Balancing flash with ambient light is quickly becoming one of the short list of skills that most define me in my own mind. This article I’ll discuss more the creative decisions than the technical.
The method I usually use, unless time makes this impossible is to manually set an ambient exposure that gives the look I want. At this time I need to make the main creative choice; do I want the flashed subject to be brighter than the overall image, or use the flash as fill. If I want the flashed subject to be brighter, than I set the overall exposure to be a little dark, possibly as much as a stop. If I’m using the flash as fill, then I set a normal looking overall exposure.
Then you set the flash. If I’m using on camera speedlights, I use the E-ttl method. If I’m using off-camera then I set it manually. I am considering upgrading to Profoto Off Camera Flash system, if I do that I’ll use the method where you set the initial flash power with ttl and then tweak it to give the effect you want.
Finally, one has to consider the flash modifier used. I usually use something that softens the flash, softbox or beauty dish, but you need to look at the ambient and consider how you want it blend.
The day the Boeing 40C leaves WAAAM and heads to Spokane where its owners, Pemberton and Sons Aviation, are located, is always one of the best photo opportunity days. This year I got the word on Facebook that it was heading out Monday, April 18. That is much earlier than usual, because of the two reasons that the plane needed to be moved to beat some construction at WAAAM and had some early appearances scheduled.
On my drive there, as soon as I got on I84 and reached the West end of the Gorge, it was freakishly windy. Flying in strong winds is a concern for flying lighter aircraft, there is an increased chance for mishap, especially during landings. I knew that the wind was probably a little less at Hood River, but was still worried the whole thing may get canceled. As I got further East with no change, my anxiety level rose. When I got around five miles from Hood River and there was still no change, I was thinking the only hope was that the wind-speed wasn’t as high as it seemed. However, when I arrived at WAAAM, their beautiful garrison sized flag was hanging totally still. By the time the 40 was ready for departure, it had built up a bit, but was still slow enough for them to fly.
The day was backwards from most 40 departure days. The wind was from the East so the entire flight pattern was backwards. This did allow for different images than usual.
The earlier shoot with a model and some planes at WAAAM, was a resounding success in all but one criteria. Thank you, Sami Van Der Westhuizen, Carrie Strahle, Ken Olsson, and WAAAM. That one criteria was the number of unique images brought home from the shoot. This was a result of the weather interfering with some of our planned shots, being late in arriving on location, and the lack of coming up with ideas myself. This blog post, I intend to tell you how I tried to improve on this last issue on a subsequent shoot.
Step one, and the best way to do it, is to plan many different looks while you are planning the logistics of the shoot. If you look at the gallery of the entire shoot, all of the images you don’t see in the slide show at the beginning of this article, were part of the plan from the beginning. This is the best way to plan multiple looks as you have time to consider them carefully, and not have your crew sit around bored while you think up stuff.
The other method is to be very observant while on location and use the surroundings and behavior of your model as inspiration for new ideas. The best example of that in this particular scenario is the images you see of Alex relaxing in her kayak. We took a break for me to think of new ideas and while I was thinking she used her kayak as a place to take a load off and relax. I thought it looked like a great shot, so stopped the break and started shooting.
Overall, I was ecstatic how this worked, the only thing I felt bad about was that some of the times I took a moment to think up some shots, I think I bored the crew a bit. The results are great though.
I do tend to prefer images with a natural background, however, images on white can be very useful. Still, I had never experimented with doing this with vehicles, because the standard way would require enough costly logistics that in my current financial situation, it wasn’t too realistic unless someone hired me to do it. Then one day I posted an image of a plane on Facebook and Instagram, and the background was nearly white. I began to think about that in relation with the following image.
With this image, Resurgence was in front of an open hangar door, in beautiful overcast light and the inside of the hangar was in shadow. I figured that if I burnt down the background I would have a beautiful shot that looked like it was done in a studio. Ecstatic with the results, I wondered if with a little playing around in Photoshop, I could get the on white look with cars and planes.
