Monday, July 8, 2019

The Godox V1 Roundheaded Flash: Field Trials

Fuji X100T w/ Wide Angel Adapter, 1/640, F 8.0, ISO 200  Godox V1 fired @ Full Power
The Fourth In Foster City:  has a very small town feel when it comes to community celebrations. Just north of Silicon Valley, Foster City  is a young city with an old town feel. The Fourth is an all-day event held at a local park at the edge of a man-made lagoon. I don't usually get great image opportunities, but this year I managed to get three that definitely had Community Page potential by concentrating on the Family and Pet Parade that initiates the event.

This is the first time I had a chance to use my Godox V1 in the field, and while my initial reaction to the unit was quite favorable, some design compromises in the controls gave me some grief. The event also reminded me that purchasing a specialty camera like the Fuji X70 does me no good if I don't bring it with me. More on that later.

The Particulars: I used the Nikon-compatible V1 even though I would be using Fuji cameras. I reasoned that the mixed sunlight/speedlight environment often rendered the TTL metering unpredictable, so I be shooting the flash in the manual mode. I felt confident that with my base aperture of F 8.0, I could set the V1 to 1/4 or 1/8 power to work at distances from 7 or 5 feet, and make reasonable exposures.

1/800th of a second, F 8.0, ISO 200, camera at ground level with flash held overhead.

The Specs Looked So Good On Paper:
In my last post, I listed the many V1 features I loved, liked, and some that I barely tolerated. This little assignment was an "in your face" confrontation of how my real world experiences don't necessarily match those anticipated by the engineers who designed the unit. The biggest problems stem from their attempts to replace multiple external buttons and rocker switches with multi-function, menu-driven interfaces.

Manual Control: My gripe involves my attempts to make manual adjustments to the flash output. The control sequence is not as straight-forward as my beloved Nikon SB-800s, nor is it as forgiving. For example, if I wanted to manually increase the output, I would first initiate the output adjustments by first pushing the knurled Select Dial at the 9 o'clock position, then either rotating the dial clockwise to increase the output in 1/10 stop increments. I might also press the Select Dial at the 12:00 o'clock position to increase the output by a full stop. Finally, I must remember to press the centrally positioned Set Button which serves to lock in the adjustment. By doing this, I would be reminded/forced to re-initiate the complete output adjustment sequence starting by pressing the Select Dial at the 9:00 o'clock "+/-" position.

I was using my dedicated Nikon V1 on a Fuji X100T camera with a generic compatible flash cable. By using the Fuji system, I had resigned myself to shooting the flash in the manual mode. When making these adjustments on the fly, one can forget to re-initiate the sequence for each adjustment. This is exactly what I didn't do, and as a result, attempts to decrease the output were instead changing the output mode to the Repeat/Stroboscopic mode, essentially disabling the flash. It took a little while to realize what was going on, and I was able to eventually get the shots I wanted.

1/500 second, F 8.0, ISO 200, flash manual let to 1/8 power
I just ordered a Fuji-dedicated V1 flash from Adorama, so I'll soon have the TTL option when I shoot. This may  reduce my reliance my manual output adjustments, providing the TTL system accurately assesses the mixed lighting environments I often find myself  shooting in. Like everything else, I'll need to see how capable the new flash is before I rely on the flash's native "smarts" to properly expose my images.

Assignment Notes: There are several Fourth of July celebrations here on the peninsula. Redwood City, the County Seat, gets the most coverage by the paper, and I "front paged" the event only once. These three images were submitted for publication, but none made it to the July 5 or the July 6 Weekend Edition. Something may appear in the Monday Community section. Since these three images are "in play", this post will be published after the Journal appears on the newsstands. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Godox V1 Roundheaded Flash

Read a March 7, 2019 teaser here.
Let's Cut To The Chase: I've been waiting for the official release of this flash for some time. Rumors of its existence, followed by prototype reviews, kept me in rapt anticipation until just this week when they were advertised in a Father's Day Sale supplement from Samy's Camera. Nikon, Canon, and Sony were the first ones out the gate, with the  Fuji version following in the near future.  I went down and snagged a Nikon version, and immediately got it ready to shoot a two-assignment Saturday.

