Sunday, November 23, 2014

Creative Flash 3 - Freezing Action

Cyclists In Central Park

Still photography has a dynamic relationship with movement. Photographs can freeze fleeting instances that our eyes cannot perceive, or they can stretch time and render movement as blurs or streaks.

A fast shutter speed combined with a lightning fast burst of flash can freeze fast-moving subjects like these cyclists. But this type of shot presents a technological problem that you might not expect.

a photograph of cyclists riding in central park new york
Speeding Cyclists - Central Park

When the camera's focal plane shutter moves at a high speed, it's never completely open. Rather, it slides across the frame like a narrow open slit. A normal burst of flash would illuminate only the part of the where the slit is open. The rest of the frame would remain dark.

(Note: There are special lenses that work around this problem by mounting the shutter in the lens, rather than in the camera. But these lenses are not designed for use with most cameras.)

Luckily, the brilliant engineers at Nikon and Canon have come up with a solution for the flash over speeding shutter problem. The flash doesn't just fire once; it fires several times in rapid succession. 

Flash! Flash! Flash! 

If everything is synchronizes properly, you can freeze motion at a very high shutter speed while adding the creative power of flash to the image.

The cyclist photo was shot with a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second, which is about six or seven times the typical maximum shutter speed for flash photography. Nice work, engineers!

: Nikon D800E
Lens:     Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G
Flash:    2 x Nikon SB-910 / SU-800 commander

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Creative Flash 2 - TV Promo In Action

You Might See More Than You Bargained For

The word "flash" has multiple connotations in a place like Times Square.

a photo of a dating naked television promo shoot in times square
TV Promo Spot Being Filmed in Times Square

You never know what you'll see in the big city. Expect the unexpected. And always be ready to say, "Cheese!"

: Nikon D800E
Lens:     Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G
Flash:    Nikon SB-910 / SU-800 commander

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Creative Flash 1 - Ballet in the Park

Part One In A Series on Flash Photography

Everyone who works to achieve something owes a debt to those who came before, the pioneers who blazed trails and passed down knowledge that we now take for granted. 

This concept was expressed elegantly by Sir Isaac Newton in 1676: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (1) The idea dates back to Twelfth Century French philosopher Bernard of Chartres (2) who, even in his time recognized that the knowledge of the ancient world was a great asset to modern thought. 

Artists, musicians, writers, photographers - we all learn from those who came before us. I was a casual snap shooter until the day that I stumbled across an exhibition of nature photography by the late Galen Rowell. 

Rowell's images were like nothing that I had ever seen, full of sharp detail and rich colors. The prints had the shiny, saturated look of wet oil paint. I found it incredible that a camera could produce something so breathtaking. 

It was a life changing experience. I wanted to learn to do what Mr. Rowell had done, or at least to understand the processes that he used in order to create these stunning images. I bought a better camera and set out to learn as much as I could about light and composition. 

From my initial interest in landscape photography, I gained an appreciation for the characteristics and subtleties of natural light. I learned how to predict when and where it would appear in spectacular form and how to overcome the obstacles involved in capturing dramatic light on film. 

Over time, I also gained an interest in artificial light as well, predominantly strobe lighting (commonly referred to as flash). Joe McNally and Dave Black are masters of this type of photography. Fortunately for photographers everywhere, they are also generous educators, each having published a wealth of material explaining the techniques that they use and in some cases, have developed. 

a flash photograph of a ballerina in central park new york by daniel south
Ballerina in Central Park

One of my objectives for 2014 was to expand my own use strobe (flash) lighting. I forced myself to use flash as often as possible, even in cases where I would not have thought to use lighting before. 

The image of the ballerina in the park benefitted from the use of flash. A single, off-camera speed light filled the shadows and brought out the color and detail of the dancer's outfit. The subject stands out against the background.

By contrast, here is another photo of the same performance. I had taken two shots quickly. The light didn't have time to recharge before the second exposure, so it didn't produce a flash.

OOPS! The Flash Didn't Fire!

The impact of the lack of flash is clear. The details of the dancer's face and outfit are obscured in shadow in this second image. She no longer stands out against the background. (I applied identical post-processing to each image. Note that the background color and brightness are identical.)

Learning something new is always humbling. There are more misses than hits in the early going, and improvement doesn't come rapidly. But every mistake provides an opportunity to learn valuable insights. If you're willing to make mistakes and analyze them with an open mind, you can count on making good progress as well.

Research Citations:

(1) Source: Wikiquote (Isaac Newton)

(2) Source: Wikiquote (Bernard of Chartres)

: Nikon D800E
Lens:     Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Flash:    Nikon SB-910 / SU-800 commander

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Table Top Photography

Sophisticated Results from a Simple Setup

There's an old saying: "It doesn't matter what you did. All that matters is what it looks like you did."

In other words, you don't always need expensive equipment to create a high-quality image. Nowhere is this idea more applicable than in table top photography.

If you look at the photo below, you might assume that I used expensive lighting equipment to create it. I have some nice lights and modifiers, but I was in a hurry on the day when I took this, so I opted for a simpler solution.

The Secret Setup

Below and behind the camera are two sheets of white paper from a large drawing pad. The light came from a highly specialized piece of studio equipment called a window. Yes - a window. You might have a few of those in your very own home. If you look closely, you can see part of my coffee table reflecting in the camera's mirror. (Note to self: drape a dark cloth over the coffee table next time.)

a photo of a canon 5d mark iii body table top photography by daniel south
Table Top Photography by Daniel South

Okay, it wasn't a completely el cheapo shot. I used a good camera mounted to a solid tripod. The exposure was close to a full second long, so hand holding was out of the question. Don't expect your cell phone to yield similar results.

Further, there are some limitations to any quick and dirty approach. If I needed to take several shots and have them all look the same, window light would not be suitable because it changes over time. If I wanted to put the camera on a shiny or backlit surface, that would have required more work and resources than a matte white background.

Nevertheless, it's a clean and clear shot that shows the product nicely. I could blow the full-sized version of this image up to six feet wide, and you would see every detail in the machining of the metal lens mount - not bad for ten minutes in the living room on a day when I had a lot of things to do.

: Nikon D800E
Lens:     Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G 

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved