11.27.2013

Two Lights, a Gray Wall, Many Voices

It's a good thing I'm starting to hear voices. Not voices of destruction and mayhem but voices of teachers, lessons, mentors and common sense. Well ... three out of four ain't bad. I had been wanting to do a simple portrait shoot with a stark background and an engaging subject for a while now. A friend of mine at work needed some portraits done and I thought this might be a chance to get what I was waiting on.

s2.0
Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/100 @ f/5.6, ISO 400 SB-800

First off, I couldn't remember what their home had to offer for background, ambiance and general workspace. I had been hitting +DavidHobby Lighting in Layers Disk I, lessons two and three pretty hard and trying to memorize "the Strobist voice." David talks a lot about balancing the ambient light with flash, in fact, using the ambient light as the first light in your kit. I started making a couple diagrams and jotting down notes of things to remember: work in manual, get the exposure set, move around the setting, key light, fill ... all that stuff.

hair
Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/100 @ f/5.6, ISO 400 SB-800 ... ya gotta get the hair flip.

When I got on site (read — got over to their house) it was a gloomy day, raining outside and the ambient light was not very attractive. But imagine my delight when I saw this wall, a gray wall, about six feet wide with pictures hanging on it. And enough room to clear furniture and have a great old time!

We made a plan for some family portraits with the dog and all, worked through those first including a couple of passport photos, and then we could concentrate on individual portraits and take our time ... with the gray wall.

s2.0

For the portraits of Sarah, I set up a 30" softbox to use as my key light and a 16" softbox to use as a rim, er ... kicker, uhhh ... hair light! See? Many voices! See lighting diagram for most of the details. This setup actually came from +ErikValind and his voice from the workshop a few weeks ago (see post Shaping Light: A Small Flash Workshop). The key light was an SB-800 triggered with a Pocketwizard and the kicker was an SB-800 in SU-4 Slave mode! It worked great! I had never thought of using SU-4 mode ... voices always said CLS is the way to go. Wrong, oh CTO breath!

Takeaways from the shoot

  • I think my key light should have been a little higher in relation to the subject and pulled closer to axis; maybe at 30 degrees instead of 45.
  • My NEF files seem to be consistently 2/3 stop underexposed ... "watch your histogram," a voice I didn't hear that day but will from now on.
  • Engaging with an engaged subject is quite engaging ... that might be a +JoeMcNally voice I was hearing.
  • Should have shot at ISO 200. I had plenty of light power.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the work we got done. It's become reassuring over time that I have voices to listen to. They've taught me a lot and are a great reference to help guide the work. Thanks gentlemen.

11.25.2013

And I Call Them Brooms

Twenty years ago, on Saturday, October 30, 1993, two of my best friends were married in an Episcopalian celebration of High Mass. Present were long forgotten numbers of guests, parish dignitaries and attendees, and a ceremonial pastor also a close friend. We celebrated in dignified honor the joining of two gay men. I'm still not sure which one signified the bride and which one signified the groom. I have since settled on addressing both celebrees as "brooms." They don't seem to mind and we all get a good chuckle over our shared interpretation and the double entendre.

Todd & Robert

The ceremony took place at St. Paul's On the Hill on Summit Avenue. Founded in 1854, it is one of the oldest churches of its kind.

The wedding party, as well as the brooms, were all regaled in turn-of-the-century tuxedos, the women in gowns of exceeding splendor from the same period. The church was scantly appointed for what could have been a modern-day wedding but for the turn-of-the-century attire the church needed no further embellishment. It was perfectly appointed, scented with incense and lined with straight white candles (no pun intended).

Many things have changed over the past twenty years. Back then it wasn't easy to find a congregation willing nor worthy of celebrating a "same-sex" marriage but now they're a dime a dozen. Back then strict rules would have our presiding pastor defrocked for performing the ceremony; he has since been refrocked. There were even threats of protests, TV stations and other news authorities fervent in their convictions to show humans how capable they are of shaming the whole race with their behavior; although, none showed up. So much for conviction.

By now, we've been treated to DOMA and other acts of silliness rendering most of us nauseated by convention dripping with that sweet taste of hyperbole. It's been an interesting adventure that never knocked off course the conviction Todd and Robert had pledged those twenty years ago. There was nothing more made of their celebration than that of a simple passing rain, leaves falling or the smiles of friends.

int.todd.robert-1

On Wednesday, October 30, 2013, we gathered again to celebrate what had been recognized by a church all these years and that which will be recognized by the State for time to come. Essentially, we're all just asking, "how come it took so much bullshit and so much time?" Once again, we met at St Paul's On the Hill, dressed in similar ceremonial fashion and celebrated in dignified honor joining our friends.

10.28.2013

Shaping Light: A Small Flash Workshop

Leah

Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox right, unknown flash in Lastolite something-or-other for rim light back right. Model: Leah.

A couple of weeks back, I spent a Saturday morning with Erik Valind who was in town presenting a workshop sponsored by National Camera Exchange and hosted at the Minneapolis Photo Center. It was an opportunity to work with a professional who supervised two shooting sessions flanked by plenty of lecture, examples, and insights.

I had run into Erik's class on Kelby training and found it pretty helpful. Erik is a professional working out of NYC principally focused on Life Style photography. Or as he put it, "outside shooting. Anything to be outside." For the shooting sessions, Erik set up three stations ... first session with a single light source. The station I worked in was a speedlight in 30" softbox. We were all told to set our cameras to 1/250 @ f/8. Models were provided and each station also came equipped with some kind of reflector. We were instructed to share a pocket wizard and rotate through the queue so that everyone (ten at each station) had an opportunity to work with the equipment and the model.