The Hot Stuff

Let's list the things that I really find exciting, even though they may not necessarily be important to you.

R2 Wireless Comparability: The  flash is compatible with my existing R2 controllers, and is has both remote and a commander functions.

Lithium Battery: The V1 uses a battery that is different from those used in my Godox 860 flashes. I understand that the new battery gives the flash a shorter recycle time. The flash itself has a novel doorless compartment where the battery slides into, and out of, the flash body.

Fast Recycle Time: When set to full power manual output, the V1 recycles in 1.5 seconds, a feat unmatched by any other flash or speedlight that I currently own.

Zoom Head: The beam spread is adjustable from 28mm to 105 mm. There is an Auto setting that will automatically adjust the beam angle to the match the lens focal length.

V1: Head zoomed to 28mm                      V1: Head  zoomed to 28mm                     V1 Headzoomed to 35mm
Camera Lens at 20mm                              Camera Lens at 28mm                            Camera Lens at 35mm

Light Distribution: Check out these beam samples. The lighting is even, with no discernible hot spots in the center. This is typical for parabolic reflectors, and the main reason for the popularity of the Armatar conversions for Vivitar flashes.

To test the coverage, I mounted the flash on a D700 full-frame body and used a 20-35mm 2.8 Nikkor. Shooting distance was about two feet from a blank wall. The shoe-mounted V1 was set to Auto Zoom. The first frame shows the falloff when the lens focal length is shorter than the flash's minimum setting of 28mm. In the second frame both lens and flash are set to 28mm. The third from shows a 35mm/35mm pairing.

Standard Head zoomed to 20mm          Standard Head zoomed to 28mm          Standard Head zoomed to 35mm
Camera Lens at 20mm                          Camera Lens at 28mm                               Camera Lens at 35mm

Compare this to the beam distribution for a standard flash head (Adorama Flashpoint Zoom R2). You can see a definite hot spot in the center of the beam when set to 20mm and 28mm. It could be argued that this is an academic exercise, but in actual use, the smooth edges can be a real help if you need to feather your beam to adjust for variations in distance between the foreground and the background, or the left side of frame and the right.

The takeaway from this exercise is that you're likely to have some corner fall-off when shooting with lenses with fields of view that are wider than the V1's widest setting of 24mm. I also  suspect that the flash is favoring the top of the frame due to flash parallax* induced by distance between the lens axis and the flash tube shooting so close to the wall.  These test shots were made with a full frame D700 body, and I suspect that you'll get a much better distribution of light if you used an APS body like the D300. You have to agree that shadows created by the V1's are extremely soft, and while I don't make it a habit of photographing blank walls, it's comforting to know that the usual flash "hot spots" will be minimized.

Head Tilt: The V1 tilt head rotate from -7 degrees down for closeups, to 0 degrees (straight forward) for most shots, through 90 degrees (straight up), and to 120 degrees (past vertical) to allow bouncing the flash high and backwards when the camera is held horizontally. Rapid deployment is good.

Magnetic Accessories: A limited number of accessories are available for the flash, including a grid spot, a snoot, a filter holder, and a set of barn doors. The accessories also work with the accessory round head available for the AD200. I haven't purchased the accessory kit, but I will.

USB Compatible Charger: A small thing, but a reflection of our USB oriented times. The charging cradle, USB cable, and the AC adapter create a  very compact charging unit. Could this be the reason for the different battery?

