Favorite Images 2017

Ferocious When Wet: The cat's name is Ferocious, and he's getting a routine bath at the 9 Lives Cat Shelter. The object was to publicize an upcoming adoption event, and I was pushing the concept of cats getting "gussied up" for the occasion. While the cat looks angry, he's actually enjoying the warm shower followed by a gentle rub down with a warm towel. What is not apparent is how little Ferocious protested, in spite of his angry expression.

The take-away from this simple shot was that you shouldn't try to bounce a flash in a room painted green. I finally resorted to using a Sto-Fen dome on an SB-80 mounted on my Fuji X-T2.

Fireman's Ball Promotion: This is my favorite shot, and one that taught me the most about the importance of ambient lighting. The key light was a pair of speedlights bounced in a semi-collapsed 60" umbrella, which gave a confined, soft light similar to, but more portable than, a large beauty dish. This combination minimized the amount of spill light, leaving large ares that were lit by the ambient light coming from the back window. The back-story to this shot is an amusing read, and I admit that the image could have used some final tweaking, had I been given just a few more minutes to balance the lights.

Bill and Dee Dee's Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary. Long time friends Bill and Dee Dee were celebrating their Fiftieth Anniversary, and asked if I'd make a family photo, since many relatives would be coming from great distances to attend. I was happy to oblige, and took a photo that included all of their relatives. Immediately after the big group, Bill asked me to do one of his immediately family, which became his Christmas Card cover.

Dragging Shutter: Some experiments in exposure produced some interesting results, like this drag-shutter photo of these two dancers. I don't know if this couple actually saw the shot, as the images were immediately uploaded to Shutterfly for all to see. I really liked the expression of total bliss on the face of this dancer. I am not particularly happy with the background brightness, but considering the low level of ambient light, any correction would have resulted in exposure contamination in the foreground. Shot was made with a Gary Fong Light Sphere.

Built In Fill Card: I used the built in fill card on a Nikon SB900 to help with this shot. It's a reminder that when using extreme wide angle levels, the fill card only fills the center of the photo. Since this photo's intent was to highlight the center dancer, it did exactly that.

Heliport Dedication: This was the first time I photographed in a "cloudy bright" environment. There were plenty of picturesque clouds to provide in interesting, but not distracting, background for this low angle shot. Funny thing was that the thin, high cloud covering acted more as a neutral density filter than a diffuser, giving me crisp highlights without the severe glare one gets from direct sunlight.

In this shot, the on-camera flash serves as a fill light, and if one checks my actual posting, you will see that the only evidence of my flash is the pair of catchlights seen on the presenter's eyeglasses.

The neutral density effect provided by the high cloud cover allowed me to set my ambient exposure a stop or two lower that I might have chosen had the sunlight been at full strength. Even though I was using a Fuji T2 (Maximum Flash Sync Speed 1/250 of a second), I was able to choose a reasonable working aperture, one that allowed my flash to reach out a little farther with the little bit of flash fill. Notice that the flash only affects the (relatively) close foreground subject, with no effect on the helicopter in the background.

Speedlight In A Paper Bag: The challenge for this shot was to illuminate both the subject of the presentation and the presenter herself. Turning out the room lights made photographing the PowerPoint slide easy, but providing some light for the presenter proved more difficult. I solved the problem by putting a radio-triggered speedlight inside a white paper bag, and placing it next to the laptop screen. Unfortunately for me, the bag itself it visible, and had the audience not started to enter to room, I might have been able to arrange a better second shot. My placement error notwithstanding, the solution proved much simpler that covering the laptop screen with a sheet of paper and bouncing a flash off of it, a technique suggested by Joe McNally. The bag trick can be attributed to David Hobby, and I described it here.

