Taking fewer pictures (part 2)

I didn’t originally intend for THIS ARTICLE to be a multi-part series, but THIS POST by none other than David Hobby got me thinking about it again.

DH talks about the “first frame” contest he and other sports shooter would play – in short each shooter would take the first frame on their roll (whatever it was) and whoever had the best action shot (this is sport shooting after all) would “win”.

Now this resonated with me because it touches on a skill that I think is very much related to my whole “taking fewer pictures” rant – and that is anticipating the shot.

The whole “first frame” contest is intriguing because it is a balancing act – snap too early and you might wind up with a boring shot, when there are more interesting ones down the pipe.   Snap too late, and you may miss the shot of the day.   The skill lies in being able to *predict*  when the action will happen, and where it will be – and nail it with your first shot.

Even if you aren’t a sport’s shooter (and I certainly am not), unless you are shooting food or still-lifes, your subjects are most likely dynamic – constantly in motion.  People certainly are, from street to fashion photography – they are constantly moving, walking, jumping, expressions changing etc… Even landscapes have a dynamic component – clouds shift, sunlight changes, trees blow, waves crash.   Pretty  much anything you can think of to photograph is in s constant state of flux.

Part of the art of great photography is learning how to track this ever changing motion and pace your shots accordingly.  Just seeing a great photo is not enough – by the time your brain has registered “oh that is a great shot”, sent the message to your hands which then have to aim the camera, focus and release the shutter, – chances are you’ve already missed “the decisive moment”.    The trick is to *know* when that moment *is about to happen*, so you are prepared – when “the shot” occurs you are already squeezing the shutter – without even having to think about it.  This applies from everything from anticipating when the sun will peek out from behind a cloud to when a model will turn her (or his) head to *just* the right spot – then *bam* you nail it.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert at this by any means, but I feel that it is a fundamental skill in the Art of photography that is in danger of falling by the wayside as more and more photographers fall back on the 10fps machine gun approach.  For me it is yet another thing that I try and practice every time I shoot, to make myself a better photographer.

Just more random musings…

Making the Image #1

2007-10-27at11-45-42-pentax-k10d-edit-2I wanted to start off this series with one of my favorite images, which was actually relatively simple to make.  The piece is titled “Sunshine in the Rain” and began with a concept and a rainy day.


I don’t remember exactly where I came up with the idea for this shot, but it was something that I had been kicking arond for some time.  I had a vague notion of how I wanted to juxtapose the rain and “sunshine” with the umbrella by making it look like light was shining out of it.   As I recall, it had been raining for a while and Vicky and I were stuck at home.  I was itching to shoot, so the idea just popped into my head and started to take shape.  I was envisioning the model stainding in the park with rain pouring down all around while holding an umbrella with “sunshine” coming out of it.


Challenge #1 was how to get the light to “shine” out of the umbrella.   I thought of using a standard silver photo umbrella, but 1) it didn’t have the right “look” and 2) I had no idea if it actually was waterproof 🙂  I ended up taking a plain ol’ large rain umbrella and lining it with foil (taped in with duct tape).  I used  a cord to tie the strobe to the shaft, high enough to be hidden by the curve of the umbrella.    Since I didn’t have a park handy, I decided a cityscape background would look good as well.  I knew this place around city hall that had some open space with not a lot of foot traffic to get in the way of the shot.  We ventured out (in the pouring rain 🙂 and set up.   I was using a 35mm equivalent prime to get a pretty big FOV, as I knew I wanted sky in the image, as well as the ground with the light shining.   The scene was metered for ambient, and the strobe was fired wirelessly in TTL mode.   Played around with a couple of shots/angles, but I wound up liking this framing with city hall framed between the two buildings.


