Sunday, June 26, 2016

Troop 175 50th Anniversary

Photo #1
Sometimes a seeming simple assignment turns out to be prime example of how Murphy's Law affects photo assignments. A simple 50th Anniversary of a local scout troop get-together became of sequence of catastrophes which I did, and didn't, manage to stay in front of.

Photo #2
Photo #2 was the shot I wanted to work with. I was told that the scouts would build a rope bridge, and felt it would be an interesting photo challenge.When I arrived, the bridge had already been assembled, and they were testing the bridge by having scouts walk across it. This first shot was made with an X-100, initially with a paper plate reflector. That did work as well as I had hoped, so I pointed the flash straight at the subject to get an idea of where I would take the image. I got my blue sky, but the "deep woods" effect made the trees much too dark. Also, you can't see the scout's feet, so the context of a rope bridge was completely missing.

As I thought about how I could improve the shot, I saw the bridge collapse, taking one unlucky scout on a 4-foot fall.He dusted himself off after a few moments, and the groups attention turned to whether to attempt a repair, or to dismantle the bridge. They chose the latter, and following a spirited discussion, had the structure disassembled in a few minutes. One of supporting posts had snapped, perhaps because in a effort to re-cycle the materials, kept the beam well past the limits of its useful life.

Photo #3
Piling On: Needing a wider view, I changed to a X-T1 with a 10-24mm F 4.0 Fujinon lens, supplementing the daylight with a Nikon SB-80DX triggered with an SC-17 cable connected to the hotshoe. The next activity involved getting a troop of scouts over a rope strung between two trees. At first, the Scouts attempted to make a human pyramid which would allow the smaller scouts get over without much difficulty. This proved unworkable, as they hadn't figured out a way to the last scout over the rope (Photo #3).

Photo #4
The final solution included passing the younger and lighter scouts over first. This they started in earnest, amid some laughter and encouragement. On this first attempt (Photo #4), my angle was too low and the tangle of hands was too distracting. Also, the lone scout in the background, silhouetted against the blue sky, acts to draw the viewer's attention away from struggling Scouts in the foreground. The eye will always be drawn to contrast, he this lone scout in the background definitely has it!

Photo #5

I made this shot (Photo #5) from a low angle, and from further back. I liked the sky, but the exaggerated foreground and the blue tarp drew too much attention away for my original subject.

Photo #1
The final shot, taken from about eye level minimizes the exaggerated perspective of the feet. One of the two spotters in the foreground has his hands out, visually isolated enough to suggest that he's about to catch somebody, which he indeed is.

There is an indirect object lesson to be learned. First off, the chosen photograph was more the result of some lucky accidents: the spotter's outstretched hands, the placement of the foot over the rope, the prominence of the troop's shoulder patch, and the numerous red accents make this a visually interesting photo. Taking a higher shooting position helped to improve the exaggerated perspective produced by the wide angle lens and the short working distance. But I obviously didn't make that happen. I just saw that everything worked well together, and picked this single, story-telling photo from a small collection of near misses.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pancakes Fundraiser - The Value of Cropping

This entry is about how cropping saved a photo that was "bombed" by my subject's little brother. The image was one from a series of candid shots made between 10:13 through 10:21 am, proof that getting "the" shot in one take is a very rare occurrence.

The photo was made with my Fuji X100S with the native 35mm equivalent lens. I removed the wide angle adapter to get a slightly closer "look" to the image, even though I'm only about three feet from my subject.  This is a cropped portion of a larger image, as you'll see. The shoe-mounted Nikon SB-80DX speedlight is aimed straight up and bounced off of a paper plate. Exposure was 1/640th of a second, F 4.0, ISO 200. Power output on the SB-80 wasn't recorded, but I did add an SD-8a accessory battery pack for faster recycling.