I started with the following shots.
The pavement behind the hangars at WAAAM is very bright and I determined that if you make a shot against their white, corrugated steel hangar walls, you would be well on your way to a white background shot. Unfortunately, I never liked that shot until I thought of this idea, so I had few shots to play with. The next step in Photoshop is to go into the Channels palette and pick the channel with the most contrast between the subject and background. Then, make a copy of that channel. Edit the levels on that channel to accentuate the contrast. Then click on the thumbnail of the channel while holding CTRL, this creates a luminance based selection. Invert this selection to select the vehicle instead of the background.
Next, turn off the visibility of the copied channel and reselect the composite RGB channel as your active channel. Go back to the layers palette and enter the refine edge dialog. Clean up the selection as much as you can here and export the results as a new layer with a layer mask. Now, with the underlying layers’ visibility turned off use your paint brush to refine the mask. Then create a layer between the original and the one with the vehicle masked out and fill it with white. This essentially finishes the process.
On the Waco YPF image, I also applied a surface blur to the shadow to get rid of the concrete texture.
Important lessons were learned in this process. I had earlier discussed with some folks at WAAAM that they felt images of their vehicles on white would be really cool. I said of course it would be possible, but quite a challenge. This experiment tells me that it would be easier than I originally envisioned. The results would be better if some equipment was rented; an actual white background, scrims to create clean reflections on shiny surfaces, etc. It can be done outside though, this goes along way to making it easier than I originally thought. Plus the method, outlined here can work, with the biggest challenge being catching ugly reflections in the shiny surfaces of the vehicles.
March 12, 2016, was Second Saturday at WAAAM. My expectation was that the weather would be very bad with lots of wind and rain, essentially stranding us inside. I still wanted to go, because one of the main things going on was a speech about the restoration of the Stearman 70, the prototype of the famous line of Stearman trainers of WWII. I have written a Resurrection Report piece for Warbird Digest that should appear in the May/June issue. Thus, I was very interested in going, even if the weather kept anything else from happening.
Most of the drive, the weather was very ominous, and it seemed like the my expectation was accurate. However, the last ten minutes of the drive or so, it seemed quite promising much to my surprise.
As a photographer, most of the interesting stuff happens outside. At this point, I think I pretty much have most of the interesting pics I can get inside, at least without bringing a lighting kit, etc. So I headed outside fairly early and hung around watching volunteers prepare cars for the day. At one point I moved inside for a bit, probably to check my phone and see if anything significant was going on in the outside world. When I stepped back out, the Waco 9 was sitting outside the restoration hangar and it appeared they were preparing for a engine test.
This is when it became apparent that this was going to be a fantastic Second Saturday. The Curtiss OX-5 sprung right to life on the first prop pull. I spent most of the day around the activity around the Waco, only leaving to eat and the speech about the Stearman. I am a Waco addict and this promises to be the oldest Waco when it flies.
The November 2015 Second Saturday was pretty cool. The weather was among the worst it has been for a Second Saturday, but it was a lot of fun.
One of the main things going on was about Rat Rods and Rat bikes, is that what they are called? A newly built rat bike was seen by the public for the first time. There was also a presentation by Gary Fisher of Resurrected Rust, regarding his Rat Rods, two of which have won the Rat Rod Magazine Build Off; Resurrected Rust in 2014 and Resurgence in 2015. His enthusiasm was very apparent in his presentation and it was very entertaining.
You need to check out these really cool cars at WAAAM, and also all their wonderful antiques.
October’s Second Saturday at WAAAM was Roaring Twenties day, but there was plenty of other things to fascinate.
One of the items that really excited me was a rat rod that was on display. It won the Rat Rod Magazine, build-off, the second in a row for the builder. It fascinated me in its oddity and the imagination shown in how to build an automobile in an unconventional way. Furthermore, rat rods definitely have a rustic look I always find fascinating. To better show what I find fascinating about the rat rod, I used the post processing method I’ve talked about many times here. I look forward to hearing your opinion of the results.
