Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Too Dark? Probably Not.

Every year, my wife, Sue and I take a week off and travel to northern California for a 4 day music festival. It's located just outside the western entrance to Yosemite. And over the years we've gone from being regular members of the audience... and then being asked to be part of the photo crew. And for the last couple festivals, I've been teaching a morning photo workshop.

It's a magical event, and probably the easiest thing to shoot on the planet. If you didn't get your fix of Tie-Dye in the 60's, it's still alive and well, believe least among this typical northern california crowd.

And, I've never met a friendlier group of folks, anywhere. I return to the studio completely refreshed, year after year. Cheap therapy. Try it out, if you can.

Google "Strawberry Music" for a more detailed description.

Anyway..... we hung around for a couple days, after the music ended, and went into Yosemite valley to do some exploring......just the two of us. What a novel idea.

And, while driving down into the valley, we noticed the Dogwoods were still blooming at around the 6500 foot elevation. And specifically, there was an amazing section, that was terribly lit in the mid day light. So, we made a mental note to stop and shoot em on the way back later that afternoon.

Well, as expected, we got sidetracked with my constant photography on the way back.....and by the time we reached the Dogwoods again, it was practically dark.

But, the good news was..... absolutely NO wind. And, I had my new Fuji S-5, with absolutely great low-noise levels at high ISO's, combined with long shutter speeds. And, the lens was Tamron's new 18-250, which is proving to be a real gem.

So, out came the tripod. Lets test this new camera under these adverse conditions.

Focusing was difficult in the near dark conditions. But, using a flashlight, the footage guides on the lens barrel let me manually set the focus at 20 feet. That was the approximate distance to the closest blooms. I knew we'd need lots of depth-of-field, so f/16 was chosen. White balance was set for "shady" And, my only option on the ISO was 400....because, even at 400, the shutter was going to be open for 15 seconds. I didn't want to risk anything longer for 2 reasons: Longer exposures would have run the risk of a stray car passing by, and getting the exposure ruined by headlights, and branch movement with the ensuing wind. And, the second reason: as the light fades quickly at dusk: you sometimes get only one shot at something like this...where the shutter is open so long, that by the time you could pull off a second's REALLY too dark.
Kind of a scary set of options.

But, it worked. And when the shutter closed on the final shot, I couldn't even see the 2 trees in the background. The only visible elements within the frame was a faint image of the white Dogwood blooms. Unbelievable what we can now do with a high end digital camera.

So much for dinner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hey....Quit Horsin" Around

Our last Workshop found us Smack-Dab in America's Heartland.........

On a Farm.......a real one, no less.

In Pike's County, Illinois. The Deer Capitol of the nation. And man, they (the deer) were everywhere. We saw herds of up to 50 at a time. And newborn fawns emerging from their hiding places in the chest-high, fields of clover.

So, naturally, today's lesson is how to take a horse portrait. And, included in the horse's family are the folks who feed and transport them.

Our country hosts, for the week-end, were the ever-gracious Durrell and Syndy Miller......and, the portrait subjects were their friends from a neighboring farm, who actually are real live Horse People. So, getting a family portrait of them, meant the equine members HAD to be included, too.

We had scheduled the session to begin late in the day, so there would be some nice back-lighting from the sun being low in the sky. And everywhere I looked, there was good potential for a nice, lush backdrop, featuring the glowing, green leaves. So, shooting to the west was the answer. And, the only potential glitch might be the direct sunlight hitting the lens...but, the thick forest branches provided a partial lens shade. And, the 7-inch Lee lens-hood gave the front element it's primary protection.

The exact location was chosen, and after a few attempts to accurately park the horses in place...(it's not easy to get them to move sideways, I discovered).....we had everyone on their marks...and, at the same distance from the camera. So, focus depth wouldn't be an issue. And, since they were ALL lit by only one flash...this would insure equal exposure for all.

Since the backlighting through the branches was slightly uneven...a second flash was added from the right rear of the set-up. This was triggered by an on-camera slave, and held up high, on a monopod, proudly over his head, by none other than my buddy, and studio manager, Mike. (And, just to put an end to those nasty rumors flying around...Mike and I are both happily married. Maybe I'll post a photo of his lovely wife, Kay, on the next lesson.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.....hey, I really can say that, here. We did some metering of the off-camera flash units, and got them both to be firing at a reading of f/8 for the iso of 200 we had chosen. This, combined with the focal length of 100mm would give us enough depth-of-field to cover the critical subjects...and let the background fall nicely out of focus.

You can see by some of the candid shots here, taken by Syndy, that the subjects were in some pretty deep shade...compared to the brightly lit background. The flash was an absolute necessity to achieve the proper balance of light.

The final image, shown at the very top was exposed at f/8 at 1/30th of a second. This somewhat slow shutter speed allowed the background, ambient light to record properly....while the two flash units provided all the necessary light for the professionally-lit look on the subjects. The dark vignetting of the edges was done in Photoshop.


Editor's Note: Shown above, Mike, taking a break after another exhausting portrait session. Nice job.
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