Control Layout: The V1 packs a lot of features into a compact layout, and depends heavily on the LCD panel to provide feedback on the selections you are making. Most on-board flash controls are accomplished by selecting one of four options, listed clockwise from the top: Zoom, Modeling Lamp (continuous LED lighting), Mode, and Exposure Compensation. Another important feature, the Wireless Selection Button, will be discussed later. It's identified by the sideways lightning bolt at the flash's far right.

Adjustments are then made by rotating or pressing the Select Dial, a knurled, rotating bezel ring that surrounds the four options. The Set Button at the center serves to lock the settings in place.

(1) Zoom: To adjust the beam angle, you will:
Press the Select Dial at the 12 o'clock position by the Zoom label.
Rotate the Select Dial through the available choices, from Auto (zooms in synchronization with your zoom lens), 28, 35, 50, 70, 80,  and 105.
Press the Set Button to lock in your settings.

(2) Modeling Lamp: Let's skip this one. The adjustments are decipherable, but convoluted and too easily forgotten. Hey, you're a photographer. You don't need no stinkin' modeling lights.

(3) Mode: Here is where you select the three on-camera flash modes by pressing the Mode Button:
iTTL: Conventional Through The Lens flash metering. See iTTL Exposure Compensation below.
Manual: In the manual mode, you can dial in the exact flash output in one-stop, for one-tenth stop increments. See Manual Output Adjustments below.
Repeat (stroboscopic): Far out. Groovy. So 1970s.

(4) Flash Exposure Compensation (+/-): This can be used in the three other on-board exposure flash controls available through the Mode setting. Find more details in Supplementary Instructions below.

The Wireless Selection Button: Pressing this button allows selection of one of the following three modes:

iTTL Mode: Wireless communication is off. The flash merely functions as an on-camera flash with access to all the relevant output adjustments.

Master Unit Setting: Here's where your V1 becomes a commander flash. You have the option of three output settings (TTL, Manual, and Off) for the Master Unit and up to 3 Groups.

Remote Unit Setting: Here the V1 becomes a controllable remote light source. Output is controlled by the on-camera controller.

Gripes and Quirks 

Lack of Nikon CLS Compabilitiy: The V1 cannot communicate with the native Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) optical triggering protocol. Admittedly, I'll get over it.

Battery Incompatibility:   The battery is different from those used in the other  Godox/Adorama flashes of similar output. Since I already have 8 Godox 860 compatible batteries, not having to purchase additional backup batteries just for the V1 would have been nice. Also, at the time of this posting, they were not yet available for sale.

Replacement Warrantee: Something new has been added on the repair and warrantee scene: The counter replacement. Samy's , a stocking Godox dealer, will replace, on the spot, a Godox flash that fails within the first year. After that, I suspect one would pay a flat "service fee" which could amount to a subsidized replacement for the ailing flash. I was informed that labor is simply too expensive when compared to replacement. I understand the logic, but it still seems strange that I must now consider my flashes as expenses, rather than investments.

Subjective Summary

All in all, a decent flash that gets high marks for its even lighting pattern. I probably won't miss the lack of Nikon CLS compatibility. The build quality is generally satisfactory, but the clicks on the aforementioned Select Dial are a little mushy, giving the impression that the unit was wearing out prematurely, which it hasn't. And finally, the flash has a lot of features and too few exterior (non-menu driven) controls. Dedicated exterior buttons would be nice. Given time, I'll get used to these minor shortcomings, but overall, the V1 is a very capable unit.

See a You Tube video on the V1 by clicking here. Advance to 4;20 to see the battery.

Supplementary Instructions
iTTL Exposure Compensation: Once you're in the  iTTL, you adjust the output as follows:
Press the Select  Dial at the 9:00 position by the +/- label.
Rotate the Select Dial clockwise to increase the output in 1/3 stop increments, counter-clockwise to decrease. Alternately, you can press the Select Dial at the 12:00 position to increase, or 6:00 position to decrease the output in 1/3 stop increments.
Press the Set Button to lock your settings in place.

