Sunday, December 24, 2017

Land Of One Thousand Santas

290 Santas, Actually. This year, the Santa Scene was different. In the past, only raffle winners were photographed with Santa. This usually meant the number of shots was limited to about 20, plus those who came by to get a selfie shot at the end of the session. But this year, any student wishing a photo could get one, so long as they came when their classroom was scheduled. The increased volume of subjects presented new challenges, and new procedures, just to keep the line moving.

Nerd Stuff: The Equipment was pretty much my go to setup:
  • Camera: Nikon D600 with 24-70 2.8 Nikkor lens
  • Settings: ISO: 100, F 16, 1/160 exposure.
  • Main Light: Norman 800 D powerpack with a single head, 1/2 power output.
  • Light Modifier: Flash bounced into a Westcott 72" satin umbrella. I used two light stands: One for the umbrella and one for the Norman head.
  • Highlights: Lastolite EZ Box on a light stand aimed down at the backs of the subjects. Flash was a Flashpoint Li-On flash in the manual slave mode.
  • Fill Light: On the floor, an SB-900 shot through a Zumbrella.
  • Camera mounted on a tripod to insure consistent framing.
Catchlights: You can see that the huge umbrella gives a huge, non-specular highlight when used at relatively short distances. This is particularly important when working with a wide variety of complexions, as I did here. And it gives you catchlights you can see from Colma.

What's New? Because of the volume, I needed to make these photos as quickly as possible. My subjects were seated on an adjustable posing stool set to the approximate height of Santa's lap. Because it had wheels, it tended to wander whenever my subject approached it from an angle. To solve this, and some other posing problems, I had an assistant do the following:
  • When a subject came started to sit, my assistant would use her foot to prevent the chair from rolling backwards.
  • My assistant then position the subject's left hand on the faux gift that Santa was "presenting". By pre-arrangement, both of Santa's hands could be seen presenting the gift.
  • The subject's right hand was then placed on Santa' shoulder, which tighten up the composition.
  • As soon as I started to count "one, two, three", my assistant would step out of the frame.
  • When the shot was made (It's hard to not notice the "pop" of an 800 watt-second flash), my assistant had the subject wait until I decided that the photo was a keeper. Once again, the stool was kept from rolling as the subject left the set.
Glasses: I had a Morning Santa and an Evening Santa, and neither of them wore glasses. I let them wear my special "glassless glasses", a pair of frames from which the lenses had been removed. If I did this more often I might try to find some "granny" frames, but for the day I used the pair I kept on hand for photographing my boss. I reasoned that with so many photos being made, one less worry was a welcomed subtraction.

Glare: On eliminating glare, David Hobby tells a wonderful story about a photographer in China who as a box of 40 pairs of glasses frames minus the lenses.  When he gets ready to shoot a large group, he asks everyone to pocket their own specs and choose a pair of frames from the box. To quote Mr. Hobby: "That's a line you want to be in the front of."

Special Circumstances: Working in a multi-cultural environment, there are bound to be differences between how physical contact between people is viewed. Obviously, anybody who showed any hesitation about touching a stranger wasn't going to be forced into doing so. It was my belief that if all hands were visible there wouldn't be any questions about what was going on.

