Monday, December 26, 2016

Bethlehem 2016

1/2 second, F 6.4, ISO 2000
It's the time of year when I go looking for an interesting image to announce the coming, and going, of Bethlehem A.D. This recreation of Bethlehem as it might have appeared 2000 years ago.

Minette Siegel, San Mateo Daily Journal
The odd "coming and going" reference comes from several factors. Since this isn't "Stop The Presses!" critical, production for the Thursday paper will start long before I submit the photo Wednesday evening. The earliest publication date would be Friday, which coincides with the last day of the event. Also, a front page article, complete with photos, appeared in the December 21 / Opening Day edition. My photo would be more of a reminder, rather than in invitation, to the event.

In some ways, the photo influenced how I approached the assignment. Since the crafts aspect was used in this photo, I'd have to come up with something that was different, but as interesting, as this image.

Lighting: When photographing at night, fast lenses and high ISO levels make for some interesting possibilities. Open apertures give you speedlight enormous range, or enough light to use a variety of light modifiers. What's more, the light you lose when using a full CTO gel is hardly noticed. Here's an SB-80DX, with a gel, oriented for SU-4 (optical slave) applications. The sensor eye (left arrow) faces the subject, while the triggering flash, mounted on the camera hotshoe, provides enough light to serve as the trigger. It was held aloft by a Lastolite Telescopic Extension Handle, normally used with the Lastolite EzyBox system.

Cissie and I had already determined the "optimal" flash-to-subject distance would be seven feet. As long as she maintained that distance, I could be assured a near-perfect highlight exposure. If the distance wasn't quite right, I could tell her to move closer, or farther, from the subject. Working with a mirrorless Fuji T-2, I could tell instantly if an adjustment was needed.

My on-camera fill was another gelled SB-80DX with the built-in Bounce Card in the up position. I could easily increase or decrease the fill effect at the camera, although I favored underexposure. As I mentioned, the fill light was enough to trigger my key light, a very simple setup.

1/4 second, F 5.6, ISO 3200
Here are two very young Bethlehem "residents", dress in period clothing. Cute kids are always a reliable go-to subject, so I made a quick photo, just to get the ball rolling. Super cute, but not much context. I decided to follow them, hoping for  more compelling image. This shot was Cissie's favorite.

1/2 second, F5.6, ISO 3200
Animals always add appeal, so when my subjects started offering pieces of apple to some horses, I started shooting.While I was pleased with the foreground exposure, the sky was a bit too dark to reproduce well, since there were no "accents" in the background to break up the emptiness. This shot was my first choice.

The Verdict: The lead photo was my final choice. I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize the photo had "legs" (potential for publication) until I saw it in post production. It illustrated a different aspect of the event: an opportunity to get a close-up view of a rather exotic four-horned Jacob Sheep with some very long horns, highlighted by my placing my domed speedlight high above the sheep pen. I used on on-camera speedlight with the built-in Bounce Card to cut the output. I didn't want it to over-power to overhead key light. Had I realized the value of shot, I'd have made a second shot with a bit light to improve the shadow detail. Unfortunately, the shot ran in black and white, and really could have used that additional boost of light.

1/4, F 4.0, ISO 3200
Including A Background Light Source: When working outdoors at night, the contribution of ambient light is seldom a problem. I have found that the inclusion of a light source somewhere in the background makes the use of an artificial key light less obvious.It would be easy to imagine that a second spot light, similar to the one see in the background, could be providing the lighting for the foreground. In reality, it's a gelled SB-80, held as high overhead as  Cissie's arms could reach. To get the coverage, she positioned herself about 14 feet away from the foregrounds subjects and increased the output by one F-stop, while I open the aperture one stop, to compensate for my doubling the flash-to-subject distance.

Dragging Shutter: The flash  synchronization in the Fuji was set to Rear Curtain, so the photo would be" made" 1/4 of a second after the shutter was released. Using this technique, it difficult to anticipate what sorts of expressions you'll get when the flash finally goes off. If you look closely at the Jacob Sheep's horns, you can barely see the "smearing" from movement made during the ambient exposure. Getting good expressions and super sharp images becomes a hit or miss affair unless the subjects are told to "hold still until you see the flash". Be be prepared to reject a lot of shots in post production.