Sunday, August 9, 2015

Oh Wall, Oh Sweet, Oh Lovely Wall!*

Warning: Much of what is done in with speedlights in the field is only made possible by the instant preview feature available with digital cameras. There will be exposure adjustments made on the fly, resulting in some unexpected and disappointing first tries.  iTTL will get you to third base. With some fine tuning, you'll score a home run.

When I'm on assignment, I generally try to make two photos with two different viewpoints: A visually interesting shot for possible placement on the front page, and one with lots of local participants for the Community section on Page 18. For the former, I usually follow the old rule of the Four B's: Babes, Babies, Beasts, or Blood. Include one or more in a photo and you have it made.

I was at the Obon festival in the Buddhist Temple here in San Mateo, hoping to find an interesting shot that might make page 18, or with some luck, the front page. In the first shot, I found two sister dressed in beautiful kimonos. After introducing myself to their mother, I had to decide where to place them. You see, the Buddhist Temple courtyard has walls on three sides, so the prevailing light would be high overhead blue sky. However, since it was late in the afternoon, one white west-facing wall was acting like a giant reflector, so I positioned my subjects in front of this convenient, soft, light source. 

ISO 640, 1/2500, F 2.8
It took three shots to coax a smile from the younger sister, but the results, minus the fellow in the background, made for a nice shot. Incidentally, if you look closely at the fans, you'll find them slightly out of focus. Blame that on too much "shallow depth of field" enthusiasm!

ISO 800, 1/800 @ F 2.8
Ambient Light With Fill: It was twilight when the Bon-Odori, the dance done at the conclusion of the ceremony, started. I decided to use the wall behind me as  a bounce surface for a shoe-mounted SB-900 with a converted SD-8 battery pack attached for additional juice, as a lot of power (light) is diverted when bounce flash is used, especially outdoors. And when using High Speed Sync (HSS), there's even less. There was just enough light to add some twinkle in my subject's eyes, but not much else.

1/320, F 2.8, ISO 800
As the ambient light began to fall, I increased my exposure time. Same flash fill as before. When compared to the previous shot, you can see that the lighting is less directional because the ambient had dropped to a level  closer to that of the frontal flash fill. Remember that when using HSS, the rules on exposure aren't the same as those with conventional flash. While I had increased the ambient by a factor of slightly more than (1 1/3 stops), the longer exposure time actually increased the the flash output slightly. I doesn't make sense, so just trust me.

1/10, F 5.6, ISO 800
Dragging Shutter: The evening had grown darker still, and the decorative lanterns were finally lit. Since my shutter speed had dropped below the 1/200 of a second conventional flash sync ceiling, I was getting much more power from the shoe-mounted flash, so it behaved more like a key light and less like a fill. In a moment of whimsey I rotated the camera, giving me the arc-shaped streaks in place of the lanterns. It was a fun experiment, but I'm not sure I'd do it again, should these same circumstances present themselves in the future.
1/5, F 8.0, ISO 800
These shots are starting to get closer to what I had in mind. The darkened sky is now truly blue, and the background details are minimized by the decreased ambient. The lanterns look more like lanterns, and the overexposed windows and doorways in the background keeps the viewer within the courtyard. The wall bounce is now a very dominant key light, and in spite of the smaller (F 8.0) aperture, seems to provide enough light. I went with the small aperture for the increased depth of field, a concession necessary due to the difficulties my camera had finding focus in the waning light.
1/10, 5.6, ISO 800
I'm usually much more careful about "cutting off" my subject's feet, but it couldn't be helped. The shortest length on my zoom lens on my camera was 24mm, and it just wasn't quite wide enough. I find that wide lenses force me to get close to my subjects. But because of some obstacles behind me, I couldn't back up any farther.

1/10, 5.6, ISO 800

If your wondering why these photos a lacking in "eye contact" the reason is simple: They are dancing while walking in a circle, stopping only occasionally to turn around to face me. It seem that they were always facing towards camera right so they wouldn't trip, or facing the middle to get their instructions, so there a very few faces in these shots.

Lest you think there is some sort of magic afoot, all these images needed some post-production adjustment, but surprisingly, not much.

*Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Act 5, Scene 1