Sunday, May 19, 2019

Back To Basics: Backup Flash

Improvised plastic cover in place
You Need A Backup Flash: As photographers, we know that having a backup camera is a necessary precaution. Why shouldn't this apply to flash? When working indoors, you can't always count on high ISO settings to give you enough light to make a proper exposure, so flash may be your only suitable light source.  Having a second flash could save the day if your primary fails. But what if the two flashes could also be used in a controller/remote capacity? I've done this routinely with my Nikon speedlights, but until now, couldn't justify fully buy additional Fuji flashes to fill out my Fuji kit. Since I started to drift away from my usual Nikon DSLR camera solution, I started looking for a way to achieve that same level of versatility while adding as little to the weight of my kit as possible.

Mini Backup: For backup, I have two mini-flash candidates that provide TTL exposure metering for the Fuji: A Nissin i40 and an Adorama Flashpoint Zoom-Mini. Both claim to have controller/remote capabilities, but were initially purchased because they were "cute". The Nissin has fallen from favor due to some performance quirks I can neither explain nor forgive*. However, the Flashpoint unit, a.k.a. Godox TT350F , while modest in size and output, can double as a radio controller for the Godox TT685F that already rides in my bag. The little flash occupies the same space as a coiled flash cord, and offers several distinct lighting (TTL) options:
  • The small TT350F can be used as a radio trigger and the larger TT685F used with an umbrella or small soft box.
  • The large TT685F can be used to provide a bounced fill light, while the small FF350F can be used as a narrow-beamed key light.
  • Both flashes could be used together in a direct key / fill light combination.

Cameras and the protective cover for the Flashpoint were removed to show the general layout
My bag, in its current configuration, accommodates two cameras and two flashes. Stored in the left compartment are two plastic boxes: one for the pancake lens and the other for an assortment of lens hoods, lens caps, and filters.  The X-E1 sits on top. In the center, the folded Adorama Flash Point Mini Zoom minus the improvised protective cover. The X100T sits on top. The full-sized Godox TT685F sits at the right.

Be really REALLY careful when you cut!
Here you see the inverted plastic box with the lid open. The flash cover was made by cutting along the inked line to remove one side and the lid. This little "garage" sits on top of the flash, as seen at the top of this post. If you are careful, a craft knife will work. I used a band saw because it was handy.

Defeating Radio Trigger Delays: There is always a short delay when using radio triggered flashes. As a result, the flash may discharge after the second shutter curtain (a quaint term from when the shutters were made of rubberized fabric) has started to close. When using a focal plane shutter (X-E1), it appears as a dark band across the bottom of the frame. This clipping only occurs when shooting at the maximum flash synchronization speed, or one shorter in duration.

When using the X100 and its "sync at all speeds" leaf shutter, I would normally rely on a neutered flash cable to bypass any unnecessary TTL communication between the flash and the camera. Instead, I could now use the shoe-mounted, TT350F in manual mode and trigger the more powerful TT685F using its built-in optical slave in the manual mode, eliminating the delay. This is done by setting the on-camera TT350F to manual and rotating the head towards the TT695F which has been set to fire using the built-in optical slave. 

While this my seem like an overly complicated game plan, I feel comfortable that given a short period of time, I can meet almost any lighting challenge that might come along. But in reality, nearly all of my work is done with a single, on-camera flash and my flash-at-any-speed Fuji X100T, and these two items are instantly accessible. The fun begins when I have a abundance of both time and energy to make a photo I would really be happy with.

*When used in the manual mode, the Nissin  i40 will deliver a full-power discharge only when the sync speed is 1/250 or slower, based on some simple exposure tests.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Back To Basics - In The Field

May 5 In Wooside: I took my minimalist kit to photograph two Woodside events: The Soapbox Derby, which I found by accident, and Historical Woodside Store, an annual recreation of country life in rural California during the 1880’s. Since these would be conventional assignments, it would be a good way to see if my wide angle / telephoto pairs could meet the challenge.

ISO 200, 1/2000 second, F 8.0. Underexposed by 2 stops, corrected in post
Up Close: Nothing beats a super wide angle lens, but when working outdoors, the flash synchronization advantages of the X100T's leaf shutter give the photographer a clear advantage when it comes to equalizing sun-lit highlights with flash-filled shadows.

From my track-side vantage point, the 28mm equivalent Fuji X100 couldn't give me as wide a view as my 10-24 zoom on an X-T2 body. However, this shot shows the potential of using a flash outdoors, and while the lighting isn't particularly attractive, the driver's expression is easily seen. Unfortunately, the officials in the background are looking back at the next racer, and this detracts the viewer's attention away from racer in the foreground.

Next time, I'll keep shooting in spite of the discouraging initial efforts, and see if I can improve my timing and composition. Holding the camera in my left hand while holding the (cabled) flash in my right hand would have improved the lighting considerably.

1/900 second, F 11.0, ISO 200, flash fill
The Awards Ceremony: This was an easy shot to make, and full of detail. If I were make on suggestion, it would be to underexpose the image by 2/3 of a stop. Failure to do so will result in an overexposure of the highlights, which were properly preserved in this shot. Don't forget that the flash illumination is on top of the light already in the shadows, so a little bit of light goes a long way.  The distance was about ten feet, about the outer limits for a battery powered flash at F 11. But having a leaf shutter in the X100T makes that 1/900 of  second flash shot possible, something a conventional focal plane shutter couldn't accomplish without some seriously geeky equipment tweaks.

Making Rag Dolls: At the Old Woodside Store, two docents were showing groups of children how dolls were made from simple fabric scraps. The room was lit by an single, under-powered light bulb that hung from the ceiling, with some additional sunlight coming through a south-facing window. It suffices to say that there wasn't much ambient light to speak of, so I resorted to wall-bouncing the Godox 685 flash I brought for the occasion. Making a well-exposed photo wasn't the problem. Attempting to create a suitable composition was.

In this first sample, the overall composition was acceptable, but the photo had several shortcomings. First off, the mother and son grouping in the lower left drew the viewer's attention from the seated docent on the right. In addition, the gap between the seated children essentially cuts the image into two parts. Finally, the doll that the docent is making isn't recognizable as such, the brightness and coloration blending in with its background.

In the end, I chose to submit this image. The way the doll's garment is being held, the gaze of the docent, and the two faceless children created a better composition. I wish the docent was a little more animated, but I chose the photo's composition in favor of the expression.

ISO 200, 1/420 second, F 4.0
Eating Pie: Statistically speaking, I am far more likely to choose a wide angle lens when I have the chance to work near my subjects. But in this case, I needed my short telephoto lens for the Pie Eating Contest.  These shots were made in the Aperture Priority mode, and choosing a relatively large shooting aperture gave me backgrounds that were pleasingly out of focus. I was thankful for the white paper table covering which provided enough reflected light to give detail to the shadows. Without it the photo would have had blown highlights or overly dark shadows, depending on which of the two extremes I chose to sacrifice.

1/390 second, F 4.0, ISO 200
When grabbing candid shots, it's too easy to concentrate on your main subject and forget that the edges will often add some context to the photo. Had I seen the expression of disbelief on this young man's face sooner, I might have re-framed the shot to included more of it. As it stands, I can be forgiven because this final crop included both of his eyes, although just barely.

All in all, my lens choices were satisfactory, although I wish I had some zooms for the actions shots. I felt some professional pride in making do with so basic a kit, and felt my cameras were up to the assignment. I was forced to re-think the single flash concept, and I'll discuss some additions I made in my next post.

Postscript May 15, 2019: My editor ran this shot of these two soapbox racers whose car won the Most Original Car award. The photo of the docent holding the doll clothing was also submitted, but not used. I think this photo, taken outdoors with a flash assist, had more detail, better color, and most importantly, two happy kids. 

Using a flash exposure to properly balance the existing daylight allowed me to underexpose the highlights slightly to prevent them from "blocking up". As a rule of thumb, under-exposed the sunlight exposure by 1/2 of a stop, while underexposing the flash an equal amount. Since digital cameras and lenses tend to be calibrated in 1/3 stop increments (the same as the ISO settings, coincidentally), just try to keep your settings near the 1/2 stop range. 

One piece of advice from the film days, underexpose transparency (slide) film to maintain saturation in the highlights. Treat your digital exposures the same way.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

JJC Lens Hoods

Buy your OEM hood here.
OEM = OMG! Lens hoods are a necessity when working outdoors in the presence of other sticky fingers. While their effectiveness in blocking stray light can be problematic, they are very effective in keeping errant digits off the front element of your camera's lens. Depend on it, sooner or later a big, juicy thumb print will find its way onto the front element of your lens, so anything you can do to prevent this should be considered. And if you add the protection provided by a glass UV filter, so much the better.

When the Fuji X100 was first introduced in 2010, it was universally hailed as a contender for the Greatest Camera In The World award, and rightfully so. But one thing did not sit well with most photographers: the inordinately expensive lens hood. Retailing for about $70.00, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) hood was considered far too expensive for what it did, although I never heard anybody criticize the overall quality of the product. As a former film photographer, I had already acclimated myself to the astronomical prices commanded by genuine Leica accessories, But $70.00 for a newly manufactured Japanese product? I don't think so.

There was another issue that may have added to the manufacturing cost of a suitable lens hood. For whatever reason, the 49 mm filter threads, hidden beneath a protective bezel ring, are male (external), the exact opposite of the nearly universal female (internal) threads normally encountered. This means that if you want to mount a filter, you needed some kind of adapter that would have female threads on the camera side AND the filter side, something the Fuji hood addressed. A sticky wicket, none the less.

