Sunday, November 17, 2019

Grids For The Godox Round Head Flash

Four Of A Kind: As is my habit, I often go overboard when I buy light modifiers. In my quest to achieve a round, smooth-edged highlight, I purchased a total of four dedicated grid disks for my Godox V1. I was disappointed by the results I got when I used a single grid, and concluded that by stacking them, I could produce a tight, concentrated beam. The strategically placed magnets on the Godox grid's bezel made stacking very convenient, and increase the potential for creating a variety of special effects.
To get an idea of the effect of stacking, I mounted a Godox V1 flash on a D70s body with a 19-35 Tamron lens set to 19mm. I then photographed a blank ceiling from a distance of about five feet. This sequence was shot with one mounted grid (upper left), followed by a second grid (upper right), until I reached a total of four grids (lower right). No effort was made to adjust the exposure because I was only interested in seeing the shape of the highlight and the quality of the shadow edge. It is not as tightly focused provided by a fresnel lens, it is nonetheless a very smooth and symmetric highlight, a useful capability to have tucked into a lighting equipment bag.

I ran a quick series of selfies using a camera-mounted bounce flash as my key light and the gridded Godox flash to produce a hard round highlight on the background. I set the Godox to trigger optically, and placed it on a light stand about four feet from the wall. As before, the shots were fired with the least restrictive configuration (one grid) on the upper left to the most restrictive (four grids) in the lower right.

If you're wondering about the apparent size of the highlight, you need to remember that the flash to background distance is shorter in the selfie sequence than that of the ceiling shots. I imagine that when I start using these grids in the field, there will be a lot of adjustments to the location and the size of the highlight before I get the desired results. I anticipate a lot of both chimping and head-scratching if I am to get the subtle splashes of light I can see in my mind's camera.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Halloween At The Carolands

1/8 second, F 5.6, ISO 6400
Boo! A Hillsborough Halloween party, complete with a "haunted" mansion, was the final stop for many neighborhood trick-or-treaters. There were zombies, chain saw murderers, and a variety of ghastly tableaus. But the highlight of the evening was the light show created by Alegra Entertainment and Events. A variety of ghostly images were projected onto the walls of the mansion, and they just got scarier as the evening grew darker. Since I had to submit the photo before 8:00 pm, I had to make my photo as quickly as I could.

1/180, F 5.6, ISO 200. Lens F.L. 10mm (15 full frame equivalent)
Knowing that I might have to leave before it got dark, I made a quick group shot of some of the event's hosts in full costume. I wanted to make the shot before the youngsters started to arrive. Unfortunately, the evening sky was still quite quite bright, and  with my camera's minimum flash sync speed of 1/180, my flashes didn't have enough power to allow my using a smaller aperture.  Sure, I could have darkened the sky by stopping down to F 8.0, but there wasn't enough flash output to make it work. This was certainly a usable photo, but without a context to anchor the image. If I could have waited another hour, the photo might have worked. but as more guests started to arrive, postponement was not an option.

I shifted my attention to the covered carriage entrance, a feature  typical of mansions built in the early 1900s. Without the twilight sky as a background, I was free to boost the ISO values, which in turn effectively increased the effective power of my flashes. Because the ceiling was too tall for bouncing, I relied on a domed flash held aloft with a short monopod to provide some modeling of my subjects. I could also increase my exposure time to allow the ambient accents lights to "show their colors". Of course, those long exposure time resulted in some camera movement blur, but the portions of the image lit solely by the flash were much sharper. I doubt that anybody except another photographer would have noticed the blur. 
1/8 second, F 5.6, ISO 6400
The Bewitching Hour: Just as I was leaving, the projections were easily seen on of front of the mansion. I made this quick sketch photo to establish my ambient exposure. At this point, I considered the background properly exposed, and could now concentrate on making minor flash adjustments. That bright area in the foreground is the puddle of light created by my flash, which was aimed where I planned to place my subject.

The Shot: After refining my framing of the mansion I called my subject over and verbally directed him to a position near the center of the frame. From this shooting angle, it would have been difficult to include his feet unless he moved farther from the camera, something I wanted to avoid.  A tripod for the camera and a lightstand for the flash would have allowed me to refine the pose still further, but since I had neither, close enough was good enough, and I had my photo in six exposures. 

The photo at the top of the post is a variation on the image I actually submitted. I simply burned in the highlight created by the flash to draw the viewer's attention to my subject's face. 

Future Refinements: If I had the freedom to do so, I would have used the lightstand and the tripod. If I waited until all of the guests had left, I would have had the freedom to do so, provided I didn't hold the staff too much past their bedtime. If I could have submitted the image electronically while on location (reception was a bit spotty), I could have stayed longer to further refine the shot. I could have probably convinced the entire crew to stay for one final group photo, one which I'm sure would have been "killer"!

Addendum: I found this sample image well after the posting was written, and it adds an additional level of exposure control.

Rear Curtain Flash Synchronization: The technique is called Dragging Shutter, which is when you use longer shutter speeds to properly expose ambient-lit background. It helped to create this image. As one of the lighting staff rushed past me, I made this exposure. The shadow that appears in his wake was created by setting the camera's  flash synchronization to Rear Curtain. When so set, the flash fired just before the shutter closed. This lit my subject at the final moment of his movement across the frame.

