Sunday, October 27, 2019

Minimal Location Lighting - Fall Rendezvous

1/320 second, F 5.6, ISO 500. Open Shade white balance preset. Focal length 75mm (112mm APS equivalent)

Rendezvous!  I had a chance to photograph the participants in a Fur Trade era Rendezvous held in Marin County. Most people are familiar with Civil War Reenactments, but "Rhondys" celebrate a period in American history that predates the War Between The States. It can be described as that period that started after Lewis and Clark's expedition and ended in the late 1830's when the demand for beaver pelts evaporated with the introduction of wool felt for making hats. These hearty souls, commonly called Mountain Men, would venture into the Rocky Mountains to trap beavers for their pelts, Once a year, they would come to the lowlands and meet with merchants at a "rendezvous" to trade the plews (processed beaver skins) for supplies (and liquor!). The event was an excuse to let off some "steam" and indulge in some rough and tumble play. 

Today, all sorts of people meet at club-sponsored rendezvous to celebrate the life style and self sufficiency of the Mountain Men.  Participants dress in period correct clothing, camp in period correct "primitive" tents, cook their meals over open fires (when it's safe to do so), and test their marksmanship skills, just as they did 150 years ago.

The plastic tool box sits beside the tree branch used to identify the mark where the subjects would stand.

The Setup: I decided to make some formal photos that the club might use for their web site. Since the fall leaves were in full color, I chose a fully-leafed maple tree as a background. The morning sun was streaming through the leaves so the background gave me a variety of bright yellows to work with. I found a suitable "mark" on the ground for my subjects to stand on, and then proceeded to set up a light stand to support a shoot-through umbrella. The flash happened to be a Godox with its built-in radio trigger. Any flash that could be fired off camera could have been used, but the fast recycling time would definitely speed things up. The flash was position about 7 feet from my subjects, the distance and exposure determined using the "selfie" method. The camera was a simple, 6 megapixel Nikon D70. I used both a 28-70 Tamron and a 70-300 Nikkor.

Focal Length: 140mm (210 APS equivalent)
For the photograph at the top of the post, I positioned my lady pioneer in the shade of a tree so that the dappled sunlight would create highlights on her shoulders. I instructed my subject to lift her chin until she could see the entire umbrella. This would prevent the brim of her hat from casting a shadow over her eyes. Just before shooting, I would re-direct her gaze towards the camera. Unfortunately, my subject tilted her head down at the last moment, casting a slight shadow on the eyes. Since this was the best smile of the series, it's the one I will post. 

This 3/4 length shot (right) was made by backing away from my subject and increasing the focal length to 140mm. This de-focused the background even more, making it more abstract. Since the distance from the subject to the flash remained the same,  no changes in exposure were necessary, providing I stayed with an aperture of 5.6. I was not using a constant aperture zoom lens, so extending the focal length always decreased the maximum working aperture. F 5.6 was a  valid setting for all of the lens focal lengths.

Posing Note: I wanted the end of the rifle barrel to be at the same level as my subject's eyes.  I used the plastic toolbox shown in the layout photo to support the weight of the rifle while elevating the muzzle to eye level. The box was outside of the frame and wouldn't appear in the final photo.

Focal Length 75mm (APS equivalent 105mm)
Gary Cooper: I couldn't help but think of Gary Cooper when this reenactor struck a stern, man-of-the-frontier pose. I shot from a low angle to give the illusion of height. The longer focal length of the lens minimized any foreshortening, so his hands appear in proper proportion to the subject's face.

Full Length Shot: By simply backing away from my subject, I could produce a  full length portrait. If you look closely, you can see that the illumination begins to fall off slightly below his waist. When "aiming" your shoot-through umbrella, try to point the shaft directly at your subject's face, not at the center of their body. You'll want the facial expression to be the visual center of attention, so make sure it's the brightest region in your photograph.

Final Notes: These photos were not made with my primary cameras. The Nikon D70  I used was removed from active service long ago. The appropriate APS lenses were relatively inexpensive when compared with the constant aperture zooms I normally use. But these lenses have proven themselves as sharp enough for most purposes. When using these older cameras, it is important that you frame your image as tightly as possible so you can use every last one of those precious pixels. I set my camera to create both a normal JPG and a RAW image simultaneously. This way I can fine tune my exposure in RAW when major exposure corrections are necessary, and use the JPG when it isn't.

It isn't necessary to spend a lot of money on a lithium battery powered flash if you need both power and fast recycle time. You can always use two flashes set to one-half power.  This will shorten your recycling time significantly. I described the home-make double flash mount here. You will also need a reliable trigger, and one suitable candidate is described here.