Get your hood here.
Enter JJC. This Chinese manufacturer makes a close copy (cheap knockoff) of the hood for under $15.00 through several EBay vendors. Workmanship? The hood feels a little gritty when installed, but other than that, it's perfectly serviceable.  And with the money you save you can afford a first-rate UV filter. Just be sure you buy the hood that includes the phrase "filter adapter" in the description.

You may notice the slots cut into the hood. This feature dates back to the original lens hoods designed for use on rangefinder cameras where the slots would allow you to see "through" the hood when using the camera's viewfinder window.

Order your hood here.
Hood For The X70: The OEM hood for the X70 does not have the ability to take a filter. The hood itself looks a little like an inverted bowl with a hole that matches the angle of view of the built-lens' 28mm equivalent angle of acceptance. Perhaps the designers felt the added protection provided by the hood would make a protective filter unnecessary. However, the JJC designers felt otherwise and included a filter adapter similar to the one on their X100 model. The final product is a real winner in my book.

You will notice that the slots have been omitted. Since the X70 does not have a viewfinder, there is no need to provide the see-through cutouts.

Photo source here.
Dedicated Hoods For Specific Lenses: My final JJC purchase was thus rectangular lens hood for my 56 mm F 1.2 lens. In this case, the OEM hood is a simple plastic tube that attaches to the lens' bayonet mounting flange. JJC has copied the rectangular hood format used on some of the Fuji primes, and also copies the snap-on cover in lieu of a lens cap. You can still install a protective filter on the lens, but you cannot install a center-pinch lens cap when this hood is in place.

One might argue that the shallow design of the JJC hood wouldn't shield the lens as well as the deeper "soup can" OEM version, since the hood can also be used on the Fuji 23mm F 1.4 lens. Even if it didn't, the compact design still provides sufficient protection from fingerprints, a hazard I consider far more real than a beam of errant light. And I simply like the way the hood looks. After all, you can never have too many style points.

You can order yours here. Price should be under $40.00.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Playing With A "Toy" Camera

Buy one here.
Busman's Holiday: Sometimes it is nice to shake off the constraints associated with making a photograph. Composition, ISO selection, lens focal length, and color balance all contribute to the making of a good image, but may just get in the way when all you want is a simple "in the moment" image. I remember when I brought my first digital camera, a 3 megapixel, $300.00 Pentax Point and Shoot, to a Rendezvous* more than ten years ago. With no manual controls, I was pretty much at the mercy of the tiny computer chip that governed focus and exposure, and yet these images have become treasured keepsakes of my adventures in "the high lonesome".

Rendezvous Season Arrives: For a lark, I chose my Fuji X70 to be this year's companion camera. It has face detection autofocus, a compact design, and was fully adjustable should the situation dictate. It also has an APS sensor, a reticulated LCD display for waist level and overhead shots, and a native lens that was the full frame equivalent of a 28mm 2.8 lens. In nearly all respects, it's the camera I hoped my Nikon Cool Pix A would have been, but wasn't. While equally compact, the Nikon just didn't have the feature set I have come to expect from a camera, and its quirky performance became something of an annoyance throughout the years I owned it. Luckily, I didn't pay full price for it, as it was obscenely expensive when it first came out.

View photo source here.
Eye Level Viewfinder: I have plenty of experience with waist level and over-the-head perspectives, courtesy of  the Mamaya twin lens reflex (TLR)  that was my first serious film camera. What the TLR camera lacks is a convenient eye level viewing option. For a generation of photographers holding their camera phones at arms length between the photographer and the subject, the need for an eye level optical viewfinder might seem a quaint throwback, I beg to differ, as some photos demand the immediacy provided by this "you were there" perspective. Also, making "on your face" contact with the camera helps to steady things when shooting indoors with longer exposure times. So in spite of the pundits screaming "Don't waste your money" I decided to buy a dedicated Fuji optical finder. I found one on EBay. I paid about 60% of the retail price, and while expensive, it is bright, clear, and had frame lines for the native lens and for the wider (21mm equivalent) view afforded by the Fuji dedicated wide angle adapter, which I also bought.

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Rendezvous At Mary Hill: This shot was taken using the reticulated display, affording me a waist-level perspective that would minimize the distraction of a 21st Century background while emphasizing the fluffy clouds in the sky. 

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Larry's Primitive Camp: In keeping with the 1830's theme, ones campsite should reflect the technology of the period. No pop-tents here, just a simple canvas lean-to held up with wooden poles and natural fiber rope. A single blanket would have been all the bedding available to a woodsman of the time. Since there were restrictions on open fires, Larry didn't dig a traditional fire pit, and didn't unpack any period correct cooking implements. His primitive camp won the Best Primitive Camp Award, but there wasn't any competition, since nobody else took the time to set one up.

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Shooting Flintlocks: Modern firearms produced very little "gunsmoke" but in the 19th century, there was plenty of it. Unfortunately, the lovely clouds in the background hide the smoke and flash associated with shooting a traditional flintlock long rifle. This photo was the best compromise of composition and light placement, and overall, not a bad image.