Work Flow: With this many photos, editing becomes a major chore. Even if I stay within my personal goal of five minutes per photo, it means that 1,450 minutes would be devoted to my normal retouches unless I did something to streamline the process. Added to this was the second catchlight created by my fill light. Editing them all out would create a lot of additional work, and after stumbling over the first few images, I settled on the following sequence of edits that included the catchlight edit.
  • Cropping: The first step is to crop the image to my standard, 8" x 12" x300 dpi. This yields an image that is much easier to handle than the 24 megapixel files (compressed) JPG files created by the Nikon.
  • Levels: I'll use Levels to adjust the midtone values, if necessary. In this session, the midtone value was raised from 1.0 to 1.2. By adjusting the midtone exposure in post (processing), I prevent the highlights from burning out, as they have if I increased my exposure settings. 
  • Clone Lighten: The next step is to lighten the contours below the eye. I normally set my clone tool to Lighten and 30% Opacity. After setting the source point to a suitable area on the highlighted cheek, I make one quick swipe for each eye. 
  • Brush Tool: I set this to Darken and 30% Opacity. By setting my source point to a midtone value, I can "paint" out the specular highlights on the nose, forehead, and cheeks. I start with the smallest highlight (tip of nose), then move to the two cheek highlights, and end with the forehead, always going from smallest to largest, changing the brush size as I go. On my next photo, I'll start with the largest highlight (forehead) and end with the nose. This saves a few seconds, which can start to add up after a few dozen such edits. 
  • Spot Healing Brush Tool: I set the brush size to match the secondary catchlight in the eye. One click and it's gone.
  • Whitening Teeth (optional): If the subjects teeth are noticeable stained, I decrease and/or brighten the yellow channel. In a nutshell, you select the teeth, and desaturate and lighten the yellow channel to get a more pleasing color. Don't overdo the desaturation part - you need a tiny bit of yellow or it won't look real.
  • Blemishes (optional): It there was a blemish that was not a permanent facial feature, I might use the Spot Healing Brush to eliminate it.
  • Save The File: When completed, I'd save the file with the added suffix "8x12x300" to both remind me that the image had be adjusted, and that it had a 1.5 aspect ratio.
Cell Phones: Frankly, cell phone selfies slow down the process. But I changed my mind when I realized that these selfies could be sent to friends and family immediately, while my images, while technically superior, wouldn't be available ditgitally for several days, or several weeks in print form. In spite of what I might choose to think, a selfie delivered in a timely fashion might be far more valuable to a family thousands of miles away that a technically superior image that wasn't available immediately. Quality should justify the wait, but for a photo of a loved one sitting next to Santa, this may not be true.

Groups: I got several requests for groups, and my standard answer was "Come back at XX:XX pm."  There just isn't enough time to rearrange the set, and "come back later" is not the same as saying "No".
This Santa Session was probably my best yet, allowing me to hone my technical skills to the point where I might seek employment as a Mall Photographer.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

My friends Mike and Bob wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Veterans Day Vs. Memorial Day

Photo #1
Veterans Day: Besides what we know about Veterans Day (commemorates the end of World War I), I added to that an epiphany that occurred when I submitted two images (Photo #1, Photo #2) for publication in the Journal. Photo #1 was the stronger image, and I thought it would look great on the front page, at the crease, the place most stand alone photos wind up. I thought the blue, white, and red bunting in the background did a good job of framing my bugler, who was playing "Taps" when the photo was taken. Taps. Remember that.
Photo #2
Photo #2 of Major General Alvin was made a relatively close range with a bit of flash added to lighten the shadows. While shaking the hand of a veteran with his right hand, he prepares to present a Viet Nam era commemorative pin with his left. His winning smile and this impressive collection of service ribbons made for a great photo. To his credit, Major General Alvin had a kind word to say to each veteran who came forward to receive his pin.

Getting the photo required a bit of chutzpah on my part. If you look at the background, you an see the audience looking directly at you. I literally had to run "back stage" and shoot forward, the only way I was going to get close enough for the fill flash to have some impact on the exposure. If you look at the back of the man at camera left, you can see the shadows of the flash as it passed through the steel grate that separates me from my subjects. Luckily, I was able to squeeze my lens into the gaps between the supports.  I felt a little funny stepping backstage as I did, but I don't think anybody minded. I beat two other photographers to the "sweet spot",and both had a "Why didn't I think of that?" look on their faces when the ceremony concluded.

The Epiphany: My Editor In Chief  chose to go with Photo #2, and after some reflection, I saw the wisdom in his decision. My first photo of the bugler playing Taps brings to mind a memorial service, or a funeral. Hmmmm. MEMORIAL day. This is a better MEMORIAL Day photo. Photo #2 shows appreciation for VETERANS who are accepting thanks for their service to our country. Living veterans. Veterans Day should have a more celebratory feeling, and to that end, the more appropriate photo was printed.

