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.