Manual Output Adjustments: This is an interesting feature. In the Manual mode, you can adjust the output as follows:
Press the Select Dial at the 9:00 position next to the +/- label, and rotate the Select Dial clockwise or counter-clockwise for 1/10 stop increments , or
Press the Select Dial at the 9:00 position next to the +/- label, and press the Select Dial at the 12:00 or 6:00 positions to increase or decrease the output in 1 full stop increments. This is not covered in the instructions.

*In this case, parallax exists because the center of the flash head is a bit more the 7" above the axis of the lens. Since the test shots were made at a distance of less than 2 feet, there is a significant amount of vertical displacement.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bouquets To Art Pre-Event Photo

1/125 second, F 14.0, ISO 200, Focal Length 32mm (48mm in Full Frame Format)
Okay. This is how the photo was SUBMITTED. I was sent to publicize "Bouquets to Art", an event where local floral designers recreate 18th and 19th century paintings using real flowers. I wanted my photo to illustrate the challenge of combining real flowers, a vase, and the related props to create a three-dimensional tableau of a two-dimensional painting.  

To view source, click here.
I searched the Internet and found a suitable oil painting that could be re-imagined with a few suitable props. I would need an ornate picture frame (to hold the reference painting), a white vase, a candelabra, and some flowers. I was confident that everything on my wish list could be found with little difficulty. 

When I was told that there would be three floral designers (two from Hillsborough, one from San Mateo) I initially decided that the photo would be made San Mateo's Central Park, a suitable location with adequate parking. I would pose them inside a gazebo that was located in the center of a rose garden. By posing my subjects inside, the lighting solution would be much simpler.

I created this mockup with help from the Jack In The Box spokes puppets and then asked for approval from all of the stakeholders. Now I had to find a way to make this happen.

The Framed Painting: I borrowed an ornate frame with a window that was slightly smaller than 11x17 inches, the maximum size for a normal color laser printer. I saved the file on a thumb drive and headed to Kinko's where I made a color copy large enough to fill the frame's window. If you have to create a similar graphic, make several variations, each one slightly larger, because laser copiers won't give you a borderless print option. I then  trimmed the print, sandwiched it between the glass the the foam core backing panel from the frame, and called it good.

The Vase: A quick trip to a charity re-sale store got me a $2.00 round vase similar to the one in painting. 

The Candelabra: I found a sterling silver candelabra in an antique and collectibles store in San Mateo, and asked if I could rent it. The marked price was $105.00, so I was asked to leave a 50% deposit which would be returned, minus $10.00, when I brought it back to the shop.

The Flowers: These I would purchase at Trader Joe's an hour before the shoot. Since I was going "on location", I thought it safer to bring all the necessary props. It never occurred to me that flower arrangers have flowers, and could probably be asked to some a variety of colors.

Ready On The Set: By Friday morning, neither of my Hillsborough subjects responded, and my San Mateo was only available for an afternoon shoot. Rather than drag my lone subject to the Park, I arranged to make the photo in her neighbor's back yard. If you examine the photo carefully, you can see that I'm under a covered back porch. I attempted to align my subject with the only portion of the garden that could serve as a suitable background while being careful to stay off the lawn.

1/250 second, F 14.0, ISO 200                 1/250 second, F 14.0, ISO 200                 1/125 second, F 11/0, ISO 200
In the first frame you get an idea of how dark the background would be rendered at 1/250 of a second. The second frame shows the key light (Godox AD200 with a bare bulb head in an E-Z Box), and the third shot with a lengthened exposure time with a shoot-through flash for fill, which you can see at Camera Left.

You will notice that a landscape composition wastes a lot of space when there is only a single subject.  I would eventually crop the image to a square format to give the editor a little latitude when it came time to fit the image on the page.

