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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

Some Flashes and a Cup of Water

Mar 24

In Lighting at 9:49am

So, what do you do when your location proves to be a stretch of pitted tarmac baked into desert? You stand there of course, in the blasted sun, with squinted eyes and a certain compressed, rueful expression on your face, realizing you had said yes to the location and now would have to make it work. The sun above is a freight train, baking your skull and barreling noisily through anything you might try to construe as a thought process. The only sources of open shade are wasted pieces of stubborn shrubbery, and none of them are higher than your kneecap, so to access any measure of open shade you would have to revert to macro photography. You are standing in what is known as the Dubai Velodrome. Let’s say the word velodrome has been loosely interpreted.

But, there are positive things. Power lines crackle overhead, and in the dusty distance, a real life blend of Oz and Gotham, glitters the skyline of Dubai, punctuated by the silvery slice of the Khalifa tower. You have lenses and lights. Best thing to be done, and the best lesson a location like this can teach you, is to be patient and carve out the pieces of this initially bleak vista into something that might work as a picture. Luckily, we had Miguel, an excellent triathlete, not to mention a bunch of speed lights. I was teaching a class called Fast Flash, Bodies in Flight at what has come to be a revered slot on the photo calendar, the estimable gathering of photogs and instructors known as GPP.

First thing, as always, was to find the field of frame, or, your point of view. Strip out the unappealing elements of the location. Keep it simple. We lined up the bike parallel to the skyline. Cali positioned himself at the rear wheel to stabilize Miguel, which meant he was about to get wet. Which wasn’t a big deal, as the giant sponge of the Middle Eastern sun dried him out instantly. He actually had the best job in the bunch of us.

Once Miguel’s position was defined, placed the lights. It being a workshop, we had a bunch of speed lights at our disposal, so I placed three and three at either end of the bike, just slightly behind Miguel’s profile. I call this position, for whatever reason, three quarter back light. That’s not an official, sanctioned term. Just my own convoluted sense of the language of location. The three apiece deal perched atop a pair of Manfrotto stacker stands via a Lastolite ratcheting tri-flash, which is a handy thing in an environment like this, as you can swing the sensors around to maximize their angle of reception for the commander pulse. We were working line of sight TTL, so these units proved handy.

Then, we simply blasted Miguel with light and got to 1/125th @ f22. Enter Jon and Ali, with multiple cups of water in hand. One, two three, splash! The pic above was the first frame of four I shot with water. I then turned the scene over to the class, and they happily proceeded to continue to drench our patient riders. The shutter speed/flash combo gave us a slight bit of motion to the water, and the depth achieved by f22 kept the city, which was far off, reasonably discernible.



Speaking of the tri-flash above, there’s a whole new group of additions to the Joe McNally range of Lastolite light shaping tools just coming on line now. I’ll be blogging about them over the course of the next few weeks, but if you want to take a look at some videos of them in operation, and what they can do, hit this link. It will take you right there and you can check out a couple of new ideas for light management that we conjured with Gary Astill, Lastolite’s resident genius designer, and mad scientist of the workings of light. Huge kudos to Gary and the crew at Manfrotto/Lastolite. They are good folks, and wonderful to work with.


More tk…..

Keeping It Simple in Vancouver….

Feb 15

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 6:14pm

We continue to push ahead and have some fun up here at the Vancouver Photo Workshops, doing a whole week of experimenting with speed lights.

One speedlight, outside the window. Tri-grip diffuser held up against the glass. TTL signal from camera pulsed out the window to the flash in the street. Couple frames, soft light for Mary June, who is a lovely model. Tomorrow is a big group here at The Ironworks in Vancouver for an all day lighting demo. Then, for me, a red eye to Washington DC (if it every stops snowing). Back to Vancouver later next week.

More tk….


Oct 16

In In The Field, Lighting at 8:53am

The beauty dish is a fave of fashion photogs everywhere. I call it a “cheekbone light.” It is short, sharp and it clearly, definitively crisps out human facial architecture, especially architecture that’s been facialized, powdered, defined, beautified, and otherwise made to look all sorts of crackling super human…in other words, a thoroughly worked over fashion model’s face. Read the rest of this entry »

The Company of Photogs

Sep 18

In Lighting at 7:21am

I have always enjoyed the company of photographers, and last week, in a couple teaching stints, I was definitely in the mix with hundreds of funny, gregarious, passionate shooters. Some of whom, as you see below, helped me out by becoming extroverted, unabashed subjects for my camera.

These impromptu modeling sessions have become a staple when I teach, and my search of the audience for faces alternately produces groans, rueful smiles, outright enthusiasm, and sheer unadulterated dread. As a people photog, though, I enjoy the very haphazard search for faces. It has been a search I’ve conducted, literally, my whole career.

The lighting above is dead bang simple. The basic light shaper is a piece of xerox paper, taped to the computer screen. Done deal. You can control the sideways spill of it, if you wish, with a few strips of gaffer tape.

Background is a light on the floor, and the red hair light is a third SB unit, suspended overhead. You can send them signals to behave as TTL lights, or manual lights, and maneuver the exposure at camera to achieve a decently saturated look and feel. One of these days, I’ll take the time to craft a fancy spot light for the front of the computer, but when moving through demos, I don’t take that extra time. This is just a fun few minutes with gels, colors, simple light techniques, and some folks who obviously have some pretty good acting skills.

Have a few more teaching stints this year, mostly for the Kelby group down in Tampa. Here’s link for places and dates.  Also head to Mexico twice. First up, San Miguel, with the Santa Fe Workshops.  Then, in December, I return to Mexico for the PhotoXperience, in beautiful Guanajuato. 

Head to the UK today. Some vacation, and then, GPP PopUP.  All the best, to everyone! More tk….

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….