Photo #3
Ken Rockwell's Evaluation
The Lenses: Photos #1 and #3 were made with a Sigma 170-500 lens I purchased a few years back. It is my Memorial Day go-to lens, providing the flattened perspective that only a long lens, used a a great distance, can provide. I emphasize the distance aspect because those blurred backgrounds are the result of the increased working distances that only a long lens can provide. Check this post for a detailed explanation on how this works. My flutist is playing under a tent-line enclosure, which is the reason for the blown highlights you seen in the distance behind her.

I've owned the lens for a number of years, and rely on it when I need to make a long-distance shot. Like most Sigmas, the zoom rotation follows the Canon standard, which is the opposite of what we Nikon shooters are used to. Due to its size and weight, I've taken to carrying it on a Black Rapid Sport Breath strap that has a broad shoulder pad for comfort, and a screw eye that attaches to the tripod bracket to take the strain off of the strap lugs on the camera body. This bulky lens is truly the "tail that wags the dog", and every effort should be taken to improve the ease of carry. One great thing about the lens is the image stabilization feature, since it would be nearly impossible to hand-hold the lens without it. And since I mount it on an APS crop body, it's really a 750mm lens, making it all the more mighty. It never fails to draw comments from the people I pass, and since it is almost 2 feet long when extended (with the lens hood), it should.

Photo #4
Taking Flash To The Limit: This last shot is a all-to-common photo of a Color Guard preparing to present the colors. The shot is a reminder that DSLRs have their limitations so far as outdoor flash is concerned. Shot at 1/200 of a second with an aperture of F 14, my lone speedlight, mounted in the hotshoe, barely lit my subjects, even when the zoom angle of the flash was quite narrow and the output at full power. The flash, an SB-800, was plugged into an SD-8a battery pack, and the combination gave me a reasonably short recycle time. I carried them both in a Think Tank Skin Strobe, a very handy accessory to have, although I wish it was easier to attach to my belt.

I try to learn something on every assignment, and this time, it was finding a better vantage point from which to shoot. I was very happy with the results that came from taking that chance.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Halloween Hunt 2017

Photo #1
Halloween Hunt is a chance for youngsters to go Trick or Treating on a Saturday afternoon with their parents. A neat trick, this. Kids go from business to business, collecting treats while dragging / exposing their parents into stores they might not otherwise visit. With each visit, they must check off the location to be eligible for a prize at the end of the day. These photos were taken at B Street Books, and here a young woman named Aurora, dressed as the fictional orphan Madeline, gives candy to a family of youngsters.

In retrospect, Photo #1 was actually the best of the lot. All of the faces are visible, and all are looking at the card Madeline is about to check off. I used straight ceiling bounce for the shot, and got enough light bounce for reasonable shadow detail. However, I felt the shadows would be too dark to reproduce properly so I didn't bother to get my subject's names for a potential caption.

Photo #2
For Photo #2, I pulled out the built-in bounce card for some added fill. I still marvel at how this simple addition can improve the foreground detail of the shot, but there can be a double shadow on your closest subjects (one shadow from the light bounced from the ceiling and a second from the bounce card itself. You can see the soft shadow edge following the jawline of the young man in green, but a much stronger one on in the foreground Wonder Woman. This is the shot I would ultimately submit.

Photo #3: 1/859 second, F 4.5, ISO 800
Bounced Fill Light: Moving to the alcove of the event "headquarters", I bounced my speedlight against the ceiling/wall junction behind me to balance the diffused sunlight on my subject's face (Photo #3). The leaf shutter on the Fuji X100T allowed me to use a short exposure / high ISO combination to maximize the output of the shoe-mounted Nikon SB-800 (exposed manually).

Photo #4: 1/500, F 5.6, ISO 800
Bounced Main Light: This last shot is an example of when the flash is the dominant light source. Again, using the walls and ceiling of the alcove as a bounce surface, I was able to get a very nice exposure with no prominent blown highlights. I didn't bother to submit Photos #4 or #5 because I liked #2 so much.

Cute Kids Always Sell: Probably the paramount rule in my community photography is to include some kids in your shot. On Halloween, or on an event like this one, it's a target rich environment.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

About Facing - Where Is Everybody Looking?

