Sunday, April 29, 2018

Flash Controllers In Tandem

When I made the transition from Nikon's Creative Lighting System to a full manual lighting approach initiated by my shift to the Fuji system, I most missed the single, on-camera controller that allowed me to control my three groups of dedicated speedlights with my camera. My transition to a more traditional manual control process came slowly, and as a result, much of my Fuji centered light solutions required a mixture of different platforms being used.

Most recently, the star of my lighting show is the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 flash. The obvious selling points, namely the bare tube options and the 200 watt-second output, totally won me over, and as you can see, the controller is mounted directly on the camera, since this flash is normally the key light. The hot shoe on the top of the controller allows the user (me) to mount a second device, which could be a TTL flash or another radio controller.

For the Linkedin photos described in the last post, I mounted a radio controller, similar to the Pocket Wizard I installed for the photo, to control the background and kicker lights. This way I could control the key light with the lower controller and these two supplementary lights using the upper controller.

Making The Shot: Ever since I started "painting with flash" on my closeup product photos, I've tried to infuse a greater level of control with each new shot. Here, I'm centering up the background light around the uppermost flash controller. Before I started making these test shots, I devised a sequence align my subject, the background splash of light, and the camera I would use to make the actual photo.
  • Step #1: Taking Camera and the Controllers: First, I mounted the taking camera, a Nikon D70s with a Macro Nikkor lens, on a tripod and aimed it towards a blank wall. Next, I moved a second tripod carrying the camera and the shoe-mounted controllers until they were nearly centered in the frame. Final framing adjustments were made at the camera position.
  • Step #2: Aligning the Background Splash: Using a Nikon SB-800 speedlight with a Impact Strobros Snoot, I made exposures of the blank wall, adjusting the speedlight until the splash was in the center of the frame and behind the controllers.In the first and second shots of the triptych, you can see my first shot was low and to slightly to the right, the second just to the right, and the last shot spot on. You can see that the colored background was added for that last shot.
Why So Dark? I purposely underexposed the background splash because it would be triggered optically by my hand-held softbox. Since I planned on using eight pops, the background would received eight mini-splashes, which when added together would give me a suitable exposure.

Lighting The Subject: With everything in place, I turned out the room lights and set the exposure to 20 seconds. After I tripped the shutter, I used multiple pops from a speedlight mounted in a small, 12"x18" softbox to light my subject. I popped the flash a total of eight times, changing my position after each firing.

After this test, I noticed three things I didn't like. First of all, the controllers  looked a little static when they were turned off. Next, the lanyard attached to the Pocket Wizard was very distracting. Finally,two large hot spots appeared on the right surface of the controllers.

Removing the lanyard was easy enough, and I solved the glare problem by changing where I stood when I made the background exposures. By directing the light in a perpendicular path with the side of the controller, I was able to eliminate the hot spot.

This next attempt is very close to what I had in mind. I hadn't anticipated the overexposure of the LCD panel on the lower unit. I scratched my head over this one, but came up with a suitable work-around.

The LCD panel will light up when any of the control buttons are pressed, and will stay on for about 30 seconds. Up until now, I had turned it on, and immediately press the Nikon's shutter release to start to 20 second time exposure.

To decrease the brightness, I pressed one of the flash controller buttons, and counted to fifteen before tripping the shutter. This reduced the amount of "on time" relative to the exposure time, and resulted in the panel being a bit darker, just as I had hoped.

When looking at the final image, you can see that the numbers are barely visible, even with some judicious darkening/burning of the numbers. The LCD panel wasn't that bright to begin with, and the result is about as close as anybody could get considering the lack of contrast.

Ta-Dah! Here's the final shot. There was some judicious level adjustment and the work done to improve the visibility of the numbers and some cropping to straighten up the image, but other than that, nothing else was done.

Looking back I was a little surprised on how much stray light "landed" on my background, a problem I could have solved by moving the background farther away from the subject camera. I was working in a relatively small workspace, so such an adjustment wasn't practical. Also, the lower flash controller blends in with the subject camera, a problem easily solved by a lower camera angle.

Finally, it's important to know that because I am hand-holding the small softboxes, the lighting will vary slightly from shot to shot. Notice that when I solved the glare problem by changing my lighting position, I inadvertently removed the highlight necessary to separate the lower controller from the Fuji camera it was mounted on. I'll remember that when I have to make a similar shot under similar circumstances.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Linked In Headshot

After 32 years working as an adult educator, it's time to call it quits. In the vernacular of the 70's, I'm officially "short', or within 100 days of the end of my tour of duty. Trained as an educator, worked as an educator, and retiring as an educator is something of an anomaly these days, but an opportunity I am profoundly grateful for.

LinkedIn: One of my final duties was to create a lesson plan for a series of classes to address the advance of digital technology into the area of job hunting. My idea was to present three classes: Effective Business E-Mail, Resume Fundamentals, and Creating A LinkedIn Profile. My goal was to start from a strong resume and use the text to populate the Linked In profile. The final step would be to provide each student with a suitable professional-looking photo for that profile. Even though it was a small class, I was determined to give it everything I had.

Lighting: For lighting, I followed Monte Zucker's classic two-light setup: A large key (main) light source (a Wescott soft box) and a hair or "kicker" light (a small soft box with an egg crate grid). Fill light was provided by a soft silver reflector opposite the key light. I added a small speedlight with a parabolic reflector was used as to light the background for a total of three.

Check out my simple lighting diagram. With the subject in the center, we see the following:
12:00: The speedlight aimed at the background:
02:00: The kicker light, a smaller soft box with an egg crate,
05:00: The soft-silver reflector,
06:00: The camera, and
08:00: The large Westcott soft box, angled slightly away from the subject, would edge light the subject and provide lots of light for the reflector.

I have used this setup without the 12:00 background light when used with a shoot through umbrella, since some light from the main light source could be feathered to light the background. While this works, the two-light setup can be hit or miss, and I wanted to experiment with a dedicated background light.

Format: Linked In will upload the user's profile image and present it in a circular format. To insure a reasonable composition, I decided to shoot using a square format. I could have used a Fuji X- body, but went instead with a Nikon D7200 DSLR with my 24-70 2.8 lens. Even though I would be wasting 33% of my pixels, there would be more than enough for a good, sharp image.

Using this more convention pose, you can see that the square easily transitions to the round format. Looking back, the circular crop might look better if it were position more to camera right (better shoulder balance), but since it would appear no larger than a nickel on most computer monitors, I would be splitting hairs if I were to attempt another crop. The left shot, cropped to a convention 8x10 format, looks just fine.

The class was quite small, and while not sustainable without more students, it may pave the way for similar classes in the future. Having two hours to produce a half-dozen head shots was more than enough time, so I spent as much time as I needed to get the best possible results.

The next day I received a lovely note from one of my subjects. I printed her comments here.

"...I really appreciate all your time and effort in having our pictures taken and for the lessons for effective communication. My children commented that I look great and my photo was taken by a super professional photographer. I said that Tom is very professional and kind indeed..." 

This made it all worth my while.

Some technical hacks will be described in a future posting.