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Ghosts on a Bridge – Painting with Light

Romantic ghosts of prom past on the MKT Trail, Columbia, Mo.

Romantic ghosts of prom past on the MKT Trail, Columbia, Mo.

For a group project for Advanced Techniques, Vivian Esparza, Charles Ludeke, Lesley Freeman, and I met up at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial along the MKT Trail in Columbia, Mo. to make a long time exposure with added light–also called “painting with light” for its surreal effect.

Charles friend, Michelle, agreed to be a model for us on the bridge. After thinking on it for a bit, we decided that we should include a male figure in the photo, and Charles volunteered that he had a yellow tux (rental) in his car from a social gathering a on Friday night.

The background trees were lit with a Nikon SB-900 gelled green. I fired it off at 1/4 power for the nearer trees, and worked my way up to 1:1 for the background trees (knowing that they would be far too dark otherwise). Vivian did a great job of painting the bridge blue (an SB-900 with a blue gel), and Lesley walked along the bridge once with a flashlight aimed downward (on the ground, along the railing). Lesley then used a different flashlight, gelled red, to paint the post and upper railing of the bridge.

Finally, Charles and Michelle would pose on the bridge, and I used my Canon 550EX with the Panera straw-grid, dialed at 1/2 power, to “freeze” our ghosts in the frame.

All told, the exposure came to 5.7 minutes @ f/8, ISO 200 using a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4 IS lens @ 81mm…and a couple hours of experimentation. It was a great collaboration….and I think we might go back in a week to do something a little bit different ( but not in time for class).

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Working with 2nd Curtain Sync

Everyone in Advanced Techniques was asked to create a photojournalistic image using second curtain (or “rear curtain”) snyc with their strobes. I actually haven’t used the technique much in the past, largely because it’s inordinately difficult to do so with the Canon flash system. Comparatively, the Nikon system of switching the flash mode from “normal,” skipping over “red eye reduction,” and landing on “rear” is all that has to be done. It’s stupid simple. More stupid for Canon…..c’est la vie. (But cameras that start with the letter “N” do seem to have strange white balance………)

Click on the diagram for a larger version.

Click on the diagram for a larger version.

For the simple reason that second curtain sync is easy to achieve with Nikon, I borrowed a D700 and an SB-900 from the photo department. I only took out the 24-70mm, knowing that 90% of what I had planned could be done with that one lens. First, I went to the Hulett House mixed martial-arts gym, the subject of a longer-term group project, to practice with the technique. I set up one light on a stand, gelled CTO, and bounced if off of the ceiling.

After only a few frames, I captured this image, which is one of my favorites from the evening:

Kevin Croom tries to place Kristin Rambo into a headlock during a sparring match at the Hulett House Gym on April 22, 2009, in Columbia, Mo.  Croom, who is yet undefeated in his mixed-martial arts career, is helping to get Rambo ready for her first Midwest Fight League contest on May 25.

Kevin Croom tries to place Kristin Rambo into a headlock during a sparring match at the Hulett House Gym on April 22, 2009, in Columbia, Mo. Croom, who is yet undefeated in his mixed-martial arts career, is helping to get Rambo ready for her first Midwest Fight League contest on May 25.

Two more images after the jump…
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An evening spent painting with light

Just an outtake from a class experiment with light painting at Rock Bridge State Park in Columbia, Mo.  This was likely the most successful image of the evening.  There’s also an assignment to pursue this line of work in smaller groups, so look for something different in the coming days.

Canon 5D Mk II, 93 seconds @ f/7.1, ISO 800.  White balance and curves adjusted in Lightroom.

Canon 5D Mk II, 93 seconds @ f/7.1, ISO 800. White balance and curves adjusted in Lightroom.

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Multiple Flash for Action Events

Recently I’ve been trying to make photographs of the fighters at the Hulett House, a mixed martial arts training gym run by Rob Hulett and part of the Midwest Fight League, while sparring with each other using at least two flash heads for cross lighting. One of the greatest challenges is to ensure that the light stand (I’m triggering wirelessly either with Canon ST-E2 transmitters of with eBay “poverty wizards”).

