Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Light Where You Need It

If I Was Any Happier I'd Have To Be Two People. I heard that expression is used only in the South, but it pretty much sums up my feeling after I made this shot.

The event was a fundraiser for HIP Housing and was held at Sparky's Hot Rod Garage in San Carlos. I had been assigned a "trifecta", or three photos to complete in one day. The first, in Redwood City, was just a few miles south, and the third in San Mateo, a few miles north. I manged to arrive before the event officially started, so I had a chance to find an interesting background. I decided that any shot I took would have to include the big "Sparky" sign in the background, a spiffy car, and some cute waitresses in the foreground.

The first thing I needed to do was establish the base exposure. I usually start out using aperture priority to determine my base line exposure. If I like what I see, I lock the settings in manually. Final settings on the Nikon D7000 were 1/60, F 5.6, ISO 800.

Accent Lights: I added my first accent light to brighten up the P-40 hanging from the ceiling. Because I didn't have a light stand, the lighting angle was far too low. This was apparent when I saw a shadow from the wing on the fuselage. But I did get some additional light on the plane and on the "Sparky" in the background. If you look behind the Budweiser sign, you'll see a faint shadow on the wall created by the accent light. Good enough. I placed the light so that the the flash head was hidden by the post next to the background car, while the sensor eye on the body was "line of sight" with where I would eventually make the photo.

The second accent light was positioned to "skip" over the surface of the near car. If you look at the shadow on the floor, you can accurately guess the light's position. I added a gobo to keep the light from hitting the lens. There is a major hot spot which would be covered once I got my "talent" in place. You can see the effect of these two remote speed lights here.

My Ooops Moment: I had now committed two SB-800 speed lights to the project, and had only 1 left. Up until now, it was the hot-shoe mounted Master, but now I needed it off camera, behind a Zumbrella, to light up my subjects. I could have used the D7000's built in flash as a commander, but I had assigned the accent light aimed at the plane to Group C, and the built-in only goes to Group B. Rather than re-set my two remotes, I dug out an SC-28 cable, screwed it to the spigot on the umbrella stand, and attached it to the camera's hot shoe. I now had full iTTL control without changing any settings on the master unit, but was forced to keep my light as close to the camera as the cable could stretch. No matter, it was on the end of a hand-held monopod, well within the cable's reach.

Cut! Everything was now in place. I spoke with my two supermodels Charlie and Maddy, arranged for some props (the shake and the sundae are plastic), and got them into position. My machinations must have been really interesting, as this couple watched me while I worked, probably not realizing that my wide angle lens was capturing them too.

Thanks For Working With Me. Since this couple really didn't seem to understand their effect on the finished photo, I asked them to be part of it, suggesting that they look at the two girls. As you can see, I got 50% compliance. So  after I made a shot and showed them the results, I thanked them and told them my next photo was a gift to the girls' mother, so I wanted just the two of them in the photo. This they seemed to understand, and they moved on to other attractions.

Here's the final shot, before cropping. Some light levels adjustments were made, but other than that, it's very close to the "right out of camera" version.

The two highlights on the rear fender of the car were probably caused by light bouncing back from the inside of the shoot-through Zumbrella. Had I used a Lastolite E-Z-Box, this could have been prevented. While I love the concept of a portable speedlight softbox, the smallest Lastolite is much bulkier than a folded umbrella of any stripe.

A final note. One piece of equipment that really works is the carbon fiber monopod sold through Adorama. It's light in weight, comfortable to hold, and relatively cheap. This model has the collet type locks, the ones that you grip and twist. I don't like the flip-lever locks because they are uncomfortable if you're forced to grab them while you're working.

Now it's on to the next assignment, a Crab Feed in San Mateo.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Light Where You Need It

I was assigned to photograph "Read Across America" at Learning Ally in Palo Alto during a week-long marathon of reading and recording. The event was to help build a library of audio books for use by the visually impaired and readers with disabilities such as dyslexia. Mimi (the recorder) and Pat (the reader) were from the paper's service area, so these were the two most important volunteers.

When I first arrived, I immediately went looking for a location where they both could be photographed at once. I was pleased to find this work area complete with a window facing into to recording booth and a window overlooking the parking lot. Normally such a window would be a major problem because it would be nearly impossible to balance the bright exterior sun with any form of interior speed light illumination. As luck would have it, the weather was misty and dark, and therefore a much closer match to the output of my flashes.

