Sunday, August 25, 2013

Menlo Charity Horse Show Part 1 (Nikon P7700)

"Oh, I love the cartoon!!"  Susan C., Editor, San Mateo Daily Journal

Photo #1
I was trying to carry on a long distance discussion between the a publicist for the Menlo Charity Horse Show at the Menlo Circus Club. I've photographed this event twice before, and the photos, while technically acceptable, had a certain sameness to them. Granted, they didn't follow my refined definition of the term "editorial photography", since there are no real clues as to where these people were, or even why. The photo was certainly typical of the kind of community photos one was used to seeing. Photo #1 was taken at the 2010 Menlo Charity Horse Show, and is pretty typical of what one might expect to come "over the transom", as many event photographs inevitably do.

The cartoon was not meant to show off my Microsoft Paint skills, but meant to get some important points across to my subjects before I started arranging them. I wanted to be sure that the "blond" on the right could not be stepped on by the horse should it decide to turn. I also wanted the horse's attention on the rider, seen at the left, who is probably in a better position to control the horse down should it get skittish. In either case, the protective measures shouldn't be too obvious when it comes time to make the photo.

What Really Happened:  As it turned out, there were some children competing the "6 and Under" event. The publicist had suggested that I contact them, since they were the grandchildren of a well-known equestrian trainer. I did, and found them impossibly cute. I decided that this was shot worth taking, and an opportunity to try the P7700 on an actual assignment. Quick equipment summary for shot: Nikon P7700, ISO 100, 1/500 of as second, F 4.0. Lighting was provided by 2 Nikon SB-800s, set to 1/2 power, fired through a Zumbrella on a light stand placed as close to the left-hand stalls as I could. I put it by a "tack room", assuming there wouldn't be any in-and-out traffic. I chose this camera, even though the exposure value could have been duplicated with my D7000 by setting the camera to ISO 100, 1/250th of a second, and F 5.6. I had plenty of flash power with the twin SB-800s. I chose to stay with the P7700 because it had the higher useable flash synchronization speeds, and because I wouldn't really know how bright the sunlight would be when I found a good location..

Photo #2
"No Way!"  In Photo #2, the left-hand horse was hard to see in this shot and the right hand horse's head is a little too far from the center. The two kids were super-enthusiastic smilers, so I toned them down by using a trick I learned from Sam Puc, a renowned photographer in Littleton, Colorado . On the count of three, I had them say, "No Way!", and was able to get some more natural looking smiles. Score one hit.

Photo #3
When I made Photo #3,  I was watching the horses, hoping for a tighter composition. Little Ellie decided that smiling was too much effort, I guess. I thought the horse had a "What's Cooking, Good Looking" expression. Again, the darker horse on camera left was still somewhat dark. Score one miss.

Photo #4

By bringing the darker horse forward for Photo #4, I was able to get a bit more light on her. Unfortunately, her head casts a shadow on Ellie, darkening a portion of her face. And this time the other horse moved slightly out of frame. Score two misses.

In the end, I submitted the first shot. At the time, there was no way to know that a better shot wasn't just waiting to be taken, so I just kept shooting, trying to make the next shot a tad better than one I just made.

But shooting as quickly as I do, I don't have time to make my final choice in real time. I barely have time to take a quick peek at each shot with a Hoodman Hood Loupe. In actual practice, I really only have time to check for "blinkers" and for "blinkies", the latter the name that is given to the over-exposed portions of the image which "blink" on the LCD display when the image is reviewed.

I was pleased (enough) with the shot, so if my editor wanted a "cute" shot with horses, it was in the can.

To be continued...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Super Speed Synchronzation - Nikon P7700

In earlier posts, I waxed eloquent about the Sony R1, the last "big" camera made by Sony before the introduction of digital single lens reflex cameras at a slightly lower price point. Introduced in September of 2005, the R1 could have gone head to head with the competition, but it couldn't compete at the same level when it came to overall speed of operation. The high flash synchronization speed didn't resonate with available light shooters who valued  high ISO speeds, wrongfully assuming that nature would provide all the light they needed for a satisfactory exposure.