Another thing fascinating thing at this Second Saturday was the tour of the restoration shop, focusing on the restoration of the Waco 9. This plane will most likely be the oldest airworthy Waco when completed. The folks at WAAAM are really perfecting their tours of the restoration hangar and they get more informative and exciting every time.
The final thing of fascination that I’ll discuss here today is they parked the L-birds they were flying that day in a way that was perfect for a portrait of the two planes. It was almost like this was coordinated with myself or another photographer.
On August 19, one of WAAAM’s newest acquisitions, a Waco UIC cabin biplane, was flown to the museum by the chief pilot, Ben Davidson. Being a huge Waco fan, I had to go and photograph the arrival.
It was a little bit nerve racking, as there many wildfires nearby and the weather was still that day, leading to smoke filled skies. There was some chance this could interfere with the arrival, or in the very least mess up the photos. They were a bit later than expected, but this was due to the need to talk to some folks at one of the fuel stops, not by weather or fire. I had a heck of a time deciding where to go to photograph the arrival, but decided on the place that usually works out the best, with about 15 minutes to spare.
I had recently shot the motorcycle Second Saturday where I practiced panning, so my panning was at its best. The smoke was as expected, very heavy and it was quite smelly out there.
In the end, I liked the photos really well, despite the smoke. The smoke did make the sky look pretty bad, but when the plane was in front of terrestrial objects, the smoke added separation from the background that was pretty nice.
Funny thing is, the wind came up and the smoke cleared out shortly after the landing.
The weekend of September 12 was the annual Hood River Fly-In at WAAAM, which is always a fantastic time. This year the theme was “Year of the Waco,” so I was a bit more excited than usual. What avgeek isn’t fanatical about a good old Waco biplane?
I was very busy around that time, working two different projects which meant early mornings and late evenings. Thus, when Saturday rolled around, the day I devoted to the fly-in, I was very tired. Also, I think I may have been fighting a virus, but I’m not sure. Finally, it was hot that day. This all meant that I had to take frequent water breaks in the shade and rest. So I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I’d have liked.
Still it was a fantastic time. I reconnected with old friends, met some new ones. Plus there were a lot of cool planes to look at. The turnout was huge this year, over 300 airplanes. There were two Waco cabins around, plus an assortment of other Wacos, in addition to the usual assortment of great planes.
Can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next year, come by and take a look.
The August 8, 2015 Second Saturday at WAAAM focused on motorcycles and snowmobiles. I felt this was the perfect time to work on my panning skills. So, I set my shutter speed slow, took a seat, and started panning with the motorcycles and cars.
Overall, I was very pleased with the results. My percentage of good images started to improve almost immediately. One thing that you must be prepared for is that if you are fairly close to your subject, only part of it will be sharp even if you are panning well. That’s because the relative movement of the subject to your camera is not constant for the entire object; for example the front wheel of the motorcycle may be moving faster relative to your camera position than the rider. Thus, if you are close, you need to pick what you consider to be the most important part of the image and keep that part in the same place in the viewfinder as you follow the subject. I am actually finding this to be the hardest part of panning.
The practice of this day seemed to pay off. The arrival of the Waco UIC at WAAAM after this Second Saturday seems to confirm this. I was able to pan with the aircraft with better results than I have in the past. Of course, the pilot also made a pass before landing specifically for the few of us who wanted to photograph the plane and a pass specifically for photographers also seems to improve the situation.
There was more of interest going on that day than just the motorcycles. WAAAM began a program to give volunteers with lots of hours flights. (I need to volunteer more, and even more importantly, remember to fill out a time sheet when I do.) This provided many opportunities to see some of WAAAM’s aircraft in operation. They fly most Second Saturdays, but this program seemed to increase the number of flights.
Also of interest that day, the Monocoach stopped by on its way to its new home in Oregon. This is a very cool plane made by the folks who made the Monocoupe. As the name implies, it is a similar aircraft, but larger. It was a real joy to see and photograph this aircraft.