0.6 second, ISO 200, F 5.6, exposure adjusted in post production
Tom's Camp: My idea of "roughing it" is a bathroom without a tub. This is the view from in front of my room. The photo was made with the camera resting on the open door of my car. Again, the exposure was determined by the camera, and once again, the Fuji  appears to have made a good call regarding exposure and white balance. The evening moon can be seen peeking out from behind the low cloud cover.

As you can tell, I do love the outdoor life, and I'm falling more in love with my Fuji X70.

*"Rendezvous" is a re-enactment set in the heyday of the fur trade prior to 1838. With beaver pelts in high demand for felt hats, adventurers would venture into the mountains for months at a time, trapping the wily beaver, and bringing their pelts to an annual "rendezvous" with traders from the east for the purpose of exchanging them for essential items like flour, traps, and of course, whiskey. Unlike Civil War reenactments, this is not a spectator sport, and is not based on a specific historical event.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Back To Basics: Assembling My Kit

My last "Back To Basics" post covered the selection of equipment typical of what photojournalists 
working in the 1970's might have carried. The requirements were adjusted to accommodate the new digital technology, and appropriate adjustments made to lens selection and other equipment requirements. Nearly all of the pieces for this minimized kit have been identified, and the final camera-specific inventory includes:
  • A Fuji X100 with a  WCL-X100 Wide-Angle Conversion Lens attached,
  • A 27 mm F 2.8 "pancake" prime lens, and
  • A Fuji X-E1 body with a 50 mm F 2.0 WR prime lens.
This gives me four possible (35mm equivalent) focal length lenses: a 28 mm F 2.0, a 35 mm F 2.0, a 43 mm F 2.8, and a 75 mm F 2.0. Also, I have flash synchronization at all speeds in both 28 and 35 mm lengths. Considering the relatively large maximum apertures available using these primes, I have enough lens options for shooting indoor assignments at relatively short distances.

Click here for image source.
In addition to a flash and some essential bits and bobs, all of this will fit neatly into my LowePro Photo Runner 100 (sorry, no longer available, but you may still find one somewhere). Fitting everything  safely within introduced some interesting problems, with some interesting solutions.

Storing The Wide Angle Conversion: In the unlikely event that I need to remove the converter from the front of my X100, I included a 49mm screw-in lens cap. It turns out that this will thread directly into the back end of the converter, and provide protection much more secure than the rubber, slip on cap supplied with the lens. For more details, click here.

Body Choice: In the field, I found  it confusing to switch between Fuji's two different body types (the offset eyepiece bodies like the X100, the X-E, and the X-Pro series vs. the SLR  patterned X-T series). Once when I was on an assignment, I made the mistake of carrying one of each body type, and found myself frequently bringing the camera to my eye only to find the eyepiece in the "wrong" place. Pairing the X100 with an X-E1 eliminates the confusion.

I gained 0.053" by sanding the rear lens cap.
Making It Fit: Initially, the pancake lens wouldn't fit in the storage box I selected. Reducing the height of the rear lens cap might allow lid to close fully, so I clamped a strip of emery cloth on a firm, smooth surface and spent a few minutes sanding off the tiny ridge on the base of the cap. This gave me a bit of additional clearance, but not enough to clear the center-pinch front lens cap. Shazbot.

New Front Lens Cap Needed: I could gain some additional clearance if I used a screw-in front lens cap. The more convenient center-pinch caps were just too thick, and the screw-in caps add very little addition height. I manged to find only one on-line retailer who had them. And m
ind you, I'm doing all of this so that the pancake lens will fit in a $2.00 plastic box purchased at TAP plastics. I suspect I've just elevated my status to Black Belt Uber-Nerd.

I haven't had the opportunity to take this minimized kit on an assignment, but feel confident that once it is fully filled out, I will be reasonably well prepared once I settle on a suitable flash.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Back To Basics, Circa 1970

ISBN-13: 978-0471256922
Great Reads From The 70's: Books have always been a great source of inspiration for my photographic pursuits. Moments Preserved by Irving Penn inspired me to experiment with studio lighting and still life composition. Later, The Viet Nam Photo Book by Mark Jury, along with the work of Life Magazine photographer Larry Burrows, helped me imagine myself as a battle-hardened war photographer. So much for the inspiration. Now all I had to do was develop the technique.

I found Milton Feinberg's  Techniques In Photojournalism in the stacks of the City College of San Francisco Library. If memory serves, I was the first student to check it out, and subjected it to many, many renewals. This was the photojournalist's lifestyle I was looking for, minus the danger.

35mm photography was experiencing its own growing pains. While the choice of the new generation of "concerned young photographers with expensive cameras and their just-so faded blue jeans"* was indeed the Nikon F, commercial photographers hadn't fully adopted the smaller format, relying on 2 1/4" roll film Hasselblads and Rolleiflexes with Norman or Stroboflex flashes for serious color wedding and location portraiture. To carry a 35mm camera on so important an assignment was to be branded a heretic.