Lighting setup for the photo of Croom and Ward. (Click for larger version)

Lighting setup for the photo of Croom and Ward. (Click for larger version)

In this case, I’ve lit the scene with two 550EX Speedlites aimed right at one another. I was using daylight white balance because I was letting the flash heads overpower the ambient light, but now I regret that decision and wish I had gone with a CTO gel and tungsten white balance to make the overhead lights appear white. C’est la vie.

Also, the shadow cast by the strobe on the right is a bit distracting. But what made this, to my mind, the strongest of the images was Croom’s expression paired with the position of the bright red boxing glove in the lower right-hand corner.

Without that glove as an anchor for the composition, this wouldn’t be a successful image at all.

Kevin Croom (right) takes a swing at Eric Ward during an evening practice at the Hulett House Gym in Columbia, Mo. on April 7, 2009, three days before their Midwest Fight League contests at the Blue Note.  Croom said that in a week before a big event, he “…just wants to hit people.”

Kevin Croom (right) takes a swing at Eric Ward during an evening practice at the Hulett House Gym in Columbia, Mo. on April 7, 2009, three days before their Midwest Fight League contests at the Blue Note. Croom said that in a week before a big event, he “…just wants to hit people.”

More photos after the jump.
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Some inspiration in slideshow format

I was watching some audio slideshows for a class assignment and found a few that might be of interest to viewers of this site.

Martin Schoeller and Steve Pyke are staff photographers for The New Yorker and have an interesting discussion about some of their portraits  that are being exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through this fall: http://www.newyorker.com/online/multimedia/2009/01/12/090112_audioslideshow_portraiturenow.

I recognized some of Schoeller’s portraits from a different slideshow that was originally published on Media Storm.  He certainly has a distinct style.  Makes me want to go and make some strip lights………

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Flash for Balancing and Fill

Ryan McCullen of Hubert Builders boards up the window frames of 22 9th Street in Columbia, Mo.  The space, which was previously the headquarters of the local Obama for America campaign, is now being rennovated for a planned women's boutique.

Ryan McCullen of Hubert Builders boards up the window frames of 22 9th Street in Columbia, Mo. The space, which was previously the headquarters of the local Obama for America campaign, is now being renovated for a planned women's boutique.

“Fill flash.”  It’s a term familiar to pretty much everyone.  The only thing that makes it more interesting is when you decide to take the flash off of the camera and place it on a stand.  This frees up the photographer to place the light where it should be, not where the camera is positioned.  For wildlife photographed with a 500mm lens, placing the flash on axis makes a lot of sense–on a cloudy day just dial down the flash to -2 or -3 EV (via ETTL), put a Better Beamer on there, and call it a day.

For this assignment I was working with less space than I would have liked, and what began as a completely open storefront was actually being boarded up by the construction worker, Ryan McCullen.  I really wanted a second light: one inside (behind him) to work in tandem with the flash that I had with me.  Of course, before he boarded up the windows, I had two lights (the sun, hopefully operating at full power…).

I triggered the flash on the light stand with some “Poverty Wizards”–the cheap radio remotes from Hong Kong that are all over eBay.  I do own a Canon remote trigger, but it is based on infrared line-of-sight, and in bright sun it simply doesn’t work.  If I could afford Pocket Wizards…some day.  Until then, the cheap eBay remotes seem to be working!

With a little help from the fill light slider in Lightroom, the image opens up pretty nicely, and the juxtaposition between McCullen working away and the motley crew of people hanging out on the street–“We’re All Vampires” does amuse me.

More after the jump…
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Are you gellin’?

Diane Dorter inspects a Meadow Lark with an injured foot on Sunday, March 15, 2009 at Wild Bird Rehabilitation in St. Louis, Mo.  Dorter, one of three paid staff at the non-profit organization, was training Lizzie Vreeland, a volunteer from Washington University, how to care for birds at WBR’s “emergency room.”  Many of the birds require medication and are “tubed” via syringes, a procedure that requires great care.