Photo #1
This photo was taken in the "Armory" of the San Francisco Opera Company (Photo #1). This small but extremely secure room is located deep within the Opera House, and stores all of the weapons used as props. I happens that a woman from our service area donated three swords she acquired in her travels in Spain many years back. Not a great shot, but the best I could do given the cramped quarters and the rushed atmosphere of the photo. If you look closely, you can see the clock in the background, and trust me, these folks are off the clock and anxious to get home.

I pose to you this question: Who is them  most important person in the group? This might be debatable: Everybody seems to be looking at the woman in white, but based on the placement of the subjects, you might think it's the woman with the red striped shirt. Which is it?

Based on content, you'd guess the woman in white, but based on composition, the woman in red gets the vote. In fact, it's the woman in white, and the confusion points out subject placement is about as important as the direction of your subjects' gaze. To the good, everybody is looking towards the center which keeps the viewer's gaze inside the photo. But the woman on the right, positioned at the horizontal one-third line, is in the strongest position, from a composition perspective. Based on position alone, my Woman In Red (stripes) appears to be the star.

Let's Make A Rule: Yeah, yeah, rules were made to be broken. But when you only have a few minutes to produce a shot, these simple points are worth remembering:
  • Main subject placed in line with the junction of center and rightmost  vertical third, with her/his head about one-third from the top edge of the frame.
  • Main subject faces camera left.
  • All subjects looking towards the center of the frame.
Had I made these two subjects trade places, the photo would have worked much better.
Photo #2
In this shot, a local Judge (fourth from the left) is distributing divorce cases to several volunteer attorneys (Photo #2). For the most part a decent photo, but if I could have gotten her to look up at somebody, she would have increased her importance in the photo. As it was, there is a courtroom full of people just off screen waiting patiently for the proceedings to resume, and I wasn't in a position to impose my wishes in a crowd of people who had everything to lose if I took up too much of their time. Incidentally, this photo was cropped to eliminate some visual distractions on Camera Right. See Photo #4.

Next time, I just say "Your Honor, would you make eye contact with one of the attorneys?"

Photo #3
The Judge looks much better in this Photo #3, but I decided that the expressions weren't serious enough for the occasion. As strange as it might be, I thought this shot had a too much "leg". I still consider my first choice the better shot, but not by much.

Photo #4
You may notice that Photo #4 is the uncropped version of Photo #2. In this shot, you can see the consequences of including too many people. My subjects at the right seem to be having a "side bar" conversation of their very own, and if that was the intent of the photo, I would have run with it. But my cropped version puts more emphasis on the Judge, where it belongs.

Final Notes: Photographing in a courtroom means you have to run the security gauntlet, and  no matter how good you think your plans are, something is bound to go wrong. I was at security at 1:50, but didn't get to Courtroom 6A for fifteen more minutes, and even then I had an escort. And for all my preparation, the shot came down to a series of six images, taken with my camera held "Hail Mary" above my head, using Live Preview to guide my composition, to avoid a cluttered foreground. Lighting was provided by a single, on-camera SB-900 with a Diffusion Dome. There just wasn't time to do anything else. This really only works because my subjects were all about the same distance from the flash, and the background was relatively close to my subjects.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Speedlight Organization

Meeting Joe McNally: I met Joe McNally during the Flash Bus tour some years back, and as is the case in most tours, the speakers offer door prizes based on a variety of criteria. McNally's claim to fame is his routine use of multiple speedlights in his photos, an approach that I often follow. To that end, I've accumulated a significant number of Nikon speedlights, mostly SB-800s, and frequently used them in multiple speedlight lighting solutions. But I digress.

At the conclusion of the Tour, it was door prize time, and Joe being Joe, started by the conversation.

"How many of you have more than one speedlight?"  Fully a quarter of the audience raises their hand.

"How many of you have more than three?" Hands start to drop. My hand stays up. Joe looks around, making a mental note of where the contest winner might be sitting.

"How many have more than five?" Most of the hands are down. My hand is still standing proud. I finally get Joe's attention.