From Anatomy Films. Click here.
News photographers were quicker to adopt the 35mm rangefinder, with the German Leica and Contax cameras providing convenient backup for the clumsy  Speed Graphics of the day. A suitably equipped camera bag included the camera itself, a dozen film holders, each the size of a slice of bread and capable of capturing two images each, and a pack of flash bulbs, each the size of an apricot. Needless to say, the reduction in weight and bulk afforded by a 35 mm "kit" was indeed welcomed.

From a post on Film Locations in London. Click here.
I am reminded of the minimalist aspect taken to an extreme. In this photo, a screen capture from the movie "Blowup", a photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) returns to  his Rolls Royce convertible after completing a photo essay in a gritty men's shelter using only a Nikon F hidden in a paper bag. And if you don't believe me, watch the movie! Minimalism at its least.

Advance To 2019: Nearly 50 years later, I find myself looking for that minimalist approach to equipment when I'm positive I won't need an extreme telephoto or an ultra-wide angle lens. Outdoor location event shooting is a prime example. Lately, I've found that a Fuji X-100 with the wide angle adapter attached has proven adequate for fully 99% of my submitted images. But when on an assignment, I still need to have a backup camera, just in case something goes terribly wrong.

Mr. Feinberg's minimal kit, as echoed by Popular Photography's Bob Schwalberg, included two bodies and only two lenses: a fast 35 mm lens for general work and an 80 mm lens for tight head shots. Since my Fuji combination allowed me the equivalent of a 28 mm lens with, and a 35mm lens without the WCL-X100 adapter, I needed to add the equivalent of that 80mm lens just to stay with program. Until recently,  I had carried a second Fuji X100 with the TCL-X100 telephoto adapter semi-permanently mounted. This converted the camera's existing lens to a 50 mm equivalent, a painfully modest gain in focal length, considering the bulk it added to the otherwise compact X100. When used wide open, the images from this combination were disappointingly soft, so the combination was seldom used.

My solution was to purchase a Fuji X Mount 50mm F 2.0 WR lens. My reasoning was simple: I needed a companion WR (Weather Resistant) lens to accompany my 35mm WR lens should I be called upon to photograph under damp conditions. My choice made sense on many levels. When mounted on a WR body like my X-T2, I shall fear no mist though I walk in the valley of  drizzle. The lens is relatively compact, relatively fast, and certainly less bulky (and less dear) than my 56 mm F 1.2 lens.

Fuji X-E1 with 50mm F 2.0 lens (left) compared to an X100S with the TCL-X100 telephoto adapter.

You can see in this side by side comparison just how bulky the adapted X100, shown on  the right,  is when compared to the 50 mm F 2.0 WR mounted an X-E1 body, shown on the left. Based on size alone, the choice was a clear one, but while I solved the 75mm lens dilemma, another potential problem presented itself. concerning how one properly equips a wedding photographer. The author of a column written for Rangefinder Magazine stressed the importance of a backup camera system, not just a backup camera body or lens. If your primary camera should fail after the first photo is made, you should be able to complete the assignment using your backup camera, a "suitable" lens, a compatible flash, and enough film to complete the assignment if your primary and backup cameras don't share the same film format.

Order yours here.
Because it would be almost impossible to complete an indoor assignment with only a short telephoto lens, I will add my compact 27mm F 2.8 "pancake" lens to the kit in case my short-lensed X100 fails. Mounted on the XT-2 body, I'll have a 42 mm lens equivalent, a usable indoor focal length.  Its compact size should make it easy to tuck away in some unused corner of my camera bag, assuming I can find some way to ensure its safety in transit. I suspect that a small plastic box can be lined with foam and pressed into service, and when one is found, I'll do just that.

Content for the moment, I must now find a matching purse to carry my new ensemble.

*The "Concerned young photographers" quote came from an article in Popular Photography in the 1970's. It poked fun at the emergence of of the 35mm SLR as the trendy fashion accessory of the "hip" generation. Groovy.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Last Ship

Music And Lyrics By Sting: A  special press event was scheduled by SHN San Francisco to publicize the addition of "The Last Ship", with lyrics and music by Sting, into the February 2020 lineup. We were told there would be a surprise "guest" singing at the event, although there had been some speculation that Sting himself would be present. His starring role in the musical was not made public until the day of the press briefing.

Sting's easy, folksy style was a good match for songs lamenting the decline of the ship building industry in northeast England in the 1980's. During an interview for KGO television, he asserted that this was a story about the fracturing of the social contract, and the proper role of government in the lives of workers. The sincerity of his beliefs was clearly evident in the lyrics of the songs, warning of the social consequences of having the foundations of a working class lifestyle begin to crumble from beneath.

