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

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