Monday, December 16, 2019


1/500 second,  F 11.0, ISO 400
'Tis The Season: "The Golden Gate Chapter #3923 of the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) gave Santa a helping hand during its 30th Annual Toy Run on Saturday, December 14. Members from around the bay area brought toys to the San Mateo Medical Center for distribution that morning." San Mateo Daily Journal, Monday December 16 Edition.

In many ways, I've been planning this photo for several years. For the record, the visual elements I sought to capture included:

  • A blue sky background, with some fluffy clouds,
  • Flash fill to balance a slightly underexposed sky, and 
  • Presents being passed about.
The overall exposure isn't perfect, as some detail was lost in the deep shadows of the SUV at camera right. Just the same, the presents in hand are clearly visible, so the activity was made clear. There are some limitations when a single bare flash is used to fill the shadows of relatively reflectively subjects, and those limitations will be addressed here.

To The Good: 
  • The light was held aloft on a short, 18" monopod, while the camera, a Fuji X70, held at arm's length about one foot off the ground. This put the effective distance between the lens axis and the flash at about four feet, placing the light slightly above my subject's eye level. Notice that there is the hint of a shadow under everyone's chin, and that the lower half of the photo is not overexposed.
  •  The camera' s  28mm (equivalent) wide angle lens allowed me to get close to my subjects. Distortion was held to a minimum by positioning the camera at a nearly perpendicular alignment with the subjects.
  • The flash was triggered with a cable and not a radio commander. This eliminated any possible light fall-off due to slight latency (delay) introduce by nearly all radio triggers. Incidentally, this was not a TTL shot - The flash output was chosen manually.
To The Bad:
  • Much detail was lost in the black jackets due to the nature of bare flash. There is an old adage: Detail in the highlights is determined by the shadows, while detail in the shadows is determined by the highlights. Small flashes and speedlights, used bare, produce relatively small, spectacular highlights which aren't large enough to give details to in the shadows. Shiny, highly reflectively objects like the Santa suit need large light sources to be rendered properly, and in this photo, the highlights produced by the single flash aren't enough big enough to render the true color of the suit properly.
  • The 28mm lens provides a wide field of view, and unfortunately most flashes can't light the frame evenly from edge to edge. The subject at the far right is at the twilight edge of the flash (I used a round-headed Godox), and was underexposed accordingly. If Sissy was with me, I would have had her mount the flash on a longer monopod, and stand a few feet behind me. This would result in a broader flash angle. I would have had to trigger the flash with a radio remote, since a suitable flash cable would be too hard to deal with. And I would have reduced the effective flash output in half, or worse.
All in all, this was a pretty good result from a photographer working alone. Just keeping a flash held at the end of a monopod properly aligned was challenging. Feathering the flash more towards camera right might have helped my rightmost subject, and if Cissie were there, I surely would have. But she wasn't, and I didn't.

1/125 second, F 3.6, ISO 1600
Change Of Venue: Once the presents had been brought indoors, I upped my ISO and started to shoot. Camera mounted flash, bounced high and behind me. One nice thing: Exposure isn't critical because bounced flash is low in contrast with a great deal of shadow detail. Some minor post production can be counted on to save underexposed images, This was meant to be a sketch photo made to fine-tune the exposure. The subject's expressions aren't good enough to make the photo a contender for publication, but I sent it along to the hospital, just in case somebody liked it.

1/125 second, F 5.0, ISO 1600
Who Gets The Props? There were a lot of things going on -Santa was greeting children, a photographer was photographing, and finally, lining up for gifts. This shot was meant to be a shout-out to the staff and volunteers at the hospital.

To The Good:

  • There is a strong center of interest. All faces are looking at the gift, and the outstretched arms add to the emphasis
  • The rapt expression of my third subject.
  • The profile view of the child. I've found that families can be very sensitive to accepting charity, so I make ever attempt to appear more interested in the givers than the receivers.

To The Not-So-Good

  • There is no Christmas reference in the photo.

That might be why the image wasn't published by the paper.

Out Of A Jam: I needed to identify the young woman on the left. I thought I had put her business card in my camera bag, but couldn't find it when I looked for it. Undaunted, I noticed that her ID badge was barely visible in this image, so I decided to zoom in close to see if her name was visible.

There is something to be said about sharp lenses and high resolution cameras. This ultra-tight crop gave me the information I needed.

I've spoken to a number of photographers about equipment, and what I considered the minimum requirements for editorial photography. Truly, this level of resolution wouldn't be needed for the usual "picket fence" and "face and a place" photos I'm usually asked to make. But in this case, the higher level of performance helped me out of an embarrassing fumble on my part.