"More than ten?" he asks. My hand is now the last one standing. Members of the audience chuckle, while others grin and shake their collective heads. I won the door prize, a copy of DVD set on Nikon Speedlights, after which McNally offers, with a sly Irish smile, "You need professional help".

Storage Problem Solved: Needless to say, having that many speedlights can cause some small logistical problems, including safe storage that's easy to get to. I found my solution in the form of a 24-pocket shoe organizer from Bed Bath and Beyond. It's actually a little long for the rolling closet my cameras call home, one row being tucked away at the bottom.

Getting Organized. For now, the speedlights are arranged as follows:
  • Batteries Loaded: Facing Up, with domes in place.
  • Batteries Removed: Facing down, with and without domes.
  • Gelled Speedlights: If the speedlights have gels already taped on, they'll be stored loaded, with the domes up, for easy identification.
I think this system has promise, since I can tell at a glance if a speedlight has batteries in place, or if a gel has already been attached. However, it remains to be seen how durable this storage system is, as the sharp edges of  of the speedlights could prove more abrasive than actual shoes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nine Lives Shelter Remodel

I made this photo as a possible "pre-event" shot to advertise an upcoming benefit to raise funds the makeover of this former laundry into the new home for a no-kill cat shelter in the Peninsula. I had visions of showing one of the shelter's administrators talking with the contractor who was responsible for the work. Since the goal was to show the conversion as a work in progress, and that additional funds would help move the project along.

One Setup, Two Shots: To illustrate the difficulty of the re-model, I thought I would include lots of construction debris in the foreground, but remembering that my 10-24 F 4.0 Fuji lens could give you both a wide perspective and a wider perspective, I found my basic composition at the 24mm setting, and zoomed out to 10mm for the wider view. Easy Peasy.

Props: I borrowed two yellow hardhats to suggest a "construction" theme, which they succeeded in doing. However, the Birkenstocks worn by the subject on the right seem to contradict the "safety first" mandate suggested by the helmets. I hoped I was the only one who noticed, but I know for a fact I wasn't.

Lighting: This is a three light setup. The Key (main) light was a radio-triggered Li-on speedlight, which enabled me to adjust the light output from the controller, depending on the look I was trying to achieve.  It is mounted on a light stand about 6' high (I didn't bring a 12 footer) positioned just beyond the left edge of the photo. The flash was feathered up slightly  to prevent over-exposing the foreground. A second SB-800 with a CTO gel was zoomed to thrown a hard, narrow beam of light at the plywood at camera right. I used a Black Foamy Thing to keep the light off of my two subjects. It was mounted on a handy latter using a Justin Clamp. The added warmth suggested the presence of an incandescent light coming from somewhere, and since there are now visible shadows, I could surmise that a single, bare light bulb might be dangling from the ceiling. I liked the inside/outside suggested by the two different light sources.

Oh yeah, there's a third speedlight serving as a low fill. The power was low to prevent the appearance of a second shadow to complete with those created by the Key Light.

The Second Shot: As I mentioned, a second, wider shot could be made once the first was "in the can". By zooming out and adjusting the composition slightly, I have a photo that suggested "big project". Notice that the tight beam angle of the reddish accent light skips over the top of the asphalt chunks on the floor, which helps to keep the viewer's attention towards middle of the photo. Since the viewer's eyes will always be drawn to the brightest area, the plywood background doesn't compete with the open garage door.

I liked how the second, wider shot turned out. I did not submit it for publication, as I was sure that the editor's would have cropped the image to resemble the tighter first image.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Infinite Monkeys With Infinite Cameras

The Shot Seen Round The World: This is probably the most famous selfie on the planet, and perhaps one of the more controversial. For this post, it suffices to say that a relatively random photo, taken by a monkey, can be elevated to a level of technical excellence, thanks to the inherent smarts of a digital camera.

I can't help but compare this to the "infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters" theorem, and if we simply substitute the words "macaque" and "cell phone" respectively, we could draw a similar conclusion concerning great digital images. Hardly a square inch of this planet hasn't been digitally immortalized by an camera or cell phone, and of the trillions of digital images made daily, one shot might prove noteworthy, but would probably be completely unexpected.