(note – that is the actual raw file, directly converted without any processing whatsoever.)  Pretty rough, huh?  I knew it would be a bit of work to get to the final product.  Most notably the “pool” of light on the ground is fainter and ill-defined.   I knew that this would be a compromise going into the image.  Because of the inverse square law (light falloff), given that her face was so close to the light source, if I had exposed for the light on the ground, I would have gotten a totally blown out face, but If I had exposed the face properly I would have gotten no light on the ground at all.  I compromised by overexposing the face a bit (recoverable) and underexposing the ground a bit, and planning on fixing in post.  Normally I like to do as much as possible in camera, but his was a case where I knew I would need to enhance it in post from the beginning.


With my concept in head, there were a few things I needed to do right off the bat – firstly to clone out the areas where light had leaked through cracks in the foil.  I wanted to keep the umbrella “solid”.   First the image was straightened and the overall exposure adjusted in lightroom.   Then it was exported to photoshop.  Since I knew I needed to do a lot of selective darkening and brightening, created two dodge and burn layers.  In short this is a layer in “overlay” mode filled with 50% grey.  By painting into this layer using either black or white you can selectively lighten or darken areas of an image (like dodging and burning in the darkroom).  White dodges (lightens) and black burns (darkens).  I made 2 separate layers, one for dodging and one for burning.   I burned in the outer edges of the pool of light while simultaneously dodging the inner area to create a more defined circle of light to enhance the “streaming out of the umbrella” effect.  I then lightened up some of the dark areas in the foreground and darkened the sky /lighter areas to give the overall ambient exposure more balance.  Once I was satisfied with the lighting I created a new layer, and cloned out the light spill in the umbrella Finally, a HSL layer was added to give the colors a bit more “pop”, masking out Vicky to prevent oversaturating the skin etc…

in the end the layers looked like:


and the final image:


Amazingly that was pretty much it for processing.  You can really do a lot with just dodge and burn techniques.  although the image was relatively “simple” I think it works well, and is to date one of my favorites (if not my favorite) in my portfolio.

The nuts and bolts of off-camera flash

Just to make it easier for reference, I’m collecting all 4 parts of this piece together into one post before they get lost in the black pit of the “blog archive”!

PART 1 – Intro/basics

PART 2 – Manual flash

PART 3 – TTL wireless

PART 4 – Syncing/sync speed

So there you have it!  all the nitty gritty of off camera flash in one convenient package for your bookmarking convenience 🙂

Eye dominance and photography

I recently read this article on “eye dominance” and photography, and it made me curious.  Even since the first time I picked up a camera I’ve instinctively used my left eye for the viewfinder- I never really thought about it.  I’m primarily right handed, but I find I do a lot of things “lefty” (play hockey, bat, shoot etc…)  Anwyay, I did the little “eye dominance test” and lo and behold it turns out I am right-eye dominant!

Now I’m wondering if I should try shooting with my right eye.  I tried it and it felt awkward at first, but Most likely that’s just because it is unfamiliar.  I might give it a  go for a few weeks, to see if I get comfortable with it.  Might releave eye-fatigue from long sessions in the VF 🙂

quick and dirty seamless backdrop for small subjects…

Just a quick tip if you do a lot of product/small object shots and want them on a seamless background.  Instead of rolling out a whole huge backdrop, just use a piece of matboard.  If you do your own matting/framing, you’ve probably got some on hand.  It comes in nice 30″x40″ sheets, and it is rigid enough to stay in place on it’s own when propped against a vertical surface like a wall or chair pushed up agains a table.  It gives a nice smooth curve under it’s own weight, and provides a non-wrinkly insta-seamless-backdrop.  and when you are done, you can mat your pictures with it 🙂

post processing…

I have a confession: I’m not a post processor.  I guess coming from a B&W film/wet printing background, to me the concept of “post process” means: “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn”.

and it’s funny that even now when I shoot 99% digital, in my head post processing still means “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn” 🙂  Oh, I do the plenty of b/w conversions, and skin touchups/etc… when shooting a model, but I really havent explored too far into the territory of *creative* post processing – using photoshop and lightroom to actually alter the picture to realize a specific creative vision.  Even my “sunshine in the rain” series (which generally evokes the reaction “wow was that photoshopped?”) was done 99% in camera.  The only adjustments were, you guessed it: exposure/contrast adjustment and some selective dodging and burning!

