Monday, December 14, 2015

The Fuji X-E1 In The Field - Part 1

I had two assignments to complete as a particularly tenacious flu infection just started to wind down. I had committed to shooting them, and didn’t want to disappoint either of the organizations involved. One was a promotional shot for a Mommy-Baby class that used strollers as a substitute for a ballet barre. The other was a charity toy run which I’ve routinely covered since I started with the Journal.

Since I was in my recovery mode, I decided to adopt a minimalist approach so far as equipment was concerned. My reduced kit included 2 Fuji X-E1 bodies, a 35m F1.4, an 18mm F2, and a 60 F2.4 Macro which would double as a short telephoto lens. A Fuji EF-42 flash is stuffed somewhere, sometimes in a pocket or secondary pouch. A notepad and pen, and a single spare battery for the Fuji complete the outfit.

My first assignment would be photographed in an open exercise room with a low ceiling and white walls, an ideal bounce flash environment. For this, I brought a Yongnuo 560 flash with a supplementary 8-AA cell battery pack. Mounted in the hot-shoe of my 18mm equipped X-E1, proper exposures was obtained at full power, giving an even lighting that would reproduce well. A number of factors began to work in my favor. First, the north-facing windows allowed skylight to reflect off of the hardwood floors, creating some interesting visuals to the image. Exposure required some unusually long exposure times (
1/15, F 4.5, ISO 200), but the low level of ambient light allowed the brief light burst of the flash to freeze most of the foreground at about 1/1000 of a second, giving me images that were sharp except for some edge blurring created by subject movement.

In this up close composite, you can see just how much the bounce flash adds to the photo. The darker image on the left was the result of shooting without the benefit of a fully charged flash. This pair reminds me that even with the supplementary battery pack, recycle time will be an issue, especially when changes in expression are fleeting, and frequent. 

The viewing options provided by the mirrorless Fuji X-E1 gave me access to perspectives that would have been difficult to achieve if I was limited only eye-level viewing. Several of the shots were made from a nearly ground level perspective, using the LCD panel in the back of the body to refine composition. But the down side of this bounce-flashing from a low angle is how often I flashed myself in the face, something that should be avoided.

In the end, the lead shot was chosen. It had a number of key elements:

  • Engaged Child In The Foreground: Beasts, babes, babies, and blood make for engaging photos, and a young boy, “exercising" with his mother, adds both to the subliminal context and visual appeal. The convergence of the background lines on my young subjects head was purely an accident, albeit a happy one.
  • High Kick: When photographing indoors, we often deal with multiple light sources of varying intensities and colors. The elevated leg does not melt into the background, and helps us make sense of the odd, floating athletic shoe belonging to the woman at the right.
  • Multiple Characters: This particular class was not as well attended as it deserved to be, and I wanted to give the impression that this would be a good place for a woman to exercise while keeping her child close at hand. Three adults can be seen in the photo, the only three students who attended that day.
I got some feedback from the instructor regarding the image I selected. There were concerns that similar images had been used before, and that the exercise pictured wasn’t “true” to the structured intent of this “ballet barre” class. Valid comments, but from my own experience, nobody remembers an image that winds up on Monday’s Page 18, the landing zone for nearly all of my community event images, with the exception of the subjects portrayed therein. Interest in this class will only come if I can convince the viewer to read the caption, which is in and of itself a tightly compressed combination of explanation and public service announcement. If the image is interesting enough to motivate the viewer to read the caption, my mission is accomplished.

One final note on flash selection: The head of the Yongnuo 560 is capable of 180 degree rotation to the left and only 90 degrees to the right. This turned out to be a more serious limitation than I had anticipated, as it limited the direction of my light pretty much to camera left. Even the Fuji flash rotates 120 degrees to the right, just enough to move my light to a slightly better position. But it’s minimal power and inability to take a supplementary battery pack make the Fuji of lesser usefulness despite is TTL capability. For this, a Nikon SB900 might prove to be a better choice on future assignments, although the Yongnuo gives a shooter a lot of flash for the money if you're just starting out.

Okay, this shot makes me grin. I wish I could say I did something to prompt this along, but it was a total grab shot.