I had one flash left, and thought I could use it to brighten the shadows in the background to improve the visual separation. Since I didn't want to walk on the lawn, I couldn't get enough light on the background shrubbery, so I decided to instead create a "kicker" light by directing the light towards the back of my subject's head. Ideally, the light would be placed directly behind, and above, my subject. I settled on this shot where the light stand is visible (sadly) visible in the frame (see image at the top of this post). The light stand was positioned to prevent a highlight on the subject's nose. See below left.
Actual Photo: flash on light stand                                               Future Photo: flash on boom   
Ka Boom! My next task will be to find a way to include a short, lightweight boom in my rolling kit. If I had one, I could have placed the light by the subject's right shoulder, just out of frame, and have the kick light coming from above, and very slightly behind, the subject. This wouldn't require a long boom arm because it would only need to reach half-way across the frame. See above right.

Incidentally, I sent the photo with the lightstand intact. All of the images that I submit for Journal publication cannot be edited to remove visual content. The light stand was there, and (sigh) I must therefore include it. The few edits I will perform are to ensure proper rendition of both shadow and highlight areas.

Epilogue: It is unnatural to create a photo with excessive visually "dead space". As a lark, I re-cropped the image as an 8x10, cloned out the light stand and cleaned up the background a bit. When viewed this way, I believe my efforts to create a meaningful foreground were successful.

True to form, the paper did crop the image to a landscape format, and in doing so eliminated nearly all the details I tried so hard to preserve. 

Next time, I think I can use the Adorama Flashpoint Mini-Zoom that already lives in my camera bag as a kicker. The flash has a rotating/swiveling head, variable power, a choice of radio or optical triggering, and its compact sized. Now I just need a lightweight boom way to position it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Compose For The Background - The San Francisco Youth Symphony

Any violin teacher will cringe when they see this photo. I didn't have the vocabulary to explain exactly how I wanted the hands placed for this shot, but from a lighting perspective, I was extremely pleased with the results. I will be working on lighting the dark "below the chin" shadows, but other than that, I don't think I could have done a better job of balancing the interior and exterior lighting.

Davies Symphony Hall is the most modern of the Civic Center grand venues. The views from the first and second levels are spectacular, and I wanted to make a photo that featured the dome of City Hall in the background. Luckily, the shot would be made between rain showers. The atmospheric moisture helped soften the shadows, while errant clouds became natural reflectors that softened the shadows further.

Since the City Hall background was so prominent a feature in the photo, I wanted to be sure that it was addressed first. The three-step process was as follows:
  • Select the background. In this case, it consisted of finding a spot where the seams between the window panes were farthest apart.
  • Determine your shooting position. This is a good time to select your lens focal length, assuming that the relative positions of the camera, the background, and your subjects will have an effect on the photo's final appearance. This is done by walking towards, and away from, your background until it is properly framed.
  • Mark where you want you subjects to stand. In the end, it's easier to move your subjects nearer to, or farther from, the camera once you background has been established. Since I knew there would be six subjects, I placed two chairs in the foreground the "anchor" the composition. I decided that the arrangement would consist of two musicians sitting and four standing.
This shot shows the two chairs roughly centered in relation to City Hall. I would reposition them to accommodate the final composition, but that was easily done.

At this point, I set up my Lastolite E-Z Box and Adorama AD200 flash on a 12' light stand. To simplify shooting, the light was placed in a high overhead, on-axis position. Because the windows were not perpendicular to the flash-to-subject axis, there were no reflections on the windows.

Photo #1: 16-55 mm F 2.8 @ 16mm, 1/250 second, F 8.0, ISO 200
Photo #1: ROC. This shot is Right Out of Camera (ROC). There is a fair amount of wasted space, and the subjects are not perfectly framed. You can see that the window panes diverge towards the top of the frame. But I was pleased with the balance between my flash exposes subjects and the dome of City Hall in the background.  After checking for blinks, I was satisfied that this frame, coincidentally the last, was the best of the batch. 