I want to make two points. First, if enough photos are made of a particular subject on a particular day, a good image MIGHT be created, based on the law of probability. With autofocus and autoexposure modes, the probability increases significantly. Possible? Yes. Likely? Maybe not.

The other point has nothing to do with probability and everything to do with the craft of photography. If we could know exactly when an interesting moment was about to occur, we could simply walk to a spot, point our camera at a specific direction, and wait for the action to come to us. This never happens - I've never met a truly clairvoyant photographer. But I've met many who where very analytical in their approach, and with some hard earned experience, learned to anticipate where something interesting was about to occur. Setting the camera to the appropriate shutter speed and aperture in advance, the photographer watched and waited.

Click here to read the entire post.
Experience plays an important part in this whole process. After all, experience is the name we give to our mistakes, and the more of them you make, the more experienced you'll become. But remember to analyze the good and bad points of every photo you set out to make, and file them away for future reference.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Burlingame Street Faire - Zone Focusing

Photo #1
This balloon monkey (Photo #1) was one of the more festive art pieces found at a street fair held in my neighbor to the north, Burlingame. Shortly after this photo was made, I had my "Money Shot" safely stored on the camera's SD card, so I was now free to roam about, making photos that I simply wanted to, of subjects that I found amusing.

For these shots, I used a Fuji X100T and used a cheap, no-named radio trigger with a Nikon SB-800 set to non-TTL automation. Depending on the intensity of the existing light, I sometimes decreased the flash output by decreasing the size of the aperture.

Photo #2
Swing Time: Several instructors from a local dance studio were giving impromptu dance lessons , as you can see here in Photo #2. With the wide angle adapter on my Fuji, I now had the equivalent of a 28mm lens. I was able to stay close to my subjects, thus minimizing interference from passers-by. For this low angle shot, I held the camera at waist level, viewing the camera's LCD display from an oblique angle. This odd angle gave me a rough idea of my composition, but without a reticulated display, it was the best I could do, and was essentially  "shooting from the hip". However, it gave me the effect I wanted: a less cluttered background. The reticulated display on the X-T2 would have made it much easier, but I wanted to use high flash synchronization speeds, which only the XT100T could provide. I could also purchase a Fuji X70 for its fast sync speeds, APS sensor, and reticulated LCD, but shots like these can't justify a $700.00 investment.

Photo #3
When shooting at such short distances, one is beset by a different set of problems. Subjects who move randomly (and rapidly) are more difficult to track, even with the most advanced focus tracking systems. Then too, focusing outdoors can be problematic when the subject is lit from behind.

Zone Focusing: Here's a technique that can be applied in situations were your camera is having difficulty keeping up with the rapid movement of the dancers. Instead, I set the camera my X100 T to Manual Focus, and using the distance scale displayed in the viewfinder, chose a distance of 5 feet. Now all I have to do is stand 5 feet from my main subject and shoot when I get the expression I want. It can get tricky, but I learned to move forward and backward with my subjects in an attempt to keep the distance as close to 5 feet as I could (Photo #3).

Photo #4
Here's a closeup of the display on the X100T in Manual Focus Mode (Photo #4). The grey rectangle is the Manual Focus Assist Zone, which for all intents and purposes acts like a traditional split image rangefinder. The focusing ring has been rotated to the 5 foot position.When shooting at an aperture of F 8.0, the depth of field, indicated by the blue line, extends ranges from about 4 feet to 7 feet, a zone that's pretty easy to estimate.

Photo #5
With the focusing issue resolved, I simply let the flash dole out a "proper exposure". I could also experiment with different combinations to produce a flash "key" light, for use it as a fill. In Photo #3 and Photo #5, you can see that by underexposing the ambient light, my speedlight was actually functioning as a key light, with almost no detail in the shadows. In Photo #2, the speedlight served as a fill light.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had used the zone focusing technique many, many years ago, when lenses focused manually and every lens had a distance scale and depth of field markers. Having essentially the same features on my Fuji made it pretty easy to apply this old technique.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Photos For Publications - Composition and Content

Many amateur photographers are asked if they can make a photo or two for possible publication in a club or organization newsletter, or possibly for submission to a local newspaper for publication in the community section. While it is up to an editor to decide whether a photo is run, the quality of the image can influence whether it runs at all.

