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.
I have no idea why, but I always get some relief from any mental anguish from converting an image to black and white. There is something about eliminating the color from an image and creating drama through tonal contrast and separation that soothes my mind.
The secret to a compelling monochrome image is usually contrast. In monochrome, there are two ways to create contrast; there is contrast the same as in the image before you make the conversion and then there is separating tone based on color by using color filtration in the editing software. The second method, is always foremost on my mind when I shoot for b&W, which I rarely do. My method usually means that I sort through my existing images looking for one that will look dramatic after allowing for the color filtration etc.
For the process, I use Silver Efex Pro2, now available for free from Google. It is easy and powerful. I’ve tried to get similar results just as a test in Lightroom, and it takes a lot of work, but honestly can be done. Silver Efex Pro2 comes with such a great variety of presets that it is usually a matter of choosing a preset and then making tweaks. I rarely go with the preset alone; doesn’t provide the exact look I want, and deprives me of some of my therapy.
My most used preset these days is the High Structure (smooth). I usually apply a yellow or orange filter to it, red is usually too contrasty. In most pics, yellow, orange, red filters provide increasing contrast as you move through the list. This is dependent on the color makeup of the image however and sometimes blue or green are the appropriate choice. One thing to watch for is that due to some characteristic of digital images that I don’t understand, blue usually will make noise more visible.
If you want a closer look at these images look at this gallery.
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.
To create a specific look. This is where I like to be, it is always best when you are doing things like light the image, to achieve the look you want, not fix a problem. Here I used the look I’ve discussed before on RAB Pad.
To fill in shadows. Sometimes the light is largely what you want from the sun, but there is part of the image that is just too dark without adding something. When controlling the light for this purpose, it is important to choose carefully between reflectors and flash. In this image I used a silver and gold striped reflector to fill the shadows in an unobtrusive manner and add a hint of warmth.
Sometimes it’s just plain dark. Sometimes, it is just too dark to get an image without a little something. I usually try to find a way to balance in some ambient light for a more natural look, but sometimes, it’s a choice between flash or using an ISO that is just too high for your intended purpose. This image was made with a small portable flash diffuser on the camera mounted flash and allowing as much ambient light in as possible.
Sorry I’ve been gone for a bit, some unexpected things came up just at the time I normally write my blog posts.
Several years ago, I photographed in the early morning at St. John’s Bridge in Portland and was blown away by its beauty; my favorite bridge in the Portland area, perhaps Oregon. One event that happened while I was there that unexpectedly made for some great photos, was a kayaker came paddling under the bridge. Since then, I had been trying to arrange for someone I know to do this in a situation where I could have the image fully released.
This turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than predicted. Sourcing a boat and finding someone willing and comfortable with what was required was quite challenging.
Well, fast forward several years later and I was in Portland photographing the skyline during blue hour and I ran into a photography student and she came up to me and started asking for some tips. (Can’t remember if I told her how challenging the business side is.) We exchanged cards and we both went on our merry way.
A week or two later, she calls me and tells me she has an extra credit project she needs to do, and asks if I could help. She says the idea she has is to photograph a friend of hers in her wedding dress, with some wild red boots, and we would be a bit reckless with the dress. So, we agreed to meet in the exact same location. The shoot was a bunch of fun.
I have since pretty much lost contact with the student, but the model has become a Facebook friend. Somehow, I had a feeling, she had some experience with paddling. Thus, one time when we were discussing shooting and saying we should do something like that again I brought up the kayak and St. John’s Bridge idea. Unfortunately, Oregon is experiencing a bit of a toxic algae problem right now, so we nixed the actual paddling part of the shoot, but still decided to shoot the portrait part of what I had in mind.
The kernel of the plan was to shoot the hero type shot that I’ve discussed here earlier. The one thing that’s changed is I am now doing the post processing with a little more nuance, having become well aware that high clarity doesn’t look so great with out of focus parts of an image. The other item though was that I wanted to really make the most out of this opportunity, since it took me so long to find it. So, I tried to come up with the widest range of images I could think of in the scenario we had placed ourselves. I am happy how that turned out.
I would like to thank Alex for her help with this.
On June 13, 2015, the B-17 Alliance hosted the second annual Warbirds Over the West at McNary Field in Salem. This was the first time it was held at the Alliance’s new home in Salem. Knowing that my friends at the Living History Group Northwest were supposed to be at the show, I knew there was a chance for some images that were very important to me. I also knew to make them happen I’d need to ask some these great folks who I don’t know that well to do this for me with little benefit to them. (Can afford to give them some free pics, but little else.) This is a situation that often makes me quite anxious, so I was afraid I would chicken out and come home without the images.