Photo #2
Photo #2: Post Production:  Very little was done in post production to adjust the exposure. I did not like the way the two window seams appeared to diverge in the original image, so I did a minor perspective adjustment. I do not consider this a significant alteration, as it doesn't affect the visual content in any way. It is something I could have done in the wet-processing days, so the procedure gets a pass*.

The Final Print: The final print, shown at the top of the post, was cropped to an 8x10 format to tighten the composition further. After the perspective adjustment, no additional processing was needed.

The final photo resulted from a lot of pre-production preparation. The amount of time spent on location selection, camera position, and subject arrangement paid dividends in allowing the photo shoot to run as smoothly as it did.

*Strobist David Hobby's philosophy on "Photoshopping" allows the utilization of any technique that was available to the black and white film photographer who processed prints using a conventional enlarger. Perspective correction consisted of tipping the easel (the frame that held the printing paper) to correct the apparent diversion of parallel lines.  Trust me, it was a tedious process, but it worked.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Rona Figueroa At ACT

The Journal has started a series of profiles of entertainers who have roots on the Peninsula. Rona Figueroa was born in San Francisco and attended Mercy High School in Burlingame. American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco was presenting Rhinoceros, and Ms. Figueroa was cast as Daily, the movie's love interest. 

Arrangements were made to schedule a twenty-minute photoshoot at the A.C.T. offices in San Francisco. When I arrived, Kevin gave me a quick tour of possible backgrounds for the shoot, and in the end selected the open balcony on the seventh floor. The weather was crisp, and gusts of wind kept the air clear of haze. Having arrived 30 minutes before the scheduled shoot, I started to set up the shot.

The only shade I could find were the shadows cast by the support pillars that bordered the balcony. I found this picnic table, are decided to align the nearest edge a convenient picnic table with the shadow of the pillar,creating a narrow shadow where Ms. Figueroa could sit and be protected from direct sunlight.

Lighting would be provided by a bare tube Godox AD200 self-contained flash slipped inside a Lastolite E-Z Box softbox. The unit was then hoisted atop a 12-foot Manfrotto lightstand and anchored in place using the roller bag used to schlep all of the necessary lighting equipment, plus more than enough accessories to handle any catastrophe.

A quick selfie confirmed that at full power, the softbox produced enough light to balance the sunlit background. The softbox was positioned approximately eight feet from my face.

One nice thing about working with a lightstand: Since the distance from the light source to the subject remains constant, I can adjust my camera from my position, shoot, and re-adjust until the proper exposure is achieved.

This quick photo of Kevin confirmed that my exposures were where I wanted them. This particular image was altered slightly by burning in the edges to draw the viewer's attention towards my subject's face.

When Ms. Figueroa arrived, I  had her sit on the edge of the table in shadow of the pillar. We discussed two of Gene Wilder's movies, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein", and was surprised to learn that she didn't know that in 1974, Rhinoceros was made into a movie that starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. After a few minutes, I changed lenses and began to photograph Ms. Figueroa for a tight head shot.

Shifting to a 50-140 mm lens allowed me to increase my shooting distance  to about ten feet, and in so doing changed the relationship between the subject and the background. The background was now reduced to an abstract pattern of soft-focused, geometric shapes. I liked this image, and submitted it for inclusion in the upcoming article.

For a lark, I made this image with both Rona and Kevin. I had intended to send it to Kevin for his Facebook page, but my editor liked it so much she decided to choose it as the featured photo. I did not think the photo would be taken seriously, so I was a little less attentive to my subjects' positioning. I should have noticed that Ms. Figueroa was now standing in front of the table, and was lit by an edge of direct sunlight, as seen on her sweater. and on her face. 