I have photographed a variety of community events for the San Mateo Daily Journal since 2010. These are the guidelines I follow for my images, and I suggest you consider doing the same.

Arranging For Time: If you know a photo will be taken, arrange for the event organizer to get you subjects together at a specific location, at a specific time.

Landscape Orientation: I always compose my images in the landscape (horizontal) format. Since the caption is placed below the image, the wider text line is the more efficient use of this limited space. Trust me on this one.

Visual Content: Every images communicates to the viewer at two levels:
  • Recognition: The viewer recognizes something in the image that relates to the event. This would be appropriate logos, trophies, or certificates.
  • Inference: The viewer recognizes something to suggests a mood. Smiles, hand gestures, and body posture contribute to the "feeling" of a photo. 

Photo #2
In this particular image (Photo #2), the words "Presiding Judge Criminal" add some intellectual value to the image - you know exactly why the bailiff is armed and why he has a "Don't mess with me" posture . Without the sign on the door, it is only a photo of a bailiff. His facial expression adds to the image. The inference is clearly there. It would certainly not be as compelling a photo if he was smiling.

Photo #3a
Directing The Viewer's Focus: There are several  aspects of this photo that might make it a "first pick". Notice that all of the dancers have a similar stance, so there is symmetry in the repeated triangles of their bodies (Photo 3a).The grill of the truck in the background suggests a marching formation you might find at any parade.

Incidentally, they dancers are just warming up, as making a photograph during the actual parade can be distracting to other viewers. No sense in making it difficult for others to enjoy the actual parade.

Photo 3b
This second variation has one main difference: The dancer at camera left is looking up, directing her gaze towards the middle of the photo (Photo 3b). The two dancers at camera right are also looking towards the middle of the photo. This subtle difference keeps the viewer's attention inside the photo.

There is a single distracting element in the background - the costumed dancer walking out of the frame. The image could not be cropped tighter without cutting into a the right-most dancer's arm and leg. The image is pretty much the way I saw it in the viewfinder, which is to say it was only slightly cropped.

Photo #4
Props: In this shot, you can see that the subject is holding his plaque and the check, making it obvious that he has won an award (Photo #4). One can infer from his smile, and the onlookers in the background, that he's pleased with the presentation. If you look in the background, you can see that everybody is looking at this young award winner.

Photo #5
I made Photo #5 as a record shot of the members of an philanthropic organization, and not the shot I had planned to submit. As it stands, it's a great shot of a group of women, but there is not hint to why they are together. As it turned out, the shot I wanted and the shot the organization wanted were at cross purposes.

The 4 B's: There is a general rule about what makes a good, publishable photo called the "4 B's". Simply put, the most publishable shots will have "Babies, Babes, Beasts, or Blood". One could argue that I met the second criterion, but without any props, the photo has no real context.

This shot from the same organization went a little overboard from the inference, but there is no doubt in the viewer's mind as to what the photo's backstory is. Admittedly, those in the front row say it all, while the back row fills the shot out.

Looking back, I can find a lot of flaws with the photo, many that could have been easily corrected. The reality of the shots include the difficulty in getting everybody together, the time it took for everybody to get their awards, and the five minutes I had to make the photo before the evening's Mistress of Ceremonies began her presentation. And when all is said and done, nearly all of my subjects would rather be doing something else.

Glare: When photographing award recipients, have them tip the awards down slightly. This will eliminate any glare issues. 

Photo 6a

Backgrounds: The background to be used to define the location, and often the relevance, of a photograph (Photo 6a). Here, it's pretty clear who the event sponsor was, and the microphone suggests that that the subject is speaking to a large audience.

I tend to crop to the same proportions as 35mm film (aka Aspect Ratio of 1.5). In this photo, any addition reduction of the photo might lead to clipping part of my subject's left hand.

Photo 6b
This variation was accomplished by zooming in with the lens, rather than moving about in a crowded dining area (Photo 6b). While not essential, zoom lenses allow you to crop you images in a variety of ways without the loss of image quality that comes with extreme cropping.