I was asked to submit two variations on the Sting photo. The first was for a future article that might need an appropriate head shot. My first/best choice was the image at the top of the post, with my second, third, and fourth choices in the three-paneled composite beneath it. The second shot, a "Page Two", would be a photo that could stand on its own with a three sentence caption. This shot shows singer Oliver Sevale performing a duet with Sting, which provides more visual context than my preferred head shot.

How Sausage Is Made: Sometimes these theatrical pre-events are much less glamorous than the performers we're sent to photograph. In the case of the Golden Gate Theater, located in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, it can be a little dicey, so I wanted to get my equipment and myself off the street as quickly as possible.

I arrived about 30 minutes before the event was officially scheduled to start. This was an advantage because the security staff immediately allowed me in when I said I was told to "check in" when I arrived, which  is true. This is the stairway leading from the street level Stage Entrance down to the stage level, as dark and drear as any place I've been asked to photograph.

Slowly but surely, additional media teams arrive, and the stairway started to get a little crowded. At the appointed time, the video crews were allowed to set up first in the designated area behind three rows of chairs reserved for print media and SHNSF's VIP guests. We filed in slowly, taking our seats or positions where we thought the viewing would be best.

The performance area was prepared on the stage, with the performers facing the background and the photographers facing the audience. There was barely enough room for the chairs and the video tripods behind them, but somehow we all managed to squeeze into the allotted space.

The allotted space consisted of the stage itself. The media were positioned with in front of the background, facing the audience. The three rows of seats in front of the media riser were soon filled, but I managed to work my way forward in an effort to grab a view of the audience, as my Editor wanted to include some "ambiance" photos in case they were needed. I didn't stay long because I didn't want to lose my spot in the media area.

This videographer makes some final adjustments on his camera. As I mentioned, video crews were allowed to set up before the rest of us were allowed to enter. I positioned myself at the leftmost edge of the video group since videographers invariably pick the best vantage points.

I caught an event photographer talking with audience members just before the show began. She may have been a member of Altizier's Army, judging from the ubiquitous Gary Fong Light Sphere mounted on a Canon DSLR.

The theater's ceiling fixtures could have made in interesting composition if I magically cleared the room, moved closer to the main subject, and adjusted the composition to best advantage. Alas, the tight quarters made that impossible to achieve a composition more creative than this one. Oh well, file this one away for future reference.

The cast consisted of the two major singer/actors, Sting himself, and a keyboardist. A variety of songs were performed, and the audience went away with a clear understanding of the message hiding just beneath the beautifully crafted songs. Normally, I am unaware of what is being said, or sung, choosing instead to concentrate on any facial tells that might warn me of a change of expression or a dramatic gesture. This time I heard and internalized every heart-felt word.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Huh? What Did You Say? Ear Plugs?

The city of Millbrae held a Lunar New Year Parade this year. So far as I can remember, this is the first time that a Chinese dragon made an appearance, courtesy of the Mills High School Dragon Team, an event far grander than the usual Lion Dances used to bring good luck to grand opening of a Chinese owned business. In many cases, martial arts clubs will offer to perform the Lion Dance, complete with drummers and firecrackers, in exchange for a donation to a local charity.

In spite of the exaggerated perspective introduced resulting from a wide angle lens, you can get an idea of how many people are required. I found a You Tube clip of the Mills High School Dragon Team performing during the 2019 San Francisco Chinese New Year's Parade here.

Heavy Overcast Days: Shooting outdoors just before it starts to rain can be the worst possible lighting environment. All of the colors lose their saturation. I could have achieved better results if I positioned my flash farther from the lens axis (it was shoe mounted), but sometimes, when working so close to subjects who are trying their best to ignore me, it just isn't possible. I had to be content with just adding some visual content to the shadows, even when it wasn't really necessary.

Ear Plugs? Huh? I was standing about three feet from the drummer in the lead photograph. This is not the first time that I placed myself close to an enthusiastic drummer or overly ambitious woofer or tweeter. And while I regularly suffer from the incessant whine of tinnitus, I need to take steps to prevent my hearing from getting any worse. So I'm adding some disposable earplugs to all of my carry camera bags, just in case my next photo puts me next to something really, really loud.

The little plastic container is a GI surplus case issued to the troops for carrying their own earplugs for use during marksmanship practice. The handy chain will allow me to attach it to any available strap where they will be seen, and used. It will easily hold two pairs, just in case Cissie needs some protection, too.

For those of you who don't have the need to have a dedicated plastic case, hardware stores often sell foam earplugs sealed in plastic and packed in pairs. This is a much better solution, so long as you can keep them from getting crushed at the bottom of your kit bag!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Your First Flash - Using The Commander Mode

Vocabulary Is Funny: Adorama describes this product by what it is, whereas Nikon describes their products by what they do. This is the Adorama "transmitter". If it were made by Nikon, it would be called a "commander". Much more accurate and much less contentious than the "master' and "slave" terminology I used, without thinking, back in the '80s.