I have been endeavoring to build a portfolio of images of people with vehicles in a Hollywood inspired style to show potential clients. The “aviatrix” shoot I recently wrote about with Sami Van Der Westhuizen and Carrie Strahle – makeup, was also part of this effort. If all went well at Warbirds Over the West, I felt certain I could reach the number of images I needed to show this portfolio as separate from my “people” portfolio on my web site.
With these images being the most important thing I had planned for the day, and the fact that the light would be deteriorating all day; I made it my first task for the day. Thanks to training with Toastmasters International and some other issues, I have been doing pretty well with these sorts of things when it has to do with my photography career. Thus, asking the various folks in these photos to pose for me went off without a single hitch and resulted in images that met what I envisioned very well. I couldn’t be more grateful for their help.
These images were shot and processed with the method I discussed on here earlier, How Do I Light Heroic Portraits? The only difference was I used a low-saturation version of the Lightroom preset I created. I usually do this with old military things.
Of course, there was a lot of other stuff going on at Warbirds Over the West. The headline was Grumpy was there from the Historic Flight Museum was giving flights to paying folks and doing flybys. Some friends from WAAAM flew the museum’s Taylorcraft L-2 and there was also a Stinson L-5 on hand. The beautiful, shiny DC-3 flew in from Aurora.
There was also live music and a beer garden, which proved to be the perfect way to chill after the big day.
In the end, it was a great day, I look forward to it next year.
Pemberton and Sons own and operate the oldest flying Boeing aircraft in the world, a beautiful Boeing 40C. This plane is stored in the off season at WAAAM. When airshow season rolls around, they fly down from their home in Spokane and begin the 40 on its tour of the Northwest for the summer.
I had gotten word that they were coming down to pick up the plane on 6-12-15. I got there around 8:00 am and made stock images of the flag for a while and then went in and had coffee with some friends. I learned then that they would probably show up in the early afternoon.
Thus, I began to leisurely enjoy the museum. Eventually, I got word from the restoration crew that they wanted me to come over and photograph them hanging the wings on the Rearwin Speedster, an aircraft that we discussed I need to document and do what I can to get a story published. So I went over there and photographed restoration.
At one point, we heard the low rumble of a radial engine and one of the guys on the crew said “sounds like the Waco.” I thought the WAAAM planes wouldn’t be flying until Saturday, so I was a bit confused. I had to stick my head out the hangar door to see what was up. When I saw Pemberton’s Waco EQC-6 taxiing our way, I was ecstatic. I’ve wanted to see a Waco cabin biplane for many years and now one was taxiing right to me.
Then there was all the usual excitement of the Boeing 40’s flight, so all in all it was one helluva day!
It may not be Darwinian, but a photographer’s style evolves over time. Sometimes it is intentional; the photographer will pay attention to what works in the marketplace, filtering that through what excites him, altering his style. Further, if he’s really working at this he will continue to learn new things. Finally, there is unintentional evolution; it may be subtle, but the way the photographer looks at a subject will change over time.
I have created two galleries here displaying some evolution in my shooting. Both are connected to my attempts to pay homage to George Hurrell, a Hollywood photographer from the past. The above gallery is my earlier attempt and the bottom is some very recent shooting. Of course, I must also credit the help of Sami Van Der Westhuizen (the model), Carrie Strahle (makeup artist) and WAAAM (the museum that owns the planes) for having an impact on the second set of images looking different than the first.
Recently, I completed a model shoot at WAAAM with some of the old biplanes there. The route to this shoot was nebulous and the original point of the shoot got lost a little bit, but we made something great out of it. I believe WAAAM will get a great photo to hang in the lobby out of this and I certainly got some nice new additions to my portfolio.
I’ll begin my narrative with the human side of the story, as the shoot was an incredible experience, and this part of the story isn’t necessarily evident in the story.
I have been working with Ken Olsson with various things at WAAAM for several years. Initially, we met when I was writing a story about aviation museums in Oregon. I’ve always enjoyed talking with Ken, he’s friendly, and we’ve always had plenty to talk about. I met Carrie Strahle, of Carrie Strahle Makeup Artistry, at an ASMP event, and exchanged business cards with her. She is the kind of person that instantly strikes you as a friend, despite the brief encounter. In discussions with Carrie later, she suggested Sami Van Der Westhuizen might be able to help me with a project that I was beginning to think about at that time. Thus I contacted Sami on FB.