In both of these shots, the subject placement closely follows the classic "rule of thirds" placement of the subject. This is more about the speaker and less about the sponsor.

Photo #7
The Ceiling As A Background: Unless you are photographing in outer space, there is always something behind your subject. Whether you can actually see it is another story. For this shot, the ship's sail, suspended from the ceiling, suggests the nautical theme of this fundraiser (Photo #7). The photo was made from a relatively low camera position so the sail could be included.

To make the shot, I placed a second flash on the floor and aimed it towards the sail. Some light spilled onto the auction prizes on the left side of the frame. I might add that in the interest of space, the editor cropped out the ceiling and the sail.

Photo #8
This last shot was made in the Redwood City Courthouse, known for its ornate stained glass highlights. Immediately after their last dress rehearsal, I made this shot. It took 8 speedlights to get the effect I wanted: 2 fired from a softbox, one on the floor as a low fill, three aimed at the back walls (these had orange gels to give the walls some warmth), and a single speedlight pointed at the back of my middle subject's head. They were very cooperative, and posed in a manner consistent with their characters. The shot required almost an hour of preparation and only five minutes of shooting time, probably the most time intensive shot I've made to date. It is probably my favorite, and gives you the idea of just how far one might go to achieve some interesting visual results.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Happy Fiftieth, Bill and Dee Dee!

1/25 of a second, F 5.6, ISO 1600, Cloudy White Balance.
Congratulations to Bill and Dee Dee! I was a man with a mission at my friends' 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration, and it was to make a suitable family photograph of the immediate and extended families. It took about six tries to get this photo, which was about the limit of the collective attentions spans. After all, their dinners were waiting.

Here are some tips for those who must photograph groups:
  • Obstructed View: I told my subjects to look down, and if they could not see my shoes, they would need to move either left or right so the camera could see everyone's face. If you look at the subjects at the camera's right, you'll what a difference this can make. In the future, I'm going to ask, in row order for everybody to look down, and it they see the back of somebody's head, adjust their position. In a perfect world, the second row would adjust based on the "heads" in the first row, and the third would do likewise in relation to the subjects in row #2.
  • Head Alignment: I've been told that it's better to NOT have the heads on a single line. With that in mind, I try to get the taller subjects in the back, and open gaps so that they can be easily seen. I have found this to be a worthy goal, but the larger the group, the harder it is do in a systematic way. For this shot, I made a few quick re-arrangements, ever mindful that the longer the process, the squirmier my youngest subjects will be.

Immediate Family: Just after I thanked everybody for their patience, Bill asked if I'd make a shot with just his immediate family, which I was glad to do. Since they were already in place, it was easy.
  • Young Subjects: When doing a series of shots, it's better to do the youngest subjects first, since they get fidgety sooner. Luckily, my little ones were still quite attentive.

Kids Being Kids: If I didn't already have my best shot "on the card", I would have cried if this was the best shot of the session. Since I had my keeper, I included this photo, which in my opinion is great shot of "kids being kids".

Did I Mention Dancing? Bill and Dee Dee are ballroom dancing instructors, and unsurprisingly, nearly all of their friends and dancers, too. When the music started, I photographed a number of couples in action. For this wide shot, I used ceiling bounce with the built in fill card. This gave me much more event "front to back" illumination, although it will require nearly full-power output from your speedlight for every shot. I actually overheated one of my SB-800s, forcing me to swap speedlights mid-session so that it could cool off. The technique worked well for wider shots.

When working at shorter distances, I stayed with the Gary Fong Light Sphere. It's flatter lighting, but more complimentary for nearly all faces due to its "size" and proximity to the lens axis. It wastes a lot of light in large venues like this, but it slam-dunk easy easy to use, and the results are almost always good, so long as you stay relatively close to your subject. One point I'd like to make in favor of the Cloud Dome - It's coverage is VERY wide, so you're less likely to have a falloff of light on the left and right edges.

I had a great time making these photos, and know that Bill and Dee Dee will be pleased with the family shot. As for the dancing, those were mostly for me.