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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

Hi Tech Machine, Low Tech Flash

Jul 11

In Lighting, On Location at 6:58am

So how do you shoot a medical marvel that is an absolute tech wonder, producing and providing highly detailed maps of the interior of the human body, but, on the outside, sort of looks like a big refrigerator with a hole in it?

The only sexy thing about this machine, visually speaking, were the blessedly intense, focused red beams that created the cross hairs used by the technicians to “aim” the scanner. The patient slides into the machine, and the device is aligned with assist of these beams. Turn the lights off in the room, which is one of the first things I often do when I walk into an environment, and you basically have the picture below.

Once again, up pops the irony of being a “flash photographer.” At any given moment,  the most important light you deal with is the ambient light. What exists, is the first question you grapple with. Then, and only then, after you wrangle what exists and what role (dominant, background, fill) that light will play in the photo, can you mess with flash.

So in the darkness, with a D800E set at f5.6 at ISO 400, I sorted out a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Which was fine, as my “patient” wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, in this iteration, I’ve got a red light and no context, or information. Luckily, I had a wall behind me, flat and white. I turned the head of my SB 910 backwards into the wall, and shifted my color balance to incandescent. That flat wash of light off the wall, un-gelled, and plain white, defined the machine, and the tungsten WB gave it a bluish cast, which I felt would work better than dead bang white. One flash, on camera, re-directed, gave me color, tone, context and editorial content.

Still couldn’t turn on the overhead fluorescents to provide the background illumination, as their overall, blah quality of light, filling the room (which is what they are supposed to do) bleached out the intensity of the red aiming beams, and those red beams were the anchor for the picture. So, I kept the room dark, and flashed the background of the photograph with two SB units, each slightly warmed with a CTO (color temperature orange) gels. I believe the gels were fairly mild, maybe a quarter cut, or 25% of the truly warm tone a full conversion gel would have presented. They are placed, TTL, in Group C, which is always the group I use for the background lights in any photo. I switched my on camera flash to double duty, acting as a TTL main light, and the commander for the background fills. Done.

But, was I really done in the darkness? As is said in The Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. I was moving fast, needing to clear the room of my gear so they could get back to scanning. I had a nice picture, one I knew the client would be happy with. So I plunged ahead.

Now, I love Manfrotto stacker stands. I just don’t love them when they’re actually in my picture. Doh! They had to be retouched out in the final TIFF sent in for the book. As I always say, whenever you are feeling lock solid and dialed in, think again, and check again.

In the darkened hallways of my mind, the ghost of Numnuts is cavorting about and laughing, and that laughter echoes, as it has for my entire career.

More tk….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different Flash, Different Look

Jun 5

In Lighting at 6:11am

Out there in the rainy morning mist, my first instinct was to pop some light. I definitely needed a bit of contrast, but had to be careful because of the white nature of the gown. Between the attire and the background, I was dealing with a pretty monochromatic situation.

So I put up a beauty dish in what I’ve heard Greg Heisler refer to as “standard, regulation beauty dish position.” It was up and over the model, fairly steeply, to camera right. And it did its standard, regulation job. Nice light, mostly collecting around her head and shoulders and then fading down the length of her gown. Read the rest of this entry »

A Little Light in the Back of the Set

May 21

In Lighting at 7:35am

Last week I blogged a version of a recent portrait of my college photography professor, Fred Demarest. I enjoyed my time with Fred during my last visit to Syracuse, and was a bit nervous on the set, really trying to do well, as this was the guy who first critiqued my work as a shooter, a long time ago. So, I kept it simple.

The up front light was a Profoto 2400ws unit, fitted with a beauty dish, draped in a diffuser sock. The Profoto folks have graciously outfitted the Syracuse studios, so the students there have the benefit of top of the line gear to shoot with. 

That unit is a very efficient light source, and of course, at 2400 ws, it’s got power to burn. I had it cranking at just about min power, and still had f11 at 1/200th of a second. (Also, I wanted something around f11 to retain sharpness in the background objects.) So, it was with some trepidation that I put an SB 910, running at full power, in SU-4 (manual slave) mode, at the back of the set. I didn’t know if there would be enough juice in that little light. What I needed it to do was light the seamless, which would in turn silhouette the old style constant lights that are kicking around in the SU studio.

I set it up on the little floor stand that comes with the unit, left the dome diffuser on, tilted the head up about 45 degrees into the wall, and let fly. Bingo. That little sucker had just enough power to complete the photo.

Seems a little crazy, when you’re using a monster pack up front, to use a speed light in the back. I use small flash in conjunction with bigger flash all the time, but usually those bigger units are in the 400ws to 1100ws range. Using a 2400 pack, I thought the hot shoe flash might be like a small rock thrown into a deep quarry made of photons. It would vanish immediately.

But, it hung in there. When I overshot it, and the flash did not fire, this is what I got.

Small flash, big difference. More tk….

Small Lights into a Big Source

Apr 18

In Lighting at 9:47am

Ah, the lowly umbrella. Simple, relatively cheap, no frills. I have often denigrated umbrella light as being a bit boring, while at the same time praising it for being utterly reliable, producing predictable results time and again. In other words, boring. It is a very basic light shaping tool, often the very first one in a photographer’s arsenal. Light, cheap and collapsible, it’s easy to see why.

But lately, I’ve been using bigger umbrellas more and more in all manner of situations, and have been collaborating with Lastolite to perhaps produce a couple hopefully advantageous wrinkles in the lighting options an umbrella presents. We’ll see where that goes. But in the meantime, I’ve been having fun using speed lights, and firing them into umbrellas that are about the size of a small midwestern city.