Conning Kids: Sometimes you can "con" kids into doing what you want. I originally started talking to Little Brother, when Big Brother (in red) wanted part of the action. When I mentioned I was only interested in photographing somebody who was actually eating a pancake (he already finished his eggs and sausage), BB went back and got a second helping of pancakes, and as he squirted syrup on them, LB started to mug for the camera. As I watched the syrup being poured, BB's expression just happened. I'm not sure exactly what it meant, but at that moment, all of BB's concentration was on the pancakes.I made three shots.

You can see that the third shot shows both of BB's eyes, and I liked the dynamic angle of the syrup bottle. This last shot was the winner, LB notwithstanding.

Cropping To The Rescue! You can see how the crop eliminated all of the details that detract from the central image. Due to the placement of BB's elbow, it would be impossible to eliminate all traces of LB's face. But by eliminating all traces of LB's eyes, I moved the viewer's attention toward BB pouring syrup, who was apparently feeling some excitement over the process.

In my mind, I already had the shot, but continued shooting anyway, looking for a cute "eating shot". I quickly realized that an open mouth full of half-chewed food just didn't make it visually, so the series was dropped from consideration.

Final Notes: The 1/640 shutter speed made possible by the X100's leaf shutter allowed me to use a shooting aperture of F 4.0, which in turn required less light from my speedlight, which translated into brief recycle times. Had I used a DSLR, I could have extrapolated these exposure settings to 1/250th of a second exposure and an aperture size of  6.3. This would have given me an identical ambient exposure, but the comparable flash output would have required more than twice the light, which may have slowed my shooting.

The Fuji did give me some grief in the flash department, but having learned from the Carnaval debacle, I recovered and quickly got to shooting.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Metz 44 AF-2 For The Fuji X System

Click Here For Specifications
In my on-going quest to find a full-featured flash that is compatible with the Fuji X-series cameras, I acquired a Metz 44 AF-2 flash by getting my name on an advanced order list at B&H Photo. Shortly after placing the order, I received word that one was about to be shipped. I was unwrapping it a few days later.

I paid just $239.99 plus shipping, and considering the features, the price was in line with what I got. The packaging was spartan, probably because Germany is one of the more green countries in Europe, so packing materials were stripped the bare essentials and are probably bio-degradable, or made from recycled materials. There wasn't a soft case or a accessory foot for the flash to stand on.I also noticed that there were no warranty materials. I suspect that if the unit conks out, I'm pretty much on my own, relying totally on the solid reputation Metz has cultivated over the years. Internet sources say the company is about to go belly up, so I may have purchased an orphan flash with no guaranties of future support.

Quirks: One of the first things I noticed was the lack of a battery "map". I had to wade through the instruction manual (Printed in six languages, no less) and eventually found the diagram I needed. I used a silver Sharpie Marker to write "+" as a visual reminder of the proper battery orientation. The sliding cover on the battery chamber was very hard to open.

The flash has two irksome limitations. First, it has only four manual output settings: Full, Half, Eighth, and Thirty-Second power. I can't image why this limitation was placed on the flash. I you look at the photo of the flash's back, you can see the locations of the LEDs indicating the four manual settings. Sure, it looks sleek and space age, but I'm sure I'll soon long for those missing intermediate output levels.

The other irritant is the adjustments for flash exposure compensation, which are in the camera and not the flash. To quote the User's Manual:

"...Automatic AF measuring beam control (Set on the camera, if possible)... "

Did you get that? Adjust the output using from the camera's menu, if it has that option. In the case of the X-100S, this translates to +/- 2/3 of a stop. In the X-T1, it's +/- 2 stops, which would be great if the camera synced at a speed faster than 1/180th of a second. Now if Fuji would just increase the compensation range in an X-100 series camera, I just might consider an upgrade. (June 15, 2016: They did, and I might).
Image Source
As I think about the flash, I'm still not really happy with the flash exposure compensation adjustments being governed by the camera and not the flash itself. But I will say that the inboard menu system is easier to navigate than the counter-intuitive assortment of buttons on the Fuji EF-42, but not as straight forward as the Nissin i40. And like the Nissin, there's a continuous light setting (LED), which I call the "flashlight mode".