It's 2013. Nikon was having a factory-authorized Father's Day sale on the P7700, offering a discounted price that included an extended factory warranty. The price was right, but I wasn't sure about it's highest flash synchronization speed. So I brought an SB-800 speedlight with me to Fireside Camera in San Francisco and attached it to the display P7700. I was able to get full flash synchronization to 1/2000 of a second. An unlike the earlier P7000 I purchased a while back, the internal flash of the P7700 could be used as a commander for remote speedlights, so long as they are Group A on Channel 3, which is also the default iTTL* setting for my Nikon D70s. Potentially, everything I could possibly want in a small package.
Now let's understand that the P7700 won't replace the Sony R1 or even one of my trusty Nikon D70s. iTTL at high shutter speeds gives me the ability to make proper flash exposures outdoors without any thought. But it comes at a price. My primary gripe is the small size of the camera. By having "buttons" on the exterior of the camera, they are by necessity placed close together, making it very easy to inadvertently press one or more, resulting in some unexpected setting changes. If you look closely at the multi-selector, there are four functions associated with cardinal points, plus a scroll feature built into the knurled bezel ring surrounding it. This is exactly where the base of my thumb rests, making those inadvertent changes all too frequent. The slow focusing speed is also a bother, but only a minor one because it won't be used as an action camera, just my hip-pocket response to difficult lighting conditions. I've actually taken to storing the camera in a soft case and attaching to the outside of my camera bag with a carabiner. For a more complete description from, click here.
The is one feature that's a first in the P-series Nikon: A reticulated LCD Panel. This would allow low, or high vantage points without relying on "Hail Mary" best guess alignment of the camera. If you can keep the glare under control, your framing can be as precise as your arms and eyesight will allow. The earlier P7100 has a tilting LCD panel, which is not quite as versatile.

Now Nikon, probably in response to Fuji's X100s, has come out with the Nikon A. Think Point and Shoot with an APS sized sensor with a 28mm (equivalent) prime lens. This could potentially give it an edge over the P7700, but the price is more than twice as much. Since my P7700 was going to be a "sun camera", any noise-suppression advantages of the larger sensor were probably irrelevant. Used at the lower ISO settings, noise was not a factor.
Photo #1
Photo #1: This shot was made with my P7700 set to 1/1000, F 5.6, ISO 200. What makes me make nummy noises is that it was done using an SB-800 as an on-camera commander and another SB-800, mounted behind a Zumbrella, in the iTTL mode! This gives me more freedom of exposure over the Sony R1, which must be "flashed" in the full manual mode. 

Photo #2

Photo #2: This show was made with the SB-800 connected using a Nikon SC-28 flash synchronization cable. The speedlight was held at arm's length over my head with the camera held just above the ground. With the reticulated LCD panel, I could get a better idea of what the photo would look like. The camera was set to 1/800, F 5.6, ISO 80, flash white balance. The tilt, called "Dutching" (Thank you Bruce Dorn) was unintentional.

Photo #3
Photo #3 is a cropped portion of Photo #2. If you examine the shadows on the ground in the original photo, you can see that the sunlight is coming from camera left. In this shot, the light from a single speedlight was able to completely dominate the face, in part because I used an aperture/shutter speed combination that significantly underexposed the image, giving me a more saturated blue sky. The light from the flash came very close to completely cancelling out the daylight, as you can see by the barely visible shadow line on her pink top.

There is one cautionary point to using flash. We normally expect lighting to come from above, resulting in a shadow of some sort under the nose. When shooting from such a low angle, you really need to stretch to get the lighting coming from above the face. The absence of  this nose shadow robs the face of any sense of three dimensionality, something that will frequently appear in low angle shots. The only way around this is to raise the flash well above the subject using an extended monopod or light stand, or an assistant holding the flash well above the subject's face.

I have been very happy with the results so far. The camera does have the limitations of small physical size and somewhat slow responsiveness when compared to the digital SLR. However, it shines when working under direct sunlight supplemented by flash fill, and these capabilities make it mighty, indeed.

*iTTL: Nikon's proprietary flash metering platform. TTL stands for "Through The Lens", and I suspect the "i" is for intelligent. This differs from TTL which does not support the assignment of a Commander or a Remote role for individual speedlights.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ruth Asawa 1926 - 2013

©2013 Tom Jung Photography
When Ruth Asawa passed away on Monday, August 5, San Francisco lost an incredible force in the Art World. Her public art is very much a part of the San Francisco scene. Most recently, her iconic Fountain located in front of the Union Square Hyatt Hotel (345 Stockton Street) was going to be moved to make way for an Apple Store, but the plan was shelved, no doubt due to some quick back-pedaling at City Hall.
I knew Auntie Ruth as our neighbor who lived down the street. I remember going to her home to play with Hudson, the son nearest to me in age. The house was always alive with creativity. One thing that I remember was the great playroom on the second floor, complete with a slate wall that we used as a gigantic chalk board. It was here that we staged Jack And The Beanstalk in a puppet theater made by Albert Lanier, Ruth's late husband. And on the first floor, there was Ruth's studio. For some reason I remember it as always being dark,  with her incredibly sensuous wire woven sculptures hanging like enormous trees in a surreal forest. And it was in Ruth's home that I learned about the New Yorker magazine, at first as the source of jokes I didn't quite get, and later as the stethoscope placed firmly on the pulse of the New York art and social scene. 