Janna
Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox left. Model: Janna.

I chose to man the reflector for everyone until it was my turn to shoot. I appreciated Erik's instruction concerning the models ... "say Hi! get to know them, introduce yourself." So, with manning the reflector for everyone, I was able to strike a conversation with Janna (one of the willing model participants) and overhear everyone else stumble through their banter. I learned a lot from that especially what not to say. You can't force a conversation. You have to take them seriously showing some genuine interest so they return the favor. Holding the reflector for others I was able to carry on a good enough conversation with Janna that when we shot together she seemed pretty comfortable and willing to follow my direction.

Leah
Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox right, unknown flash in Lastolite something-or-other for rim light back right. Model: Leah.

The second shooting session involved the addition of a rim light and a change in models. Leah was naturally gregarious but in some ways too interested in doing the model shit that most people expected. She was good at it. What I tried to accomplish with Leah was to get her to be her. After a few misfires she started to come around and have some fun. It helped that the guy holding the reflector for me was willing to engage and I could get her to play off him as well.

You don't really get a lot of time to work with the models. The main objective is to work with the equipment (everyone from the same starting point) move around a little, play with the ambient light, move the reflector closer, further back, drop the reflector altogether. Mostly look at how the light, the angles, proximity, and reflection work. Try for the smooth soft light that's appropriate for the subject and embraces them.

Here are my takeaways from lecture and shooting sessions

  • We talked a lot about the quality of light and achieving smooth transitions from light to dark. That's where the reflectors came in. They help lift the shadows on the dark side of the subject.
  • Ya gotta dig Pocketwizards. We were using the PlusX 10 channel, hundred dollar jobbies. They were nice and easy to use.
  • Rapport with the subject is key. I like to shoot portraits and want to capture the character and persona as much as possible. I'm not interested in who they might think they are or who they might think they should emulate.
  • I've got a lot of work to do ... most of it is just finding that one thing that I can repeat that helps define my photography.

To wrap up, it was a good session. A lot of the lecture I'd heard before but that makes it easier to remember. Now I can add Erik to those little voices in the back of my mind. It was nice having models to work with albeit a short time. I was lucky to get the time I did and think I was able to take advantage of all of it. Nice job Mr. Valind.

10.27.2013

Matt & Tasha

one of many

Nikon D300, 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5; 18mm, 1/6 @ f/4, ISO 1000 SB-800 w/black foamie thing

Contrary to the lack of activity on my blog, I have been busy this summer. I upgraded my camera to a Nikon D300 and got a chance to take it out for a run in September at my nephew's wedding. I was able to act as sort of a third shooter and made sure I stayed out of the hired photog's way. Besides, they knew what they were doing and as far as I could tell covered the wedding admirably. I enjoyed getting some shots from the periphery and they had some nice setups. Every once in a while there'd be a gap in the shooting schedule and I got to grab the attention of wedding subjects.

Above is a shot I got at the reception. I was using one of those little black foamie things that Neil van Niekirk professes in his blog, books and seminars. So, most of the time the flash was pointer back over my head and directed to the ceiling using TTL. I'm sold on that technique. I'm not real good at it but I got some nice shots using it and can definitely see its advantages.

The ceremony was in a beautiful tree-covered clearing at a park in West Des Moines. The light was great if not a little green so I spent some time customizing the white-balance in post. It was a beautiful late summer day and think I got some nice shots.

bride & groom
Nikon D300, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; 300mm 1/80 @ f/5.6, ISO 800

sprites
Nikon D300, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; 75mm 1/200 @ f/5.6, ISO 800

happy
Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/250 @ f/5.6, ISO 400

The lowdown on the D300 ... I really appreciate being able to crank up the ISO when needed. Yes, I got some noise but a lot less than the D200 gave me and nothing that can't be dealt with in post. It was a good day and a nice introduction to the D300.

11.22.2012

Me and my friend Jake

jakethis.com ... everything you need to know and more.

Nikon D200, 35mm, 1/20 @ f/8, ISO 100 ambient light

Jake and I have been friends for a long time. It's not very often that we've had an opportunity to spend more than fifteen minutes together but, it's always great to see him. We were working at a restaurant together back in the late seventies, while in school, when Jake came up to me and said, "Well, Deke, I'm moving out to San Francisco to be a stand up comic."

I have to admit that I wasn't completely surprised about the moving part but, was skeptical at best about the comic part ... then, he disappeared. It took years ... I finished school, moved to Minneapolis and thought Jake might just be another phantom that I stuck into the file of past acquaintances with all the others. You know what? He made it. And he's been making a living at it for over three decades!

We got a warm fall Saturday afternoon together in November in Minnesota (oxymoron alert) spent the time talking over Chipotle and working some urban portraits in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. It was a great time talking about everything from health to marriage, children, old friends, politics and who's to blame for the monolithic rise of stupidity permeating America. Then, we had coffee.

jake
Nikon D200, 35mm, 1/50 @ f/2.2, ISO 100 ambient light

jake
Nikon D200, 35mm, 1/400 @ f/2.2, ISO 100 ambient light

jake
Nikon D200, 35mm, 1/80 @ f/4.5, ISO 100 ambient light

jake
Nikon D200, 35mm, 1/250 @ f/4, ISO 100 ambient light -- although, highly processed

Sue and I had bought tickets to Jake's 8:00 show and invited a couple friends of ours. Jake was great! Very funny! We all had a fun time. One of the best Saturday's I've had. Thanks Jake. Hope to see you soon. I have a feeling we've still got a lot to talk about.
Check out Jake and his schedule at jakethis.com