I now had four exposure areas to address:
  • The inside of the recording booth,
  • The outer office,
  • The window on the parking lot, and
  • The LCD Monitor.
The D7000's initial settings were ISO 200, 1/250 of a second, F 5.6, daylight White Balance. The lens was a Tokina 11-16 2.8. I used 2 Nikon SB-800 speed lights and controlled them using iTTL. The SB-800 lighting the interior of the sound booth was + 2/3 stops, the on-camera commander was set to 0 compensation.

First, there was the recording booth. When I looked inside the recording booth, I decided I could could narrow the beam of my flash and run it stright up to the ceiling. This would hopefully prevent any stray light from scattering around in the background. For the most part it worked, but you can see a little leaked out and lit the top right edge of the window frame. I gelled the flash with the CTO Full equivalent that comes with the speed light because I wanted to give some color separation between the interior and the exterior, should the paper print the image in color. Here's the first test shot.

If you're wondering about the dark, round shadow at the bottom, it's the lens hood. I used the on-camera flash in the commander mode to make this first test. If you see a shadow like this, it probably means that your on-camera commander has been programmed to contribute to the flash exposure, as was the case here. When I saw it, I decided to ignore for the time being, since I was only interested in the interior of the recording booth.

Next, I added an on-camera SB-800 in the commander mode, and put Mimi and Pat into position. After some experimentation, I aimed the on-camera flash straight up to minimize any glare on the LCD screen and the recording booth window. I also closed the blinds a little bit more. Remember that my camera is still set to 1/250 of a second, so the ambient room light is not contributing to the exposure.

You can also see that Mimi's head seems to blend in with the LCD panel, making it difficult to separate her from the background. So for the next shot, I moved her back slightly so that her the blinds would serve as a background for her head.

Now for the trick shot. I asked that the office lights be turned off for two minutes while I made the final photograph. Once they were off, I changed the shutter speed from 1/250 to 1/20, a lucky guess. This increase in exposure time would affect the two continuous light sources: the parking lot and the LCD monitor. I reasoned that the monitor was visually more important to the photo than the parking lot. Here again, is the final shot.

You can see that the parking lot is overexposed, but not to the point of distraction. But the colors on the LCD is now bright and full of detail. While there is a hint of glare (you can see the reflection of Mimi's sweater in the recording booth window), it is pretty much under control.

This was another 15 minute photo, with very little "dead time" in either the front end or the back end. I was glad to be out of there, and I suspect they were too.

By the way: Be sure to pick up after yourself. If you look on Mimi's desk, you will see the dome diffuser from my SB-800, complete with gaffer tape stitches, sitting exactly where I left it.


Sunday, March 4, 2012


I got a call on Friday, February 24 from the Editor-In-Chief of the San Mateo Daily Journal. A photographer had not been assigned to cover the California Republican Convention in Burlingame the following day. He wanted to know if I could cover the event, which I could, due to the grace of some very understanding friends. The main speakers included Marvin Cain, Newt and Calista Gingrich, and Michael Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan. The crowds were obviously receptive to their combined messages, and gave the quartet a standing ovation.

This event was slightly different from those I've covered in the past, as it was both a convention and a fund raiser for Mr. Gingrich. The dining room venue was tightly packed so that there were plenty of seats for those who could afford to pay a premium for a front row seat. As such, moving close would be out of the question, since the tables were densely packed. I looked around and found a spot to stand where I would not block the views of the donors. My lens was set to its maximum length of 200mm. Thanks to the vibration reduction feature built into this particular lens, I was able to handhold my shots at 1/160 of a second at F 4.0 and an ISO of 3200. I believe I met my goal of providing a visually interesting photo with four big names, an interesting background, and enthusiastic audience interaction.

I also made some background images during the event. I shot a series of a photographer who managed to find the "high ground" on the elevated stage where she could hopefully get the shot she wanted.

The crowd seemed to ebb and flow around Mr. Gingrich, testing this photographer's patience as the supporters, anxious for a handshake and some encouraging words, popped in and out of her viewfinder. Slowly but surely, the subject started making his way to the exit, moving further and further out of camera range.

I'm sure that every photographer knows the feeling of watching the chance to make a great photograph slip, or in this case walk, away.