In mid 60's, the family moved to a spacious home designed by Albert, who was an architect by trade, and incidentally my mother's boss at the firm of Lanier and Sherill. Time would pass, and when I was assigned a "photo essay" for a photo class in 1972, I called Ruth so see if she would allow me to do a "Day In The Life" collection of photographs. These photos are the result of two days of shooting.

©2013 Tom Jung Photography
©2013 Tom Jung Photography
Ruth was constantly involved in art projects. On this particular morning, she was setting up a small loom so that her mother could continue on a weaving project. If memory serves, the loom was on a side table in the great room, which might be considered a family room by an architect, but served as a workshop and a display area for the dozens of projects orbiting about in her universe. Her awareness of the three dimensionality of her world is apparent when you looked to the ceiling in the great room, for instead of seeing stars, you found a collection of her signature wire sculptures, appearing to occupy space without displacing it. Looking back the sculptures were like galaxies as seen by the Hubble telescope, looking like clouds held in place by a intricate mesh of woven wire, a sculpting technique she pioneered.

©2013 Tom Jung Photography
This photo show the wire sculptures hanging from the ceiling of Ruth's home. At the left is author Sally Woodbridge who was doing research for her book on the creation of Ruth's iconic fountain at the San Francisco Hilton on Union Square. The two are examining a portion of the fountain's many panels, each a diorama of some aspect of the city, sculpted in baker's clay, a mixture of flour, salt, and water, by a small army of friends and school children. There is a wonderful Flicker stream for fountain close-ups by Wally Gobetz. Click here to get a more detailed look.

There is so much that Ruth has done for the Artistic Community in San Francisco. We can be so proud to call her one of our own, somebody who is truly unique, and someone so universally loved for the fantastic world her art helped us to see. San Francisco is a far better place for having her with us, and richer for the gifts she bestowed on the city.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Coyote Point Cleanup

They say the a picture is worth 1,000 words. This may be an exaggeration when you consider what words would come to the mind of the average viewer. By including relevant visual detail, you give the viewer enough information to provide a context for the image while giving details about this brief moment.

This shot was made at the Coyote Point Rifle and Pistol Range in San Mateo. If you have never been to a shooting range, they are usually not particularly interesting to look at. In the case of Coyote Point, it appears somewhat barren, being designed with safety, not esthetics, in mind. The challenge was to find a background for a photo that was both unique to the facility and hinted at what actually goes on there. There were other volunteers adding new gravel to the range walkways, but I felt that photo of a Bobcat dumping gravel on the footpaths would have come up short on both accounts.

I am not a "saturation shooter" when it comes to making a shot like this. I consciously try to place my subjects in an environment that suggests something about the story. In this case, I needed some visual elements that would suggest that this was a rifle range, and while you can't show people simultaneously shooting targets and throwing them away,  you can find something in the environment that makes the location pretty obvious. I found this "Sighting In Your Rifle" sign at the far end, which clearly suggested what would normally happen at a shooting range. The stacks of target backers awaiting repair were an appreciated bonus.

Photo #1
Photo #1 was taken to establish if there was any significant ambient light, and if so, how to use it in the photo. This shot was purposely underexposed, making the light from the background easy to see. Also, the bulb in the ceiling might be a useful visual element later on.Exposure settings from the EXIF date indicated a shutter speed, 1/50, an aperture of 6.3, and an ISO 200. Not a whole lot of light.

Photo #2
To brighten up the background ambient, I reset the camera to 1/30, F 5.6, ISO 400 for an effective overexposure of 2 full stops. This gave the photo a more open feeling. I also added a single SB-800, shot through a Zumbrella. It was mounted on a monopod, so instead of running back to the car to get a lightstand, I found some A-Clamps and used them the secure the monopod to the screen separating the firing points. The lighting arrangement can be easily seen in Photo #2.

Photo #3
For Photo #3, I moved a bit closer to the targets. The light is very even, coming from high camera left. The "44" identifies a firing point, which I thought  would add to the composition. I then moved the garbage can closer to the center of the composition so that the targets could be seen beside it. Now all I had to do was "populate" the image.

Photo #4
Photo #4 is starting to put a story together. The position of the hands and the rumpled arrangement of the target make it obvious that it is being discarded. Quite by accident, a brief discussion about the target followed, so I just continued to shoot, looking for a that "right" image.

