Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reptile Portraits, Anyone?

Last weekend I met my son, Johnny, at an event which represents Heaven-on-Earth for him....the west coast's biggest reptile show. Held annually at the Anaheim Convention Center, this certainly has to be the largest indoor collection of the weirdest looking creatures I've ever seen.
Well, there was this ZZ Top concert in the late 70's.

As far as you could see....an endless sea of caged and uncaged snakes, lizards, spiders, turtles....and their equally interesting-looking uncaged owners.

My son and his lovely wife certainly fall well within the definition of "normal people"....you just wonder about some of these people who make a living raising and breeding these crazy animals. Overall, though, a really nice bunch of folks. And all the vendors were more than happy to let me get in close and get shots of whatever they were selling.

Since we were moving around a crowded convention hall, it's very congested, and tough to maneuver and get the exact angles needed for the best shots.

But, with the monopod, and external flash unit attached to a stick, we must have looked pretty important, cause everyone let us move right in... and they all seemed to enjoy watching this old guy getting excited about photographing a gecko.

Most of these images employed a 2-light set up, which consisted of a mini softbox attached to my new Metz flash, which was tethered to the Fuji S-5 body for full TTL functions. The second light (firing always from behind the subject) was a similar flash unit, which was fired simultaneously with a slave unit attached to the base. This light was set on "manual" power, and the settings were frequently adjusted, depending on the placement of the main-light, which was the soft-box. Two of my sons were there, so each one got the thrill of assisting by holding one of the flash units.

Typically, the ISO was 400, and the aperture set at f/11. In order to render the background a SOLID black, a shutter speed of 1/250th was used to restrict any of the ambient light from being recorded.

Now, I hear the biggest show is in Orlando, right in the middle of the summer. Wow....mosquitos, alligators AND reptiles.

Johnny's already lobbying me to make a trek there in '08.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Sunflower Flash

A couple weeks ago, on our way home from conducting a seminar for Samy's in Santa Barbara, we pulled over at a farm that my wife, Sue, had spotted earlier in the day. She had seen the vivid yellow flowers and stunning blue sky from the coast highway, and remembered exactly where to pull off. She commented on the amazing light.

Well, the lighting wasn't so amazing when we arrived to do some shooting. The sky was still blue in areas, but the Sunflowers were almost totally in shade by this time. This presented an opportunity to use an off-camera flash, modified with a medium sized LumiQuest soft box.

Once the tripod-mounted camera was framed-up and focused, I had the freedom to move about the cabin, and place the light EXACTLY where it needed to be.

For these examples here, there was no change in the aperture or shutter speeds...the only change was the addition of the flash. I experimented with the flash power aet to "Manual"...and 1/2 power seemed to work best when competing with the direct sun, and allowing for the light loss from the soft-box.

Initially the scene was metered, and underexposed by 1/3 stop, to add saturation to the sky.

The flash-on-a-stick was set to manual power of 1/2 and, once the proper distance-to-subject was established, it worked for every ensuing shot. Very simple, and totally predictable. For shooting up into a very bright sky....especially with the possibility of some direct sunlight hitting the lens, I always use as LONG a lens shade as possible. Stray light can ruin a good image.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Back-Lit Spider Web

On a recent trip to California's Central coast, the warm days and cool nites created lots of early morning dew. The condensation on flowers and other foliage can really provide some great subjects for macro work.

Dew filled mornings usually mean overcast skies...at least for awhile. This type of soft light is great for water drops on Poppies, and blades of grass....but, not the ultimate in spider web illumination. For these "suspended-in-mid-air" droplets, there's nothing better than a good, strong backlight. And that definitely wasn't happening this morning.

Without the added contrast and snap of some strong, directional light, this spider web would be pretty mundane. But, luckily, one of the advantages of working in-close with macro gear is that if changes need to be made in the contrast levels or direction of the main light source, it's pretty easy. The "live" area is SO small that it's a cinch to make a modification of the entire scene....sometimes with a small reflector or, in this case, by adding an off-camera flash unit to add the needed punch.

Recent developments in wireless TTL flash accuracy have really made this pretty simple.

In this case I was able to hand-hold the Metz unit behind the web, and direct the light through the backside of the very small scene. And by using the flash-compensation feature on the camera, nailing the exact exposure was easy.

The background brightness levels were modified by changing the shutter speeds to control the amount of ambient light that was recorded. Shorter shutter speeds resulted in a darker background....without affecting the flash exposure on the drops. It's exactly the same technique used for flash-filled portraits.
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