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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

A Quick and Simple TTL Build

Sep 30

In Lighting at 7:04am

Firefighters. They share, along with cowboys, an innate ability to simply step in front of a camera and become a photograph. Henry, of the Soufriere Fire Department in St. Lucia, has a look, a presence, if you will, that speaks to the camera.

To do this portrait, I made some camera moves before I even put it to my eye. When doing what one might call a “formal” portrait, I’ve always enjoyed a more blocky type of aspect ratio. Don’t know exactly why. It might hark back to film days when I shot a lot of 6×7 and square medium format stuff. In the D4S there is a menu checkoff where you can alter your frame from the standard DSLR view to 5×4, which is what I did here. I also shifted into Monochrome. I still have color in the raw file, but when I shoot B&W, I like to see in B&W. It makes a difference. I rarely shoot in color and then convert it to monochrome later. I try my best to think and see in the palette I am shooting, at the moment of exposure.

One subject? One light, at least to start. (Best to keep it simple and move fast when working with firefighters, as they’re likely to disappear at any moment.) 

Here’s where light placement, hence a C-stand, comes in, well, not just handy, but pretty damn essential. Depending on your taste, of course. You can light from the side, or elsewhere. You can light from anyplace you want to try. But, my instincts said, light from overhead, symmetrically, and for this, you gotta extend, or boom the light source.

Which is, in this particular equation, a 24″ white interior Lastolite hotshoe soft box. Handy, simple, all purpose light source. It’s pretty soft and forgiving, but also directional, hence the shadows. It gives Henry a look, for sure. It’s moody, and has attitude. But, pitched from up above, that’s all it gives. You don’t see the eyes.

Want the eyes? That calls for another light, given the attitude of the first light, which I didn’t want to change. I washed a Group B TTL light off the silver reflective sleeve of a Lastolite trip-grip diffuser, placed on the floor, about 8′ in front of the subject. Voila! Eyes.

But, this is a wash of light, it flows upwards towards Henry, and lights not just his eyes, but it puts details into his overall frame and what he is sitting on, which happens to be some sort of air filter we found in the firehouse. It’s nice enough, but not really specific. If you want a light just dedicated to his eyes, best to use something like a gridded or snooted source, something that produces a small, concentrated splash of light that really locates the eyes and not much else.

For the above, there are a couple things you could use. Lastolite makes a gridded, magnetized snoot that is collapsible and cool. It travels well, and the whole kit, with the grids, frame and snoot give you lots of options. The big blow of light behind Henry is the same contraption I had just used to fill the front of him. It’s a speed light bounced into a silver tri-grip. Give a little, get a little, is the rule of location. Other rules abound. Solve one problem, create two more. Murphy’s law. The frequency of the bread falling butter side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. Etc. Location is problem solving, often times. Eliminating the frontal, general fill and going with a very specific source meant I lost a touch of detail in the background. So, I pulled the floor fill rig around to the back of Henry, to light up the rack of bunker gear hanging back there. True to the general pattern of TTL, the camera’s brain rightly perceived that area to be dark and pumped out too much light, as you can see above.

Plugged in minus 2 EV (also tried minus 3) and dialed up the background to a decent, moody level.

We ended up here, with three lights. Group A, overhead, boomed Lastolite 24″ hot shoe soft box. Group B, fill snoot for his face and eyes, running low power, about minus 3 ev. And the background, Group C, a bounce off of a silver reflective surface (the speed light is just laying on it) running in similar toned down fashion, minus 2 or 3.

Here’s the final camera specs. D4S, 1/20th, f5.6, 79-200mm f2.8 zoom, set at 170mm. I have minus three programmed into the camera, but the D4S ignores that command because it is set in manual mode. I did my scout in aperture priority, getting the rough exposure for the scene dialed in, and then flipped the camera into manual to proceed through the making of the shot. I could say I did this because I was showing the class the various modes of the camera and how they interrelate. Or I could just say I made a mistake and forgot to drain out that exposure command. You choose. :-)

More tk….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping Light in Shanghai!

Sep 19

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 8:18am

Very happy to report I’ll be going back to an amazing city, Shanghai, this fall, and working once again with peerless wedding shooter Louis Pang. The two of us have always taught well together, taking different paths to a picture, and using skill sets that complement each other well. Louis of course is the master of the wedding, orchestrating and posing people in wonderful fashion. Me? Well, I’ll be engaging once again in a bit of hopefully creative mayhem with speed lights.

I’ve always loved shooting in Shanghai, which is one of the most vibrant places on earth. Louis and I will be teaching there from November 19th through the 23rd.  Here’s the schedule and links to the workshops and seminars offered..

Workshop: http://slshanghai.com/shaping-light-in-shanghai-by-joe-mcnally/

Seminar: http://slshanghai.com/shaping-light-in-shanghai-seminar/

Here’s just a few shots I’ve done in Shanghai over the years, and I’m excited to head back to teach!

More tk….

