of her head.

As you can probably tell from the vantage point, I was lying on the floor when these photos were made. When Maggie looked up, I continued to shoot, but found out later that the skimming back light was now glancing off of her snout. You can see the highlight on the right side of her head, but what you can't see was the "hot spot" along the side of her snout. I burned** it a bit in Elements. Because the back light was not overpowering, the result of the burning is barely detectable.

Martian Dog: I initially used my camera mounted speedlight to provide some fill. I set it to minus 2 2/3 stops, just enough to add some detail. Instead, what I got was  "Martian Dog", a condition where the pupils appear to be green and iridescent. The same phenomena in humans is called "red eye", which occurs when a light is placed too close to the axis of the camera lens when photographing in subdued light. The dilation of the subject's pupils allows a large "hole" for light to enter and then scatter about the inside of the eyeball. In humans, the "red" comes from the capillaries that coat the inner surface of the eye. In dogs, deer, and probably many other animals, the reflected color becomes an eerie green. Obviously "red eye removal" wasn't going to work, since there wasn't any red to begin with. I finally settled on "painting" the pupil with a color selected from the eye itself. Until I find a better way to deal with this, this method would have to do.


I think this final shot was Maggie's way of telling me, "You're not so special", as her gaze appears to reflect her lack of interest in the whole endeavor. Or perhaps all of that quiet dignity evaporated when as she realized she was wearing a tiny Santa hat.

Dogs have feelings too, you know.

Celebrate the holiday season in a way that makes me proud that I'm your friend.

* A kicker light comes from behind and provides a highlight around the edge of the subject. So good advice that I'll pass along to you: Don't push too much light, or you'll get a burned edge with no recoverable detail.

**Burning is darkroom technique where additional light is provided to one specific areas to bring the exposure back into line.