Kevin is the vice president of public relations and marketing for the PR firm handling ACT.  As they both went to school in San Mateo, my editor thought that this would be a great local angle, so she selected this shot to run with the article. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Memorial Day On The Peninsula

1/250, F 13.0, ISO 200, on camera flash
Planting The  Flags: Every Memorial Day weekend, peninsula scout troops come to plant thousands of small flags at the nearly 140,000 graves in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. In years past, the volunteers were nearly always young Boy Scouts. This year, I thought that  I would submit two images: The first would be one with a young Girl Scout planting a flag at the base of a tombstone, while the second would show a more traditional Memorial Day scene.

There was one major problem with this image of the young girl scout: There is no visual clue as to why she was placing the flag in this particular spot. I had included the headstone in some earlier attempts, but after examining the images, I saw that the edges of the polished marble were overexposed beyond correction, which is why I decided to frame the image without it. I might have avoided this by rotating the flash head slightly to camera left, effectively feathering the light away from the headstone. Hindsight is always 50/50, and I'll try to remember this trick when a similar situation is presented.

I will go on record as having spoken with both this young scout and her mother, a violation of the "Thou Shalt Not Interact With Your Subject" commandment that must be strictly followed in cases of unbiased, objective photo documentation. However, a photo like this isn't in the "must publish for the public welfare" category, and with today's emphasis on individual privacy, it is reassuring that my subjects know who I am and what I intend to use the photo for. The San Mateo Daily Journal has a sterling reputation on the peninsula, and after introducing myself, nearly all of my subjects have been extremely cooperative. Since the instructions I gave to my young subject were confined to having her face me and work slowly, the photo is a "managed candid", a depiction of something that really happened. Looking back, the nearly universal subject identification seen in most newspapers may be a way of implying consent to being photographed, and evidence that contact between photographer and subject was probably made.

1/1700 second, F 5.6, ISO 400, no supplementary flash
This second image would be a more conventional image, one that would address the patriotic aspect of the event. The essential visual elements are the bag piper in the foreground and the flags in the background. This was obviously a low-angle shot, a necessity if the flags were to be properly aligned with the piper's head. I made nearly a dozen shots, each one trying to capture the exact moment when the flags were carried aloft by the intermittent wind. I selected this image because it had a little bit of sky to separate the piper's head from the American flag.

Nikon D700 full-framed body, lens focal length 360 mm. Exposure: 1/250 second, F 5.6, ISO 800.  Not submitted.
My Newest Nikkor Lens: In addition to my Fuji kit, I carried a third camera, a Nikon D700 with my new 200-500 mm F 5.6 Nikkor zoom lens. Up until then, I carried a Sigma variable aperture zoom lens which performed reasonably well. This Nikkor received stellar reviews for a lens in its price range,  and was also subject to a Nikon rebate at the time of purchase. It proved heavier and bulkier than the Sigma, but everything about its performance was a definite step up. Did I mention that it is heavy? Very heavy?

This sharpness of this tight crop surprised me, especially with the relatively long exposure of 1/250 second. The NIkkor's Vibration Reduction feature definitely helped, and I'm sure that if I boosted the ISO to 1600 and used a shorter exposure time, the sharpness would have improved. Perhaps that old Sigma lowered my sharpness expectations for long telephoto zoom lenses. At any rate, any doubts I might have had about this purchase disappeared right then and there.

Meanwhile, In Hillsborough: I found out that city of Hillsborough has an annual Memorial Day Parade, and decided to add this event to my weekend agenda.  For the most part, it was a small town parade with an excess of politicians riding in luxurious vintage cars. Between the politicians and the marching bands, the crowd was introduced to a procession of veterans. Captain Jackson Schultz, a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, led the way. In his dress uniform, he was the most colorful veteran, and when I called, "Captain, could you look this way?" he happily obliged.

I was pleased that the paper ran both of these images. It made for an interesting juxtaposition between the young and the old, along with remembrance and recognition.