 

The Sky is the Driver

Aug 14

In Lighting at 7:01am

As I usually mention when teaching flash lighting, the most important light to observe and work with is not represented by that carton of flashes in the trunk of your car. It’s the ambient light level you encounter on location. Even if you go into a coal mine, and there is no light, that lack of ambient illumination becomes the driver for your flash solution. Likewise, outside, on a sunny day, that nuclear blast of photons up in the sky pushes you to light…or not. So, ironically, when you go on location as a “flash photographer.” no matter how many watt seconds you are packing. the ambient light is the key light to observe and react to. Read the rest of this entry »

Knocking Around With Flash

Aug 11

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 5:48am

It’s been a busy year, so much so, I didn’t get around to doing a KelbyOne live seminar until late June. They are fun to do, and it looks like I’ll do a few more as the year progresses. The Kelby folks actually changed the name of the tour in the middle of things (thanks guys:-) so it is now called “The Power of One Flash.” Good example below. A very patient lady helped me out by coming out of the audience in San Jose for this one flash snap.

It’s a one flash deal, but the flash is ping ponged off a white foam core board. It faces away from the subject, hits that board, enlarges and softens dramatically, and then hits a 3×3 Lastolite Skylite Rapid Diffuser, which is very, very close to her face. When the already bounced light translates through that, it gets really glowy and soft. It’s basically a home made soft box I make on stage.

At the top of the blog, the pic is three flashes, but I don’t get to three until the fourth hour, and only use the that many for about 10 minutes. The rest of the day is pretty much one flash treatments, which I regard as a serious act of restraint on my part.

The gentleman in the hat is lit with two rim lights, off to the sides and behind him. I shot in tungsten white balance, so the white light SB-910 units go blue. With a little underexposure, they get dramatically blue. The front light is a little beauty dish that used to be made by Flashpoint. Sadly, they don’t make it anymore, but I loved the controlled snap of the light, especially when used, as it is here, with a honeycomb grid. It’s tight, and really pops the subject, but let’s the other lights do their thing, as it’s overall field of coverage is really defined and narrow.

Also experimenting with a new style of umbrella. It’s big. (Called a 4 in 1 by the Lastolite folks, it is 51″ so the coverage is excellent.) Used in reflected fashion, it easily drapes Brad and Jan here in rounded, soft light. (This big source gets trotted out in the last hour, where I show some Profoto large flash units, and contrast that approach with multiple speed lights into one shaper.)

Then, with the addition of a tri-grip silver reflector, and some banter, we ended up here. These lovely folks have been together a long time, over 20 years, as I remember. Many thanks to them for coming onstage.

But turn the umbrella into a shoot through, firing only through the center port, you can make it a character driven light, such as the treatment here of Chet, also a wonderful volunteer from the audience.

The above pix are shot with the exact same light source, the 4 in 1, but configured in a different way, which yields decidedly different results.

Next one of these stops is Cleveland! Having fun doing these, and many, many thanks for all the gracious folks who come up onstage and help me out during the day. Most people don’t imagine at the beginning of the day that they will end up with a photo session in front of 300 plus people, but for a few, it works out that way. Hey, I get a great subject to work with, and they get a new Facebook profile picture. All good……more tk…..

 

Profoto at the Opera!

Jun 26

In Jobs, Lighting at 2:35pm

It is always advisable to travel light going into China. It is a country of many rules and regulations, and that age old photog ethic of “Damn the rules I’m here to make pictures!” can be blunted a bit if displayed to the wrong, say, customs official. Hence, I was exceedingly grateful that Profoto USA, Sweden and China all pulled together and offered the assistance of a strobe package for my latest visit.

The city of Beijing is a fascinating place, filled with practitioners of ancient and time honored art forms, such as Chinese opera. I was very lucky to work with these actors and actresses for a few hours.

I was using mostly B1 units, for the first time. First experience in the field, for me, with these guys, was all positive. They’re not just good, they’re terrific. Solid state, built like a little armored vehicle of light, and just locked on in terms of the getting the signal from the air remote. (I always approach the transceivers, signalers, radio remotes, or smoke signal system associated with specific lighting brands with a bit of trepidation. In some instances, it feels like an afterthought, and performs like one. No worries on these. Even at distance, reception was reliable.)

For the basic light setup, I had a 4×6 RFi soft box overhead of camera, and a 2×2 under for beauty fill. As I backed off, to incorporate the actors in their staid, traditional poses and stage personae I noticed the ornate ceiling of the theater was going black. I put one B1 back there and just banged it into the ceiling, and it had more than enough juice to bring out the detail.

All the above were shot at one second on a D800E, which is a super resolved, sharp camera. Hence I really relied on the power of the flashes to chisel out the details. In the tight beauty portrait above, for instance, the right side of the frame does have the vapor of motion about it, which I ended liking in that instance. But most of the time I’m keeping my tripod steady, and encouraging the actors to make their moves, and then hold, hold, hold.

I love working over in Beijing. The folks I work for are pretty exacting in what they want, but you also get to have fun as well, such as with a legendary chef and his helpers in a famed duck restaurant. Below, I’m just blasting some B1 light through a shoot thru umbrella, working fast, and hoping to get out of this busy kitchen’s way before the chef decided to take a cleaver to the annoying photographer.

I learned a lot on the trip, and had a blast with, what was for me, some new lighting gear. I’ll be continuing to experiment, which at the end of the day, is what a career as a shooter is all about.

Quick note: Tomorrow, Friday, I’m in Seattle teaching The Power of One Flash Tour for KelbyOne. I’ll be using B1 units on stage for the first time, which again, is a new wrinkle for me, and it should be fun.

More tk…