Working With Shadows

f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-200, 55mm

Last year about this time I started the year determined to learn how to use a flash well and to pick up my game on doing portraits. This year I’m upping things again by deciding to work with two lights (not counting ambient or sunlight). A second flash isn’t quite in my budget so instead I picked up a $5.00 trouble light and a $40.00 dimmable LED 5000K temperature bulb for it with a maximum output of 14oo lumens. I also got a $10 dimmer switch to hook it up to.

This is my first attempt at a portrait with the setup. I had the flash in a softbox close in on the right, and a lovely assistant holding the trouble light just a little further back: about 2:00 to the flash’s 4:o0 on the clock face, with the camera at 6:00. I had a piece of black material taped to the wall with my trusty gaffers tape.

While I can see room for improvement, I’ve very happy with the shadows and light in this one. I’ll be looking at some more of my attempts later over the following couple of weeks, but I felt this was a pretty good start for $50.oo of new equipment.

Attack The Hoop

f/2.5, 1/200, ISO-800, 50mm

Still eager to try new things and explore new photographic horizons, I’ve been turning my attention to sports in the last couple of months. Having a camera that takes 7 frames a second rather than 2 certainly helps.

The challenges of a high school gym are amazing. Depending on which end of the court one stands in, and where one points the lens, the lighting can be as much as 2 stops dimmer. At a high school game I would never consider using a flash. There is too much risk of distracting or blinding a player, at best lessening his performance and at worst causing him injury, if only indirectly. These are not college or pros, and entire scholarships – potentially the rest of a young person’s life – could be put at risk with a single ill-considered flash just a few feet from the players’ faces.

Still, with a 1.8 lens, it’s reasonable to stop motion pretty well with available light. This is perhaps not the best example of stopping motion from my night, but where there is blur the suggestion of motion, I think, adds rather than detracts. One thing I still need to work on with practice is simple focus. I have to rely on the camera to auto-focus my shots, and though I’ve tried different AF settings none have been entirely satisfactory in such a fast game as basketball.

I think the above shot is one of my best from the night, though, even with the poor focus. It includes the ball, both teams, an official, and the net, not to mention a particularly dramatic moment. All together, I think this represents well an exciting and energetic contest between two very talented teams.


The Mechanic

f/4, 1/125, ISO-100, 25mm

This young man and his father build motorcycles. Lots of them. It was an obvious choice to include this theme in his senior portrait session, but not quite so obvious to me at first how to go about capturing it. The workspace was tight and there was no direct light into the room. A dim florescent light hung from the ceiling but was not going to provide the drama the image needed. It served nicely as a highlight though. I put a 5″ snoot on a Speedlite at about the same elevation as his earlobe and directed it slightly to the right of his face. That served both to not over-expose his face and to provide highlights to his prized motorcycle and the wheel behind him.

In post-processing, I converted the image to black and white and elevated the contrast through several means, being very careful to not make his features too chiseled, while providing a “hardness” to the tools and engine around him. I added a significant amount of grain to the image to add to the feel of grittiness. I wanted to evoke a working garage, not a squeaky-clean senior.

Koffee Haus Lily

f/8.0, 1/1250, ISO-100, 50mm

This was the result of a meeting with a local camera club at my favorite coffee shop. There were a couple of lilies there and I spontaneously challenged the group to photograph it. My vision was to bring down the ambient light so far that the rather well-lit white wall behind the plant appeared to be black, and light the lily with just the flash. I had thought I might be able to do with with super high-speed flash sync and a shutter of 1/5000 or so, but even with a flash on the Speedlite to try to reduce light spill as much a possible, I wasn’t able to accomplish my goal. After the meeting was over I realized I just needed to put a snoot on the flash, and almost immediately I got the result above.

To The Rescue

f/4.5, 1/30, ISO-320, 50mm

This was one of three shots I created at a local art store for the first assignment from a newly-formed camera club in the area. The assignment was to photograph something representative of a local business. An art studio provides some fairly easy and obvious opportunities, which is why I chose it :) I like the lines and repetition, as well as the realized and unrealized potential. To make the shot a little more of a challenge for me, I decided to use only available light. I’m not normally an “available light only” kind of photographer – I think in general refusing to create the light to best capture the subject is short-sighted and unprofessional. Still, there’s something about limiting yourself creatively that tends to jump start me. I do it a lot, and not just with lighting. I’ll limit myself to a specific lens or focal length, or to a specific f-stop. Anything to force myself to approach a problem creatively.

The lighting in this room was not the easiest to shoot in. It was uneven and had an orange cast thanks to some very creative light shades. Some areas of the place were very well lit – this is a working art studio, where anyone can come and, for example, paint a fireman right there in the shop – but other areas like the shelves are more dimly-lit. As a further challenge, I didn’t have a tripod with me, so everything had to be handheld. At a 1/30 second exposure I was pushing the limits of my unsteady hand, but with my new 70D everything seems to come out a little sharper. I also appreciate that, for the first time in my life, I can adjust my ISO in thirds rather than full increments. This helps me get an exposure that gave me the proper DOF while minimizing noise from higher ISO. I could have moved the ISO up or down or adjusted my shutter speed up and tried to compensate in post-processing, but it was nice not to have to. Not that there was no post processing – I increased vibrancy and contrast a bit and reduced the orange tint a bit, but I didn’t do nearly as much post work as I would have had to with my Rebel XS.

Trumpet Player

f/7.1, 1/1600, ISO-100, 50mm

Here’s a portrait I took of a good friend of mine in my living room. I used an extremely high shutter speed with strobe lighting and a 7″ snoot to get this effect. It’s a technique that wasn’t possible, or even imaginable back when I was his age, but it works really well and I hope to do it a lot more as I gain experience. It creates a very nice mood with very targeted light. I’ve done it a couple of times now and I learn something new every time about using it (in this case I learned I would have benefitted from a shorter snoot – say 5″ – because I had to significantly lighten his hand in post work).

Heavy Metal

f/3.5, 1/250, ISO-100, 21mm

A few days ago was International Left Handers Day. To honor the occasion, I told the company that I would do a free portrait for anyone who could sign their name legibly and comfortably with their left hand. This gentleman – a software engineer by trade and a heavy metal guitarist to boot – took me up on the offer. This was created with a Speedlite and 7″ snoot, as well as a warm gel.

Ian The Rebel

f/10, 1/200, ISO-1600, 18mm

This was one of the more difficult portraits I’ve ever done. The lines of the architecture as well as the grungy atmosphere drew me to the place, but the low ceiling made shooting with a 43″ umbrella a challenge and it was dark enough that It was hard to focus on anything (yes, I forgot to bring a flashlight yet again). I pumped the ISO as high as my Rebel SX will go, not worrying about the noise. I wanted noise in this shot, and injected quite a bit in post-processing. More important to me was that I capture the depth of the area. The background all went to black about 10 feet behind my subject and I needed some way to bring it back with only one flash. I tried a number of techniques, and in the end I thought I had failed utterly at achieving the shot I wanted.

I was even more discouraged when I viewed the photo on my computer. there was absolutely no background to be seen, and worse there was an inappropriate word on the column he is leaning on. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to pull something out of this but was unhappy with the results so I closed it down for a couple of weeks.

Today I opened it again and did some extreme processing on it. I got the background to come out and the lines that I had seen in my mind’s eye when I took the shot began to come out. The subject ended up badly over-exposed but I was able to correct that with graduated filter to pull the exposure back to acceptability. I still had to do a bit of Photoshop to add contrast to his face, and to edit out my camera bag which was carelessly left in the frame, but in the end I got exactly the photo I wanted.