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.