To The Good: There are some things I really like about the Metz. First, the power button serves both as a ready light (Green) and a "Charging-Please Wait" indicator (Off). Each of the four operational modes (TTL, Manual, Slave, and LED) has its own dedicated button that glows when active (TT=Orange, Manual = Red, LED = White). Incidentally, the "Slave" mode is currently unsupported, but a firmware upgrade is expected to change that. Machst du Witze?

To The Unusual: I criticized the Nissin for not allowing beam spread adjustments when in the TTL mode. In the Metz, the beam angle adjusts in synchronization with any proper Fuji zoom lens. This is the default when the flash is facing forward. However, as soon as the flash head is tilted or rotated, the manual states:

"...the motor zoom main reflector moves into an optimal position for indirect flash and stays in this position, independent of the focal length set for the camera lens..."

This I like, since bounce flash almost always means zooming the head to its narrowest angle. Smart flash - it does it automatically. And like nearly every other flash I own, using the wide angle panel trumps all zoom adjustments.

In The Field: I'll probably use the flash on an upcoming assignment, and will comment on how well the unit works in the field. In the mean time, I'll cut some CTO gels ( 1 3/8" x 2 1/8" should do nicely), and watch to see if Sto-Fen decides to make a diffusion dome for the unit.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Memorial Day Observations On Photo Selection

Photo #1
The Memorial Day Drill is in its fifth iteration, and I can say that while the theme stays the same, the approach changes from year to year. I submitted two images this year, and the Editor In Chief chose Photo #1.

Photo #2
I'm always trying to second guess my editors, trying to figure out exactly what type of photo each of them prefers. Final selection can be a combination of factors. But it I were to bet money on which of my photos was most likely to be accepted, I consider the following factors:

Number of Subjects: Up to a point, the more identifiable subjects in a photo, the more likely it is to be published. There are exceptions for any group larger than my personal ceiling of seven subjects, a number based on the ease in posing and the final size, in inches, of the published photo. I'll often tell publicists that I want the "Bride, Groom, Maid of Honor, and the Best Man", a subtle way of asking only for the top tier participants. There are exceptions when committee members for important charity events are concerned. In this case, I prefer to let the publicist decide who should be included. Photo #1 has three, Photo #2 has only one, really.

Age of Subjects: Kids have a universal appeal, but need to be handled carefully. It is imperative that my subject's parent/s or guardian/s know who I am and why I'm taking the photograph. Part of my introduction I can recite in my sleep: "I would like to submit for possible publication a photo I took of your child". Parents need to be reminded that my make the photo doesn't insure publication, and I sometimes add, "My editor will make the final selection", which gets me off the hook. The ages of the subjects in both photos is about the same.

Home Towns: Subjects from within the paper's service area are a better reflection of the community's participation, an important reason for community photos to exist. The subjects from Photo #1 are from Los Altos, Photo #2 from Montara, which is geographically closer to San Mateo.

Pertinent Details: If I were to list possible key words  I would like associated with the photos, I might choose:
  • Scouts
  • Flags
  • Golden Gate National Cemetery
Photo #1 has all three, whereas Photo #2 has only 2.

Privacy Concerns: I don't know if it was a factor, but the name on the memorial stone is very readable in Photo #2, which may be one reason why it wasn't published.

Secular Content:  I was reminded of the possibility of "downstream" controversy when I submitted a photo of a Nativity Scene that was the centerpiece of Bethlehem 2014. Two photos were submitted (Photo #3), and the Editor chose the one showing  two young girls portraying apprentice metal smiths. In the case of Photo #2, the Cross may have been a factor, as I suspect a Star of David might also have been, although in a cemetery, the distinction may not be an issue.

Photo #3

If I were asked to comment on what makes a good publication photo, I believe that these fundamentals would serve a beginning photographer well. Please remember that these observations are based on community photography, where the content of the photo is usually not of a "Stop The Presses" urgency..

Incidentally, my personal favorite was Photo #2.