Monday, May 25, 2015

Carnaval 2015 San Francisco

Carnaval 2015 has come and gone, and I realized that my enthusiasm changed a bit over the years. While I claim to love being in the presence of "scantily-clad women", I was a bit more introspective this time, determined to make photographs technically better than those I took in 2013. That was also the first year I checked in at the Press Center and got an official Event Press Pass. And with that came my membership in a huge, self-serving publicity machine. Photographers are encouraged to become a part of the event and share their images with the event website to give the wider public a better view of this San Francisco-style cultural event, writ large. Hey, I've been photographing Carnaval since 2008. Slam dunk. Bring it on.

What caught me by surprise was this year's overcast skies, initiating a subsequent re-thinking of my exposure solutions. I quickly realized that my usual flash fill approach was a little heavy handed when shooting under a heavy cloud cover. As it turned out, I found myself seeking out individual subjects, faces that spoke to some aspect of the event, rather than the more populated, and well choreographed,  performing groups.

Flash Gone Good: Flash still has its place, even under flat lighting conditions. Overcast skies do produce shadows, usually just enough to prevent catchlights from appearing in my subject's eyes. And even though my on-camera flash produced only a tiny bit of light, its just enough to even out the exposure considerably. For these two shots (left and below), I used a 12-24 wide angle lens on a D70 body, and a neutered SB-28 speedlight connected with an SC-17 flash extension cable. In both of these shots, the flash isn't that obvious, although the tell-tale shadows under my subject's chins is the giveaway.

One thing that I discovered: non-TTL flash automation did not work particularly well under these lighting conditions. I can't explain why this is so, but I was forced to shift to manual settings. This turned out be a wise decision, as I tend to set my flash at a lower output level. This helped the flash take more of a "back seat" during the exposure, so much so that the flash fill is barely visible.

Flash Gone Bad. If these two photos (left and below) photos are an accurate representation of Bolivian People, I want to get to know them better. The first thing that I noticed was the stuffed animal. I thought about it a moment, and realized it was a spoof on the "Guinea Pig on a Stick" street snack. In this flash shot, I held the flash high over the camera. and was rewarded with (or punished by) a shot where the nose shadow crosses my subject's lip line, a lighting no-no in portraiture. You can also see that the background is seriously underexposed, the result of having set my camera to my "blue sky background" exposure combination. Granted, the exposure difference between the foreground and the background give good separation, but the image would have a muddy appearance if it were published.

For the candid shot (above), I switched to a 70-300mm zoom which helped make the background an integral part of the composition. True, I lost some eye detail, but I doubt that a little shoe-mounted speedlight would have had any effect. But seriously, it's the background that makes the photo.

I started concentrating on individual subjects, using my long lens to get up close and personal. This gentleman was shot with my lens set to a focal length of 230mm. Making this shot at this setting would have been an impossible feat if it didn't have Vibration Reduction.

For selfies or Instagram photos, the Smart Phone has become ubiquitous, even here at Carnaval. Performers find some very creative places to put them while they're performing. Not that I was looking for them, but they'd pop up in the darnedest places.

The photo (above) was something of a save. Here, the one hand is visible and actively involved, and gives the image something of a "floor" to keep the viewer focused on the performer's face. I loved the visual explosion of reds, pinks, and oranges, and knew there was a "winner" to be had for the taking. I made about a dozen exposures, this being my second shot.

I continued to shoot, trying to keep the composition as tight as I could. I made a conscious effort to get shots where one (or both) hands are close to the face. This allowed me to pack as much visual content into the image area as possible. I would have lost a good deal of impact if I was forced to zoom out to captured some outstretched arms, so I kept trying for a tight composition. I thought I had the shot when my subject raised a whistle to her lips to punctuate the beats of the nearby drum corp. But when I checked it during post production, I realized the whistle was nowhere to be seen, and a viewer might assume she was plucking something from her mouth. Funny how important showing a tiny bit of that whistle could have been.

This final shot was a gimme. The reflections from their belt keepers provided  enough detail to identify the two Police Officers, who essentially keep the viewer's attention on the stilt-walker in the middle of the image.

OK, I did have a good time. I'm pleased with the results. I'll be back next year. And maybe I won't bring a speedlight.