However, I’m going to change this.  Frankly I’m not one of those grumbly “it’s only real photography if it’s 100% in camera” purists.  In my book, any tool that helps you realize a creative/artistic vision is fine by me.  so to that end, I’ve resolved to work on my “creative post processing skills”.  I’ve started building a texture library, and plan on playing with incorporating textures into some of my work.  I’m also experimenting with cross-process and split tone effects in lightroom, as I have always loved that aesthetic.  (for some really cool cross process work, check Brian Auer’s blog, particularly this: 10 reasons to love cross-process film) Here’s a new split tone preset I have been playing with in lightroom.  I like it’s aesthetic, particularly in this shot:

The Nuts and Bolts of off-camera flash – Part 1, Basics

So unless you’ve been living under a rock (photographically speaking) for the past year or so, you’ve probably heard of David Hobby, AKA The Strobist.  The strobist blog has been singlehandedly responsible for introducing a whole new wave of photographers to the beauty and mystery that is: off camera lighting!

The problem is – a lot of this stuff is still confusing.  Heck, I didn’t “get it” the first time I read through lighting101.  Or the second.  Or probably not even the third.  And a lot of the time, the problem isn’t conceptual, it often comes down to the “nuts-and-bolts” issues – eg, things like “what works with what”, “how do I connect x to y” and “why is there a black bar across my image when I use my flash off camera but not on camera”

What I am going to do in this series of articles, is break down, step-by-step the various hardware and methods needed to get your flash off camera and firing properly.  We’re not going to worry about lighting theory or anything like that – just the “nuts and bolts”.

  • In par 1 (here) we’re going to talk about the basics of how a flash works, and the different modes you can use it in.
  • In part 2 we will discuss options for manual triggering.
  • In part 3 we will discuss wireless ttl flash
  • and finally in part 4 we will deal with some miscellaneous topics, such as x-sync, HSS, rear-curtain sync etc…

So without further ado, lets talk about getting your flash out of the hotshoe and into the wild where it belongs!

Now first of all it is important to understand how a flash actually fires.  In actuality it is quite simple – if you look at the bottom of your flash (or “foot”) there is an electrical contact, the center pin.  If you have a newer “system” flash, it may have other pins as well, but they all have the one center pin.  Now if you look at the inner sides of the foot, they are also metal.   When a connection is made between the center pin and the sides of the foot, the flash fires.

That’s it.  You could make your flash fire by connecting these two contacts with a paperclip even. (although I wouldn’t recommend it and am not responsible if you electrocute yourself trying it!)

So in essence, triggering your flash is simply a matter of making the connection that allows it to release it’s charge as a burst of light.   The catch, of course, is *how we make this connection*.

Now let’s step back for a minute.  Before we think about triggering the flash lets look at the primary “modes” of the flash.   In essence, a flash only has 1 adjustment – power.  In other words, “how much light does it put out when it pops”.  However, there are several ways of *calculating* how much power is needed or desired for a particular situation.

  1. manual.  Back in the day, all flashes were manual, meaning they were essentially “dumb”  *you* set the power output by hand, based on what you calculated was needed.
  2. auto.  auto flash is basically a way that the flash itself measures the amount of light needed based on settings you input.  We will not talk be talking much about auto-flash since I believe manual or ttl are more useful 99% of the time.
  3. TTL.  Stands for “Through The Lens”, and is a method where the camera and flash “talk” to each other and calculate the appropriate amount of flash automatically based on the camera settings and a meter reading.

For purposes of this discussion, we are just going to talk about manual and ttl flash, as I think they are the most useful.    The point to all this is that, despite having the same outcome (firing the flash) the *methods* for triggering your flash are very different depending on whether you will be using manual mode or TTL.

In part 2 we will talk about options for triggering your flash in manual mode, what kind of hardware you need for each, and pros and cons for each option.  Stay tuned!

UPDATE:  part 2 is now up – find it here