I stated in an earlier post that you might consider the AA Adorama AA-powered flash as your first primary flash, and later consider purchasing a second, Lithium-Ion unit as your new primary and your first flash as your backup. But having these two flashes offers another possibility: You can program one flash to serve as the Commander and the other as the Remote.

This posting will give some details for using one Adorama/Godox flash to control another one. Both flashes must have the same group and channel assignment.

When Radio Shines: I knew this would be a tricky shot to set up. In terms of exposure, I was attempting to balance the exposure provided by an off-camera flash with the spotlight directed at the creche visible near the right edge.  I also needed to get the flash (a Godox AD200) high off the ground to show the folds of the gown, while far enough away to minimize the relative distance between the foreground dancers and the heavenly host in the background. This resulted in my using a 8' light stand to support the flash and placing it about 20' away from my main subject.

While it would have been possible to use an optical TTL mode (Nikon's TLS system, for example), I chose to use a radio transmitter mode. Doing so freed me from having to worry about aiming a shoe-mounted flash directly at the remote unit, a task made difficult by my low shooting angle and constant re-positioning.

Channels And Groups: Let's get two definitions out of the way.
  • Channels allow you to select a "broadcast frequency". If two photographers are using identical settings, they will be triggering each others flashes. You can change the channel from 1 through 4, and hope your fellow photog didn't do the same! Just remember that all of your flashes must be configured to the channel you chose.
  • Groups allow you to designate a number of flashes to behave in identically. Raise the output on two flashes set to Group A, the both will respond identically. You might normally do this when you need to use several flashes to achieve the illumination level you need. I don't know if there is an actual limit to how many flashes you can put in one group.

Wireless (Mode) Selection Button: The flash has fire connectivity options which you can select by pressing the Wireless Selection Button and moving through the options. If you check the red arrow, you can locate it on the back of your flash.

In this flow chart, you can see the selection sequence, starting from the On-Camera iTTL Flash screen. This the basic on-camera flash mode, the one you'll be using when using the flash for bounce flash situations indoors, or for shadow fill outdoors. Notice too that the backgrounds change from green (commander mode) to orange (remote mode) as you make your selection.

Some Reminders:
When you have two Adorama/Godox flashes, one can serve as your commander and the other as your, depending on which option you choose.

When using the Nikon's pop-up flash as a commander, you would go straight to "Nikon iTTL Remote" and set the group and channel to match your existing pre-sets.

The commander and the remote must communicate using the same "language". An R2 Radio Controller can only communicate with an R2 Radio Remote. A Nikon iTTL Controller can only communicate with a Nikon iTTL Remote. If you took P.E. in a public school, think "shirts" and "skins". You're either one or the other.

The only time you would choose the Nikon iTTL Controller mode is when you are including some Nikon compatible speedlights in the mix. The advantages of radio control make this mode a poor second unless you have a good reason to do so.

Phil Steele has a wonderful explanation on how to configure a R2 transmitter. Even though he uses a Canon camera, the setting of channels and groups applies. Click here to view his instructional video.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Your First Flash - Applications

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In my last posting I offered an opinion the there was an affordable  flash that would be an excellent first purchase for the event photographer who wants to up his or her game. It is the Adorama Lithium Zoom TTL R2, aka the Godox V860. I added this powerful flash to my collection because it utilized an 11.1 volt rechargeable lithium-ion battery that provides very fast recycling time. I have one for Nikon and one for Fuji, and the latter has already earned a permanent place in my bag. I suspect the Nikon version will soon replace my speedlight plus SD-8a battery pack for "running and gunning" where the quick recycle time is a welcomed plus.

If you read my previous post, I suggested the AA version of the flash, the Flashpoint Zoom TTL R2, as a starter unit. I actually jumped directly to the Lithium Ion version because I already had six batteries I used with the earlier R1 flashes, so I had no additional expenses beyond the initial purchase. If money is an issue, this less expensive AA version will serve you well in the beginning.

The best thing about this Godox flash is its ability to properly interface with the (optical) Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) which gives you control over multiple remote flashes using the commander function available through the pop-up flash on the mid-priced DSLR bodies. If your body doesn't have this feature, you could purchase a Nikon SU-800 to serve as a controller, program a suitable Nikon speedlight, or purchase and configure a less expensive Adorama R2 flash, which is actually the least expensive alternative.

There are limitations to this handy feature: The Nikon CLS system relies on Pulse Modulated Light communication between the on-board commander and the remote speedlight. As such, the user must consider:
  • The pulses (short light bursts generated by the controller) must be in the "line of sight" between commander and remote. 
  • The working distance is somewhat limited, and can vary depending on which commander you choose, the SU-800 and the built in popup flash being less effective than an actual CLS compatible speedlight like the SB-900. 
  • Ambient light affects the maximum usable distance between the commander and the remote. The system is most effective indoors in subdued light, and least effective outdoors under bright sunlight. Shielding the remote sensor and "aiming" the controller's head directly at the remote will definitely help. As a quick estimate, assume the commander to remote distance at 10' outdoors, 30' indoors, conservatively.
So What Can I Do Now? For the moment, let's assume that your camera body has the commander function, and that you purchased either of the two recommended Adorama/Godox flashes. How can flash up your game at no cost, or with a modest investment in equipment?