Carry A Tall Light Stand - Always! For this shot, made on a day with heavy morning overcast, I used a radio triggered flash for a key light. It was mounted on a light stand about 8 feet off the ground, positioned about 12 feet from the closest subject. This does two things. First, the high position helps to equalize the flash distance between the subjects closest to, and farthest from, the key light. Second, it gives better modeling on the faces by shifting the position of the highlights higher on each subject's head. Unfortunately, you can get glare if you're not observant, as I did with the hot spot on the fire truck door.

This is my best food-drive photo to day, but unfortunately the paper didn't run it.

Building Renovation: This multi-flash shot was more for me than for the Journal. I submitted a tighter shot by simply zooming in for a tighter composition without changing any exposure settings, because I felt the faces of my subjects were more newsworthy that a building in severe disrepair. But this shot shows the depth of the project, complete with the torn-up floor and the stripped-to-the-studs walls. For the shot, a single key light set to a narrow beam angle and aimed at my subjects. A second flash, placed near to the lens axis, served as a fill light. And finally, a CTO gelled speedlight was aimed at the background to miss my subjects and fully illuminate the wall itself. Based exposure was chosen to preserve detail in the wooden fence just outside the back door.

Understanding Veteran's Day: A major epiphany occurred when I submitted two images take during a Veterans' Day event. The second image, a bugler playing in front of some bunting, reminded me of how context can make a major difference in how a photo is perceived. Veterans ' Day is one of appreciation for those who have served their country, and this sincere gesture of appreciation tells the story well.

Painting With Light: For whatever reason, I wanted to make a shot of the this black Phottix Flash Trigger with a spot-lit background. The technique used to light the foreground (main subject) is discussed in this post. The background, a white wall, was highlighted using a tight grid spot. with an optical flash trigger and set to a low output level (1/16 power, it think). 12 to 16 pops are required when painting the Phottix, and for each flash, the background spot also fires, adding 12 to 16 layers of light on the background. Keeping the spot round was tricky, but more easily accomplished if you keep the flash as close to the lens axis as possible.

Looking back, this shot was more of an exercise in lighting technique rather than an accurate suggestion of how the Phottix trigger functions, since the unit emits no visible light, using instead a radio transmitted pulse to signal the remote flash.

A final consideration: It is important to spend the time to properly align the subject with the highlight, and I find moving the camera much easier than trying to move both the camera and the accent spot light.

Carnaval 2017: Once again, the music, color, and pageantry right at my back door. The overcast day required no supplementary flash, nearly all the shots were made just using the available light. I like the rendition from this Fuji X-T1 is much more pleasing out of the camera than what I've been getting with my Nikons, but that's just me.

My Best Headshot Ever: One of the staff members at the Adult School asked if I do a head shot for her profile on the school's directory. I was happy to accommodate, and after two sittings, produced this image. My first attempt was done without the glasses, the second with. In this case, the glasses made for a more professional look, and was the one we went with. The project also refined my ability to manually adjust the  "red" level saturation and brightness, and with some minor adjustments in Elements, was able to bring the skin tones exactly where I wanted them.

I also started using Portrait Pro, a software package that allows for a one-click cleanup of the corrections that up until now, I retouched manually in Elements. I was pleasantly surprised how well it did with a single click of the mouse.

Ah, My Blooper Of The Year: W. Kumau Bell is an  insightful and extremely entertaining social commentator well known in the Bay Area. He was very cooperative when I asked if he'd enter the room with a big "wow" expression that would mirror his personality. I positioned myself with a white wall behind me, and my SB-900 pointed backwards. When he approached me, I brought the camera to my eye and discovered that I had mounted my 17-35mm lens on my APS sensored body, giving me an effective focal length of about 25mm, not quite wide enough to capture both the right hand, and the left. I made the only shot I could, cursing and weeping at and over my selecting the wrong body for the lens.

2017 Comes To An End:  This has been an interesting collection of spot-on and near-miss photos, but they represent some major additions to my lighting tool kit. I'm looking forward to 2018, which by July 1, I will find myself retired from the Adult School. I'm hoping the additional time will lead to broader photo opportunities, and inspired photography.

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