Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category
I’m starting to think there actually is something to my weather jones. I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, and there is wind and weather here. It’s gotten to the point a local photog messaged me on Twitter, asking me plaintively to leave. I think he might have been serious. But, the silver lining in all those scudding, dark clouds up there is of course the soft light, which is forgiving and wonderful. These young ladies in the Langa Township passed the wet, cold day in conversation, which I was able to observe in simple fashion. It may sound nonsensical, but I have always felt a wonderful quietude and simplicity to observing light on a somber, rainy day. (We start tomorrow, here in Cape Town, by the way. All day seminar, all small flash, at the Cape Town Convention Center. Here’s the link.)
I traveled dangerously light to Beijing, gear wise. I knew I was heading into a bigger project than I had anticipated, but by the time I knew that, I was locked into a tourist visa, and the carnet was set. So whatever was listed there was what was coming. Nothing more.
Took in one D800E. Lenses were standard issue 14-24, 24-70, 70-200. On the exotic side, I took in my ancient 28 f1.4, a 35 f1.4, and an 85 f1.4. Done. My other camera was a (gulp) film camera, a Fuji pano, with a 40mm lens. I also had a little rangefinder, for wandering neighborhoods, which has not happened.
Not a recommended pack, truth be told, but I knew if the D800 went down, I could borrow some sort of Nikon here. So far, so good. One day of assigning to go, and everything has worked, though I did crack the viewfinder in the pano camera. Sigh.
Other stuff. Three SB-910 units, two Justin clamps, two PW PlusX units with cords, Lastolite micro speed light soft box, and an 8 in 1 umbrella, which just did squeeze into my suitcase. No light stands, or big shapers. No tripod. Three Iosafe external drives, cords, chargers, Lexar cards, readers, international power strip. The ever present Think Tank roller, and a Guru Gear backpack. Advil. Sunblock.
Given the new parameters of the production job I was facing, I recommended lighting to my client, citing a Profoto distributor here I hoped they would reach out to. They instead, unannounced to me, went out a bought a bunch of stuff, and sent it to my hotel room to make sense out of. There were some good things, like an Elinchrom Ranger, and a 59″ Rotilux soft box. And a super boom, two stands of undetermined origin, no umbrellas, a small soft box with a Hensel adapter ring (that stayed in the box), a couple Manfrotto super clamps, which have gone unused, a pretty funky, spring loaded c-stand, and that’s about it. How to make all this work together as a coherent field kit?
Shopping! I went to this huge building, bulging with photo shops, called Wukesong. For three straight days, I was everybody’s darling in there. The amount of gear dripping from the walls in these bustling little shops is impressive, if strange of name.
First thing I did was purchase a couple of big rolling cases to go into the field with. My client did a smart thing, buying gear, but did not connect with the fact that you can’t take it in the manufacturer’s boxes onto location. Got two of the biggest rollers I could find. No names on the cases. Got two incredibly cheap umbrellas, a big reflective, and a smaller shoot thru. Grabbed a sizable beauty dish, and blessedly, found an Elinchrom coupler for it.
Dukes, a Beijing based writer/shooter, loaned me his Induro tripod, and I managed to find two camera plates for it. Gels? I found a sheet of “3200” in a shop that is the strangest shade of tungsten I’ve ever seen. Grabbed a generic reflector pan, as, strangely, the Ranger kit came without one. I had one sync cord that did come with the kit, and it has hung in there. Dukes also loaned me a circular reflector/diffuser that’s about two feet across.
But, my biggest problem was syncing with the Ranger pack. I had two PW units, but no way to plug them in, and there wasn’t a hope at Wukesong of finding PW to Elinchrom cords. I could have brought mine, but had no idea this was the lighting kit I would be presented with. So, I’ve simply been old school about it, hard wiring camera to pack when I can, and then radio triggering to an SB, clamped to the stand by the pack, and firing into the slave eye at low power. Rube Goldberg-esque, but it works.
Our Temple of Heaven day was typical, in that almost all the pieces came into play. We started in early morning with a not great but not bad quality of available light, and worked our way through beauty dish with a reflector, beauty dish with SB fill, beauty dish without diffuser sock, big reflected umbrella with two speed lights on TTL, and then, finally, good sunset light. We had two hours in the am with the monument pretty much to ourselves, and then two hours in the late afternoon, so we had to move fast. Stood down in the middle of the day, as the models would have been cooked in these gowns in the Beijing heat, and the Temple of Heaven is just chock-a-block with folks during the day. Many thanks to the supervisor who arranged all this! I met him, and thought, what a cool business card this dude must have: Supervisor, Temple of Heaven.
Here in Beijing, scouting and prepping for what I hope might be one of the best assignments I’ve had in recent memory. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, during scout sessions, shooting a bit in one of my favorite places. Have a great holiday weekend, everybody!
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.
Wanna be a good landscape shooter? Just stand next to Moose Peterson at his next workshop. There was just this recent story that popped up in the New York Times, something about waiting for light to hit this waterfall In Yosemite. If it does, just right, it’s called “firefall,” and it is a coveted picture amongst landscape afficiandos, at least some of whom go around, collecting these famous vistas like ball cards.