After viewing this image with a Hoodman Hood Loupe, it became clear that the shooting bench at camera left wasn't adding anything to the image. So I zoomed my lens from 11mm to 16, and moved in for a tighter shot.
Photo #5

Photo #5: Here's the actual photo, right out of the camera. I chose an 8X10 aspect ratio, and in the crop, lost some of the target at camera right. But I believe the final image, seen below, has all of the necessary visual elements to carry the story. You don't have to know anything about shooting to figure out what happening in the photo.

Here's one last look at the final image. Some adjustments in Levels provide a bit of "snap" to the image, and the cropping managed to eliminate portions of the background. 

As an editorial photo, you can get a sense for what these fellows are doing. It is much more interesting that the common alternative, a photo with five people, squinting into the sun, standing beside of a mound of gravel. The target backers were going to be cleaned anyway. I just made sure that I was ready to shoot when they started peeling the old targets off the backers, and stayed around until I made the photo I wanted.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Head Shots: Dealing With Glasses

Photo #1
Headshot: I needed to make a head shot for the Fall 2013 Brochure. As you can see, my subject wears glasses. Glasses are nearly always a problem because, a) their lenses reflect light, and b) highly corrected lenses distort the appearance of the subject's eyes. During his Light Bus Tour,  David Hobby describes a photographer in China who keeps a box of 40 pairs of eyeglass frames with their lenses removed. Before making a group shot, his subjects are asked to pocket their own glasses and pick out a pair from the box. No glass to reflect the light. Problem solved. And as Mr. Hobby commented, that's a line you want to be in the front of. But I digress.

Photo #2
Photo #2 shows a typical photo made of a subject wearing classes. The reflection is obvious. This first "sketch shot" was made to verify the exposure settings. For this series of shots, My D7000 was set to 1/200, F 7.1, ISO 200, Flash White Balance. Lighting was provided by a single SB-900 speedlight shot through a Lastolite All-In-One umbrella, positioned in a "45/45 position, which is 45 degrees, camera left from the central axis, and 45 degrees above. In addition, a second speedlight, shot through a small softbox, was positioned behind the subject, pointed downward at a steep angle. The background is a Botero Collapsible. A Lastolite Circular Reflector, held in place by a reflector clamp, was placed at camera right to reflect light back into the shadow side of the face. 

Photo #3
Photo #3: Because of the heavy correction of my subjects glasses, I opted for a "straight on" pose. This would give me the least amount of of the eyes. My subject's new pose moved him away from the reflector, so I repositioned it.

While a strong contrast between light and shadow would make for a dramatic image, I wanted the viewer to see my subject as an interested, personable subject. Reducing the contrast between the highlights and the shadows helps to produce an image that is more easily reproduced, since it will usually pick up some contrast when published.

Photo #4
Photo #4: To get to this point, I lifted to paddles (side supports) of the glasses so that they no longer touched the subject's ears. The new, elevated position caused the lenses to tilt downward. This re-directed the glare towards the floor and away from the lens axis. As you can see, the glare is nearly gone.

During our conversation, my subject's hands naturally fell into this pose. His direct, friendly demeanor started to show in his face, so I decided to have the subject set the mood with his eyes and his smile, and leave the hands alone. I believed that the hands showed a willingness to listen, a gesture suggesting that he would wait until you had finished talking before offering an opinion of his own.

Photo #5
Photo #5: Still adjusting the reflector, I managed to balance the highlight and shadow sides of the face.You can see the the lower edge of his hands are a little dark, blending into the shadows of  his red polo shirt.

I wanted to reduce the contrast still further by adding some light from below. this would reduce the shadows under his hands and hopefully add a catchlight to his eyes. After an unsuccessful attempt to utilize a third speedlight, I placed a Lastolite Tri Grip reflector on the table in front of the subject. In point of fact, his elbows are actually resting on the reflector, holding it in place. Coming from below, the reflector did not add any glare of its own, but did a nice job in filling in the shadows.

Photo #6
Photo #6: This is the last shot. The smile was friendly and the lighting even. When I saw it, I knew that this was the photo I was looking for.

In post production, I cropped the image to an 8 X 10" aspect ratio, adjusted the levels very slightly, and burned in (darkened) the hands and the borders of the photo. As a final touch, I dodged the catchlights in the eyes to brighten them. The final photo, Photo #1, is at the top of the page.

Looking back, I'm still happy with the image, but would have liked to experiment with more directional lighting. This was really not an option because most of my efforts were centered on reducing the glare from his eyeglasses. Surely there are other ways to address this, but this turned out to be a very acceptable compromise.

If you look at this photo and believe this is somebody you'd like to share a cup of coffee with, I will consider my job properly done.