Between the Saturday flag planting in San Bruno and the Monday parade in Hillsborough, it was an interesting weekend.  I carried the two big Fuji zooms and two backup flashes for both assignments, along with the flash controllers to do some off camera lighting if time permitted. But when it came time to make THE exposure, it was a hot-shoe mounted flash, set to manual, that secured the image.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Wedding Bell Blues

1/180th second, F 11.0, ISO 200

Vintage Wedding Gowns
Wedding Fashions Throughout Time was 
scheduled for May 18, 2018, and I was anxious to make a photo to help publicize the event. Two models would be at the Historic Courthouse for a final fitting of their gowns the week before, so I jumped at the chance to make a flash-enhanced outdoor photo at the Historic Courthouse in Redwood City.

Buy yours here.
Location lighting has become far less daunting since the introduction of the Godox AD200 flash, a self-contained, speedlight sized flash that packs a 200 Watt-Second punch. Not only that, the designers have given a lot of thought into how the unit would be used in the field, and they created a mounting system that integrates both the need to secure the flash itself while providing an attaching point for a variety of light modifiers. They came up with the Glow S-type Bowens Mount Bracket which has a hole to accommodate umbrella shafts at the bottom of the mounting ring. There are also recesses to accept the Bowens mount compliant soft boxes. And as a final pleasant surprise, the mounting ring's diameter is the same as the "lollipop" mounting disk used in the Lastolite E-Z Box softboxes. It costs about $20.00, about what you would pay for a conventional umbrella mount, but much more versatile considering the options you get for mounting light modifiers.

If you bought the AD200, you know it comes with a bare bulb adapter and flash tube. When used, it allows light to completely fill the corners of a softbox's diffusion surface, reducing hotspots and giving a more even light distribution for softer lighting. The clamping arrangement of the  Glow bracket simplifies the mounting of the AD200, and just about any other flash or speedlight.

Get yours here.
With those 200 watt-seconds at my disposal, I didn't think twice about using a softbox. This weekend I used an Adorama Glow 31" x 31", an obvious knock-off of the Lastolite E-Z Box. At about $40.00 (mount bracket included), it costs less than one fourth the Lastolite unit. The softbox collapses into a compact bundle which you then stuffed into its own zippered bag. Adorama thoughtfully provides a semi-rigid case that holds both the collapsed softbox and the necessary mounting ring, allowing you to gather everything you need except the flash itself, and a dedicated triggering device. Since I knew my car would be parked a short distance from where I would be working, I brought a 12' lightstand, mainly for the stability provided by its long legs.

I chose my location, a covered seating area beside the square, because it allowed me to better control my flash exposure without having to deal with any direct sunlight. The image at the top of the post was the best of the bunch, and I subsequently submitted it for publication. But at the last minute, I was asked to pull the image in favor of one showing only one bride.  Since we had been experimenting with a bouquet toss photo, I was able to submit this image instead. 

1/180th second, F 9.0, ISO 200
The visual elements are too spread out for my taste, and this shot would not have been my first choice. Normally, the bride would throw the bouquet over her shoulder, but I needed a face to go with the dress, and this was the result. It is funny that she looks more like she is about to catch the bouquet, rather than having just thrown it. Timing was critical, and it took nearly a dozen attempts just to get this shot. Try as I might, I never got a photo with the bouquet much close than this.

Glare Spots: Softboxes provide a broader light source resulting in a gentler transition from highlight to shadow. I might add that this is not the same as lowered contrast, since that is the result of light bouncing off reflective surfaces such as the wedding dress or bare skin. Softboxes also create huge glare spots on glasses, as you can see here. This photo was not submitted because of the glare, and serves as a reminder that when shooting from a low position, the height of your light source could cause some trouble.

This combination has proven itself powerful enough for outdoor work. I will replace my preferred light stand with a short monopod held by a relatively tall assistant. Hopefully, I may be able to test at Carnaval in San Francisco.

Here's the final image, as it appeared in the May 15, 2019 edition. Again, the exposure proper balance between the shadows and the highlights give both saturation and detail to the entire image, with no inky shadows or blocked highlights.

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 an 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.