So when I came up with the idea for this project. I started by having a meeting with Ken and Judy at WAAAM and discussed this as well as a few other ideas. I did not want to move ahead with other elements of the project without making sure it was ok with them; although, I had discussed the idea with Carrie in friendly conversation and got her ideas on whether the logistics of this could be worked out or not. After getting approval from WAAAM, for a slightly different idea than what you see before you, I put out a casting call on FB. When someone suggested Sami, I wasn’t aware she met the height requirements we had at that point, I thought perfect. I asked Sami if she would be interested. Next step was to ask Carrie if she would be willing to do the project.
Finally, the day came. The photographic crew met at Joe Wilson’s studio, Joe is the membership chair at the local chapter of the ASMP. Sami was the only person involved I had not met in person. She came in with her boyfriend and I must say, they are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. So, with one of the friendliest, fun crews around, we got to work.
In summation, the shoot was a blast, in addition to producing some great imagery. I was able to make contact with existing friends again and make some new ones. On the professional side of things, Sami was amazing, what I noticed immediately was her ability to help me aim the lights shaving minutes off setup when I changed the lighting. Carrie’s work was fantastic; I especially loved the curls she gave Sami for the shoot.
One thing I learned about myself that had to do with the human side of the shoot, is I do get in a bit of “a zone” when I photograph. During most of the shoot, I got in this zone where I was only aware of Sami, myself and the plane. I came out of it occasionally to share what images we were getting. I was not aware of what others were doing around me on set. It really struck home for me when I started retouching images and I would notice a frame or two when a strand of hair on Sami would fall out of place and then suddenly, the next frame, it’d be all perfect again. From this it was apparent that Carrie was stepping in to touch up. Looking at the bts images my assistant (dad) made, it was more apparent; Carrie doing touch ups, everyone very attentive to what was happening, confirming what I had earlier suspected about me falling into “the zone.”
If you are a photographer needing a model and makeup artist, I recommend putting Sami and Carrie at the top of your list of possibilities. They do excellent work and will certainly help keep your set a fun place to be.
Now to move on to a technical thing, I wanted to explain how I made the above image.
It was inspired by a promotional video on the Profoto web site. I started by setting my ambient exposure such that everything would fade to black. Setting ISO 100, 1/160th of a second and f/16 ensures that happens really quickly under the indoor setting. I setup one light in a strip bank, as close as possible to directly above the Jenny. It was slightly in front of the plane and then tilted at a slight angle to make sure the light shone far enough back on the plane. Then, I lit Sami with a very large octabox placed 45° to her front and 45° above, essentially Rembrandt light. The octa was also aimed across her, feathering the light onto her face. This was primarily done to prevent spill on the background, but also makes the light softer on her.
Post processing on this image was really simple. Basically, it comes down to I applied Tonal Contrast from Nik’s Color Efex Pro4 on the plane and Sami’s clothes.
Personal projects are very important. Photographers must always develop their skills, practice those skills, invent new techniques, and keep their portfolio updated, these are all things that personal projects can provide. They can be intimidating to setup, however. One idea I’ve heard from several sources lately is to approach the project as if you were shooting an assignment for someone. This helps provide direction to the project that helps one cope with the intimidation. I’m going to tell you a bit about how I setup my most recent project.
I came up with the idea that I would shoot as if I was creating an ad for a cultural/musical festival. I did have a specific festival in mind, although I don’t want to name it here. Belly dancing was a great fit and I had worked with a dancer before whom I felt would be willing to do a shoot like this again. However, for this project I felt it important to include her dancing partner. So I asked them both if they’d be interesting in doing a trade shoot.
We then set out trying to come up with an appropriate location. I was thinking something that would create a Mid-Eastern coffee house sort of feel. After trying to come up with something for a few weeks, we decided it would probably be best to use one of the dancers’ home. I set out to come up with an idea that would give a similar ambience in her home.
What I came up with was to use a piece of fabric I found that’s color was close to saffron. Then in Photoshop, I would add a texture to the solid color. In the end I decided not to add the texture to all the images. When lit appropriately, this created the look and feel I was after.
The shooting itself was fairly easy. I let what images were most successful from the earlier shoot guide me. The only real challenge was positioning two dancers so that behind them was the background we made and nothing else. Portable backgrounds are only moderate size out of necessity and this can cause difficulties at times.