Sunday, March 6, 2016

Women From San Mateo County's Past

Photo #1
The historical Redwood City Courthouse is famous for the beautiful stained glass skylights found throughout the building. It was here in Courtroom A that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor received her Woman of the Year award in 2014, and I've photographed judges and dignitaries here many times. This time I'd be photographing some performers appearing in an upcoming play about women who contributed to the history of San Mateo County. The photo would be made in the Historic Redwood City Courthouse, and I wanted to include one of its stained glass skylights in the photo.

Setup 01 F 5.6, ISO 200, 1/125 second exposure
Cissie and I were 10 minutes late for the courthouse's 10:00 opening, and found that the actors were still getting dressed. This gave us some time to get unpacked and set to make the shot. In an earlier memo, I told the publicist that we wanted to make the photo at 11:45, and that we would work around their rehearsal schedule. It turned out that suiting up took longer than anyone expected, and we actually had about 30 minutes to get everything in place.

As you can tell from this first shot, a suitable exposure for the skylight would result in significant underexposure in the courtroom (Setup 01). I chose this angle so that no direct sunlight would shine towards me through the glass. I was able to get an even blue-sky exposure on the skylight, but you can see a highlight were the sun illuminated the recessed edge. But the details of the stained glass were preserved.

Setup 02
The next step to to light the foreground. I used a Westcott Apollo octagonal softbox with two radio-triggered Adorama Flashpoint manual speedlights. The controller was set to 1/4 power, which gave the equivalent output of a single speedlight at 1/2 power. I was thankful that I had all that power in reserve. Setup 02 was the result. Notice that the Apollo didn't have any effect on the back walls, so they would have to be lit separately.

I wound up setting three SB-800s on a table and adjusting them to fire at the SU-4 optical slave mode. There was obviously enough light to properly expose the background, but the daylight-balanced light made the walls a little too "bright" (Setup 03).

Setup 03
On this assignment, I indulged my love-hate relationship with rechargeable batteries. I try to them whenever I can, but when the job has to be done now, there's something reassuring about  removing four brand new batteries from their factory wrappers and feeding them to a hungry speedlights.  I know it's a little wasteful, but this must be balanced against any time wasted changing batteries that die suddenly, and the personal anxiety of wondering whether the rechargable batteries will work at all.

Setup 04
Not knowing what to expect,  I brought plenty of CTO gels for my speedlights. I installed one on each speedlight, which not only warmed the output but brought the exposure down to more acceptable levels (Setup 04). If you look closely, you can see them on the table, fanned out to cover as much of the back walls as possible.

I knew that the Adorama Flashpoints were up to speed, and I did have a fully charged spare, just in case. I also brought six SB-800 to use as SU-4 remotes. Today's strategy was to load two units and make a test shot. When it appeared I'd need a third, I broke out another set of batteries and prep my third unit. When I done, these "lightly used" batteries will be stored away for future use. Almost new, I like to say.

Setup 05
The three speedlights with their CTO gels gave the courthouse walls a much warmer appearance. Highlight exposure was where I wanted it, although the shadows were a little dark for the photo. I decided to put a shoot-through umbrella on the floor at the base of the softbox lightstand. I added a fourth SB-800 set to 1/2 power, and shot another test. The result (Setup 05) was a bit over-filled, so I dropped the output down to 1/8 power. I felt I was now ready to go.

I started shooting my subjects, and was reminded of a old maximum: The more subjects you have in a photo, the greater the probability that something will happen to detract from the quality of the photo. Photo #1 at the top of the post represented the best compromise.

Four photos were consider for the final cut.The Upper Left photo shows my right subject squinting slightly, and an unidentified spectator in the seating area at camera left. It is the nicest portrayal of my leftmost subject. My rightmost subject in the Upper Right was rendered a bit too dark. In the Lower Left photo, the "hello" gesture was rendered too large due to lens foreshortening. The Lower Right photo was be best compromise.

I wish I could have submitted the Upper Left, since the subjects all mange to cover distracting objects in the background, but the "squint" killed the shot. But all in all, it was a good shoot, and the subjects thanked Cissie and me for our efforts during the session.