Sunday, November 27, 2016

Coffee Shop Art Show

Photo #1

To me, the most memorable assignments are when I try some new technique. This assignment involved an art showing at a local coffee shop, and a local artist/realtor who contacted the Editor In Chief about the event. Like a "Catch and Release" fisherman, I had a chance to fish with a new lure.

Even for a straight forward shot like this one (Photo #1) there's room for adjustment. I had my artist arrange his four paintings where the could be seen, but placed there for a reason. As it turned out, he was signing each piece with a Sharpie Marker, so I simply told him to work very slowly. Unfortunately, his face was hidden when he looked down, so I had him look at the upper right hand corner of the painting. This raised his head enough to give the viewer the impression he was deep in thought, a look that helped move the narrative along. The shot was the keeper I ultimately submitted.

Looking back, you can see the effects of some serious foreshortening caused by the artist's right hand and his head being in two different planes. The super wide angle lens (10-24mm F 4.0 Fujinon) obviously exacerbated the situation. Having his forearm point more towards the upper corner would have fixed this. Illumination was provided by a speedlight bounced high and to the right. Camera was a Fuji X-T2.

Photo #2
I decided to re-compose the photo to include some of the ambience of the coffee shop (Photo #2). I thought the ceiling lights would make an interesting background element while giving the photo a sense of depth. There will always be problems when you're surrounded by artists and customers jockying for coveted wall space or a table with a view. This being said, this shot achieved a sense of depth, but was hurt by the intermingling of the light fixtures with the artist's profile.  Unfortunately, I needed him to stand close the artwork to minimize any dead (empty) space in the image. As it was, I was standing by the edge of the sofa and couldn't move any further to the right. Oh well.

Photo #3
Ready For A Closeup: For something a little different, I mounted a 56mm 1.2 Fujinon and attempted an environmental portrait with only two flashes. Placing a optically slaved flash on the seat of a chair directly behind my subject, I manually adjusted the output until I got a reasonable exposure at F 3.6 (about two full stops down from wide open). With this set, the shoe-mounted flash, bounced off of the wall behind me, could be adjusted until the foreground brightness matched the background (Photo #3). This is easier to do since the adjustments are made at the camera, not a flash that was 10 feet away from me.

One issue that did come up: The background flash's low angle created a shadow at the top edge of the picture's frame. In this case I simply cropped it out, but if I really wanted the photo to work, I might have had somebody actually sit in the chair and hold the flash directly behind my subject's head, in effect providing a shadowless ringlight effect. Unfortunately, I didn't think of it at time. Everybody was too busy, anyway. An adoring girlfriend could have been used, had there been one.

Photo #4
What If? As I wrote this post, I had occurred to me that I was working with a two-dimensional background. How might I approach a three-dimensional background? I remembered an unsuccessful experiment where I placed a flash under a Tupperware bowl in an attempted to simulate light from a candle. For this shot (Photo #4), I stopped the aperture waaaay down so we could actually see the bowl.

As I mentioned, this little flash, a Nikon SB-30,  has a built-in optical slave, and even though it's hidden by the plastic bowl, it sensed the main light going off. As before, once I established the proper aperture for the background, I adjusted the hotshoe mounted flash output to balance the foreground with the background.

Photo #5
The final photo wasn't too bad. The bowl did a nice job of diffusing the light, and it's pretty even to boot. It was sitting on a rolling cart so it's pretty high up and closet to the lens axis than if it were sitting on the floor.Too bad the background wasn't more "out of focus", being more distracting than I would have liked. But all in all, an interesting sketch shot, one to remember should a similar venue be presented to me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016

Photo #1 1/250 of a second, F 5.6, ISO 200.
Wow. Halloween and International Day are the big events here at the Adult School. In both cases, costuming is the big thing, whether it be traditional, or whimsical, as they are here. These are outdoor events, so there will be issues with the ambient exposure, which usually means "the sky" when I shoot outdoors.

I decided to travel much lighter than in years past. For cameras, I carried a Fuji X100S with a wide angle adapter, giving me full flash synchronization with an effective full-frame focal length of 28mm.For lighting, I used an Adorama Radio Control manual flash in conjunction with a Lastolite Ezybox 24" softbox held aloft on a monopod. Cissie and I worked out the optimal subject to flash distance of four feet when the Fuji was set to 1/1000 of a second, ISO 200, F 5.6. I believe the power setting on the flash was 1/4, giving me 2 additional stops of exposure if I needed to move farther back.

Photo #1 was made with the Fuji, but at a greater distance than I had planned for. While my aperture stayed at (about) F 5.6, I upped the output to full, and lengthened the exposure to 1/250 of a second to allow for any time lag introduced by the radio transmitter. This insured that I'd get my full blast of light without any clipping. The longer exposure time did allow some of the ambient skylight to add to the the light provided by the flash, brightening the foreground a bit.

For longer shots, I had my D600 with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens. On my hip, a SB-900 with an SD-8a supplementary battery pack in a Think Tank Skin Strobe V2.0. Speedlight exposure compensation was set to -1.0 stop. I was hampered by the slow flash synchronization speed of 1/200 of a second, so I set the exposure mode to Shutter Priority and hoped for the best.. Speedlight Exposure Compensation was also set to -1.0 stop.

Photo #2 Manual Mode, 1/1000, F 5.0, ISO 200

Fuji Heaven. This Fuji shot (Photo #2) could convince anybody that leaf shutters rock. The high sync speed, short exposure time, and the moderate aperture gave me a blue sky with a hint of clouds in the background. There is a trade-off when using radio triggers - shorter exposures will sometimes "clip" the flash, a case where the time lag present in all radio triggers causes some portion of the flash's output curve to occur as the shutter leaves are closing.

Photo #3 Shutter Priority, 1/200, F 9.0 ISO 200, Exposure Compensation -1.0 stop.
The Nikon Take: Using the Nikon with its slower sync speed, I would be forced to use smaller apertures, and potentially shorter working distances.
In this case, the flash only supplemented the existing light from the open sky (The day was cloudy). In this shot, my foreground subjects benefit from the speedlight. People in the background get little, if any, additional light, which helps the foreground stand proud in the shot (Photo #3).

You can see the close-up that a shadow is indeed cast by the on-camera speedlight, but it's relatively close to the lens axis, and therefore not readily apparent. That bit of light does add some sparkle to the bracelets, and pushes the color closer to a warm neutral, away from the cool blue of an open sky.

Photo #4 1/1000, F 5.0, ISO 200
Visual Intuition: I was surprised by this particular photo (Photo #4) because it made me think "sunset". While I told Cissie to lower the light to get some light under the brim of the cowboy hat, it subliminally suggested the the "sun" was low on the horizon. Had I put a CTO gel on the flash, I could have completed the illusion. Alas, we are too soon old and too late smart.

Yes, Halloween was fun, and it seems to get "funner" every year!