Shot the above in Saudi Arabia a couple weeks ago, and the shaper is an jumbo Lastolite umbrella box type of light, the type with a soft piece of frosted material over the umbrella scoop. I’ve got three SB-910 speed lights on TTL firing into it, all hung on a ratcheting tri-flash. The results from this are generally soft and wrapping–a very easy going quality of light that has a lot of forgiveness in the shadows.

Now, could you do this with a single big light? Of course. Just didn’t have one of those with me. But the nice thing about having small, multiple sources pointing into this Sasquatch of a light shaper is that they do all combine to produce a large, lovely volume of light. And, given the vagaries and alchemy of TTL, I can send a signal to those lights via the commander flash, and they resolutely (well, sometimes reluctantly) follow me to f1.4.

The other thing about using small, position adjustable flash guns into a giant shaper is that if you need to sequester the light into a certain quadrant of that shaper, you can do it by clicking the speed light heads in different directions. Say you want more light being produced out of the lower scoop of the umbrella. Just take two of the flash units and click them downwards into that area. The effects are subtle, but definitely visible, thus giving you a another fairly easily accessible element of control over the broad brush of flash lighting you are painting the scene with.

At PhotoShop World in Orlando, and demonstrated this type of approach on stage, albeit with a big shoot through umbrella. Found a wonderful member of the audience, and asked her to come up.

From ten feet, it looked like this…

 

From five feet, it looked like this….

 

Then, by redirecting the speed lights inside the brolly, and pushing them towards the right hand side of the umbrella, the shadow side of my subject’s face opens up, just a touch….

 

Small adjustments inside a big light….more tk….

 

 

 

The Game of Ratios

Apr 9

In In The Field, Lighting at 7:43am

I do blogs about all manner of things photographic, but clearly, one subject I return to consistently is the nature and quality of light, both natural light and flash light. This is not unique to me, or this blog. Lotsa folks out there talkin’ bout flash. Big flash, small flash, up close, far away, here, there. What occasionally gets overlooked in the “all flash all the time” conversation is the importance of shutter speed. Now, folks who have been shooting for a while know the ins and outs of shutter speed, to be sure. But I can’t tell you how often I’ve taught a class and come up on a team in the field, trying to shoot inside a factory, and, because the class is about flash, they are using a “flash” shutter speed of 1/250th of a second, rendering the scene as utter darkness. They thus burden themselves with the task of lighting the whole damn factory. With two speed lights. This, I tell them, is not possible. And I say that with the complete certainty of one who has amassed a 30 year history of engaging in utterly Quixotic flash follies, doomed to irretrievably embarrassing failure even before I put my camera to my eye.

My opening comment, when I view a location foray such as I describe above about to go off the rails, is often something along the lines of, “Shutter speed is your friend.”

I shot both of the above for Kelby Training video that came to be titled, Making Pictures in Bad Weather. Trust, me, I didn’t head to Tampa with that title in mind. But it turned out that we were trying to shoot through the tail licks of an offshore hurricane, and hence, we bagged a lot of the locations, and found shelter. That class ended up being one of the most fun classes I’ve taught for the Kelby group. It was a hoot, and was just like being on location for a magazine and needing to get it done ’cause the editor who assigned us doesn’t give a rat’s ass if it’s raining anvils. You have to shoot pictures, and shoot through all manner of shit.

The two pix above were shot in the same tiny bathroom, and these views of that little room have very different feels to them. And the differences do stem from the different qualities of light. But, what enabled the difference was shutter speed.

First pass. Window’s glowing and available light dominates the room. One hot shoe flash employed, on the hot shoe. It’s cranked backwards and flying the light up the wall I’m leaning against. It fills the shadow side of the model, just a little. It’s running at low power, no light shaper, except the stock in trade dome diffuser. It bounces partially off the wall and partially off the ceiling. Adds detail, and that’s about it. It fulfills the classic definition of a fill light: A light you don’t notice until you turn it off.

Below is camera info.

And here is more specific flash info, off Nikon software….

The second shot is darker, moodier. No glowy window, and fairly heavy shadows. Reason for that is I chucked available light, and put a Quadra flash out in the rain, cloaked in a baggie, firing off a radio, with no light shaper. It is about 5 feet from the frosted pane of glass, and it’s just a simple blast of light. The frosted glass becomes my light shaper. And because I don’t let any available light in, all the exposure comes from the flash.

Again, camera info.

No coded flash info here, as it is a third party flash, and doesn’t communicate with the camera. But the Quadra is providing all the light, and is well within its power range and capability.

The flash style, power and direction are truly different, to be sure. But the real difference, to me, in the two shots is a simple shift in shutter speed. The f-stops are quite similar. Shutter speeds aren’t. In the open, window blown away version, the shutter speed is 1/8th, and in the more controlled, moody version, the shutter rang in at 1/250th.

Shifting the shutter enables the game of ratios, which is a game forever played on location. You walk in, and you observe what light already exists. Then you factor how much, or how little, of that light plays into your photo by cranking your way through the shutter speed dial. You can allow the natural light to dominate, and thus making your flash a bit player, a reserve coming off the bench, and not the star. Or you can use the shutter speed to snuff the light entirely, rendering darkness upon the land, which you then replace with custom made flash treatment.

A game we always play. What exists, and, what do we layer over what exists? The flash we bring to location can be an unseen infiltrator, a thief in the night. Or it can be a thundering herd. The thing to remember, always, is that the determining factor in how many flashes (if any at all) we take out of the damn trunk is the existing light, and it’s volume and quality.

As as  location “flash photographer” the most important light you always wrestle with is the ambient light. And when it comes to ambient light, shutter speed is the judge and jury, and your friend.

More tk….

For the technically minded, the gear used above was Nikon D4, 14-24 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, Sb-900 speed light, and Ranger Quadra.