Outdoor Fill Flash: By simply mounting the flash in the hotshoe and aiming it directly at your subject, you can add detail back into the shadows. If you look at the underexposed people in the background, you can see that the exposure was set manually to enhance the sky and clouds.  The flash was set to fully expose the foreground subject, and because she is brighter than the background, the viewer's attention is drawn directly to her. No cost.

Outdoor Bounced Main Lighting: I am standing with my back to the wall beneath the second floor walkway. The walls are off-white in color, so any color contamination is minimal. The walkway above me helps concentrate the light on my subjects, who are only 6 feet away from me. The flash is still mounted on the camera, but aimed above and behind me. No cost.

Indoor Backward Ceiling Bounce: With the help of a piece of soft plastic and a rubber band, you can re-direct bounced flash at the ceiling behind you, which gives the light a more pleasing appearance with full illumination in the eyes. Typical ceiling bounce gives "raccoon eye" shadows, but re-directing the light in this manner will eliminate the problem. Check out the Black Foamie Thing. Cost is $3.00 or so.

Ceiling Bounce With The Flash's Built In Bounce Card: Nearly every modern accessory flash has a built-in bounce card hiding inside the flash head. If it didn't, you could do what photographers did in the last century: use a rubber band to attach a 3" x 5" index card. Easily withdrawn, the bounce card provides a tiny bit of light to illuminate the raccoon shadows that result from "straight up" ceiling bounce. There is a "Goldilocks Zone" (not to hot, not too cold, but just right) from four to eight feet where the card is most effective. Too close and the results are too "hot", too far and the improvement will be negligible. No cost.

Stofen Type Dome: Whenever a flash or speedlight goes into my bag, it wears a diffusion dome of some sort. I find it much faster to remove the dome for bounce shooting than to fumble about finding and installing it when needed. The dome improves your lighting in two ways. First, by elevating the head to a 45 degree angle, you raise the position of the light and additional 2-3 inches higher, which re-distributes the placement of the highlights on your subject's face. Second, it doubles the size of your light source, which softens the edges of your shadows especially when photographing at relatively short subject-to-camera distances. Cost about  $10.00 to $15.00, depending on the brand.

Gary Fong Light Sphere: If I were to choose one light modifier for your on-camera flash, it would be the Gary Fong Light Sphere. I was a relatively early adopter, and own almost every iteration made over the last 10 years. The light is placed well above the lens axis, and the relatively large lighting surface decreases the chances of burned out highlights. It is the absolute go-to modifier when you don't have walls or ceilings to bounce from, as when I found myself in the middle of a dance floor. When you follow the simple exposure guidelines (high ISO setting, underexposed background and slightly under-exposed flash-lit foreground), you really can't go wrong.  The Adorama's flash head is big, and it Light Sphere's current "universal" mounting system will just fit the Adorama's large head.They cost about $50.00.

Off Camera Flash: One of the best known proponents of off camera flash photography is David Hobby, a former Baltimore Sun photographer turned full time blogger. I started reading his blog some time after I began building my CLS collection of commander and remote flashes, but after studying his postings, have come to rely less on TTL flash automation, and more on  his manual approach to flash exposure. If your camera has the flash commander function in the pop-up flash, you can immediately explore the possibilities of creative light positioning and enjoy the resulting uptick in the quality of your photographs.

Pop-Up Commander: To configure the pop-up flash to perform as the controller, click here. It's kinda corny, but it works. You may need to view it a few times before it makes sense.

Off Camera Flash With Side Lighting: If you look at the  shadow cast behind my subject's ear, you can tell the the flash was placed to my left. The highlights on his edges of his nose and cheek come from a spot light located just across the street. This photo is not how you expect flash photographs to look. The flash was held aloft about 7 feet from my subject. Cost would be nothing if you have a tall friend with long arms, but  if you need to buy a monopod, you can buy one new for $30.00. (new), or you can look for one at a garage sale or camera store junk bin for much less. Don't try to use a selfie stick because they just aren't strong enough.  Attach a cold shoe on the threaded end (about $10.00) and you have it made. Of course, you could get an old broomstick and attach the flash to one end using duct tape, but you'll earn no style points!

Off Camera Flash With A Shoot Through Umbrella: A shoot-through umbrella was positioned just outside of the field of view at camera right. The "elbow" is underexposed by about a stop, and the flash output decreased by about one-half. It's a trial and error proposition, but with a little practice, you be producing images that are very acceptable on the first shot. It's all in the settings. The cost for all of the necessary bits may be more than you care to invest, but the results will be worth it. Some details on how I carry it can be found here.

The next post will talk about transitioning from Nikon's native optical triggering (CLS) to the Adorama R2 Radio triggering system.