When I looked more closely at the image, I liked the way the edge of the light fell off at the lower edge of the frame. It hides the hard shadow at my subject's feet, a sure indicator that I used a near-camera flash to achieve the effect. Had I used a light stand, I could have locked my flash position and had my subject move in and out of the light puddle. But as I said, using a light stand in so crowded an environment is an accident waiting to happen. If a future assignment allows me that luxury, I'll certainly remember that lighting the lower edge of the frame can be easily controlled.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Upping My Game With Background Lighting

1/125 second, F 5.6, ISO 1600
Trying Something Different: I've photographed members of San Mateo's legal community for several years, and frequently find myself in the historic Courthouse in Redwood City. The rotunda is especially photogenic, but at times difficult to light properly. In the past, I'd use a speedlight with ashoot-through Zumbrella* mounted on a light stand. But the last time I was there, I left the lightstand in the car and simply bounced a camera-mounted speedlight off of a large wall behind me. By using a high ISO, I was able to get a proper exposure with a Godox V1 flash. The wall bounce created a lighting surface many times larger than the one created by a shoot-through umbrella or a softbox. Notice that the shadow edges are extremely soft, and that the highlights on my subject's foreheads are very broad.

Next, I needed to balance the background with the bounce-lit foreground. I clamped a second V1 flash on the balustrade and aimed it towards the wall behind my subjects. I own one Nikon and one Fuji version, and when the shoe mounted Fuji version was used as a commander, it can communicate with the Nikon unit, so long as the group and channel settings on both units match. This cuts costs and increases compatibility when you work with two different platforms, as I do.

Because of the distance across the rotunda, the flash output was at nearly full power. You can see the Gorillapod I used to attach the flash on the rail. The flash was held in place with a cold shoe mounted on the 'pod's 1/4 x 20 tripod screw. When the flash was properly aligned, gave me the results I wanted. It turns out that stability of the arrangement was an issue. More on that later.

Because the flash to subject and flash to background distances remain fairly constant, some balancing of the two lights  may be required. Once the optimal output was determined, moving closer to my three subjects required no major exposure adjustments. While the photograph appears to have only one light source, careful examination will show that there are some indicators of my twin-flash lighting solution. If you look at the archway on the left side of the background, you will see a distinct vertical shadow, a sign that a second light was used. The shadow is also an reminder of how dark the background would have been if the a second flash was not used.

Bumps In The Road: As is my habit, I invited my host to gather as many group photos as she liked, simply because it wouldn't involve any additional effort once the lighting solution has been established. I noticed that this series of photos didn't look like the others because it appeared that my background light had failed to trigger. After this shot was made, I dismissed the group and discovered that the Gorillapod had rotated on the round railing and was now facing straight down, probably bumped by one of my subjects. If you look at the cropping on the right, you can see the highlights created by that wayward flash. In the future, I'll be sure that the 'pod legs have something else to grab onto for additional support. I also purchased a medium-sized lightweight photo clamp with a tiny ball head for mounting a 1/4 x 20 cold shoe. This should prove more secure.

The Takaway: There is an important takeaway from this assignment: A second flash can really improve the appearance of the final photo without too much additional work. When I attempt a similar shot in the future, I would start by determining the  background flash output and ISO combination necessary to produce a suitably exposed background at F 5.6. Next, I'll stand exactly where I plan to place my subjects and make selfies, adjusting the power output on the flash until I get a suitable selfie exposure.  Once this is done, I'll only need to adjust the exposure on my on-camera flash.

Radio Triggering Alternative: You may know that I've taken to using Godox flashes, primarily for their fast recycling times and built-in radio triggers. While convenient, they can be flummoxed when you cannot establish an unobstructed line-of-sight relationship between the controller and the remote. In the future, I may include a Nikon SB-800 speedlight to use an an optical trigger. Forgive my terrible mockup. I'd tape my snooted SB-800 (red bubble) set to the optical trigger (SU-4) mode on the other side of the rotunda. Both the flash head and the sensor would be rotated to face the backs of my subjects. Then I would  re-configure the Godox flash  on the balustrade to trigger with its built-in optical trigger. The on-camera Godox would be configured in the manual mode. In use, my on-camera flash would bounce off the back wall, providing enough light to trigger my background SB-800. When it flashes, the light will be directed across the rotunda towards the rail-mounted Godox, causing it to fire and illuminate the background. This execution is very convoluted, but necessary if the native radio triggers in the Godox units fail to communicate properly.

I bring this up because this kind of lighting can be obtained using almost any flash with manual output controls. An optical trigger can be attached to the existing flash hot shoe, or in the case of some select Nikon speedlights, the built in in SU-4 modes deployed.  I dare say that similar results can be had with very little cash output, a little imagination, and an appropriate amount of planning. 

*The Zumbrella is a proprietary shoot-through umbrella manufactured for, and sold through, David Ziser, a well-known Kentucky wedding photographer. The fabric was less opaque than the normal shoot-through umbrella, allowing more light to reach the subject.