Diane Dorter inspects a Meadow Lark with an injured foot on Sunday, March 15, 2009 at Wild Bird Rehabilitation in St. Louis, Mo. Dorter, one of three paid staff at the non-profit organization, was training Lizzie Vreeland, a volunteer from Washington University, how to care for birds at WBR’s “emergency room.” Many of the birds require medication and are “tubed” via syringes, a procedure that requires great care.

While in Saint Louis last weekend, I dropped in on the site of my final project from Fundamentals of Photojournalism (from last semester), Wild Bird Rehabilitation.  Unlike most of the (few) bird rehabilitation centers in Missouri, WBR focuses on songbirds.  The birds that they work with are brought to WBR by concerned citizens, often people who have birds crash into the windows of their houses, or mauled by their pets in their yard, who want to do all that they can for our avian friends.  This time of year, March through June, lots of migratory birds come through the area along the Mississippi Flyway.

When I came in last week, Diane Dorter, one of three paid staff at WBR, was teaching volunteer Lizzie Vreeland how to care for birds at WBR’s “emergency room.”  Vreeland has been a volunteer at WBR for close to one year, but recently became interested in working with the most critical avian patients at the facility.

I brought along my small light stand and wireless trigger to set up the flash in the corner of the room to bounce off of the ceiling for some fill.  The florescents in the room have a color temperature between tungsten and florescent.  To try to match my flash to the light in the room, I attached window green theatrical gel over the flash head.  However, I was not happy with the results, so I replaced the green for the color temperature orange (CTO) gel.  This was better–much better–but still not perfect.  I realized later that stacking the gels would have been the solution to my problems.  Next time!  More after the jump…
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Handheld Strobe in Action…

Kenny Townsend

Kenny Townsend, named “best bartender of the year” by Inside Columbia Magazine this month, watches for a patron’s order on Monday, Mar. 9. at McNally’s Irish Pub at 7 N. Sixth Street, Columbia, Mo.

This week I went downtown to McNally’s Irish Pub to photograph Kenny Townsend, the bartender that Inside Columbia magazine just rated as the best in Columbia, Mo. I started off using direct flash (it’s for class, and I had to use both direct and bounce). Naturally, I used my new Panera-straw grid for the direct flash.

I used the grid to make him stand out from the dark bar, but without lighting up the entire place in a way that would be unnatural, especially for a tight shot. For a wider composition, I felt I had to bounce the flash off of the ceiling (below). But this gridded spotlight also made clear that the focus wasn’t just the bar, but the bartender himself.

Kenny Townsend, named "best bartender of the year" by Inside Columbia Magazine this month, pours a gin and tonic on Monday, Mar. 9. at McNally's Irish Pub at 7 N. Sixth Street, Columbia, Mo.

Kenny Townsend, named “best bartender of the year” by Inside Columbia Magazine this month, pours a gin and tonic on Monday, Mar. 9. at McNally’s Irish Pub at 7 N. Sixth Street, Columbia, Mo.

Of course, the composition also leaves something to be desired. So I switched to a broader view, and was much happier with the result.

Here, he’s pouring a gin and tonic for a customer. (More after the jump…)
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A DIY Grid Light Modifier for portable speedlights

DIY Beverage Straw Grid on 550EX

My Panera-Straw Grid on 550EX

I’m at the point in a lighting class at MU, Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism, where it is time to leave the studio and venture forth into the world with one (or two, if Canon ever repairs my other 550EX), small speedlight.  I have become enamored with hard light sources in the studio; softboxes have their place, but I thought that grids, snoots, and barndoors were my favorite to work with.  I remembered reading at Strobist a couple of years ago about making a grid out of black straws (easily sourced from your local Panera…).

Mine is not pretty: in fact, I’m already planning on making a second one with a more refined technique of stacking and gluing rather than lining up in a row and sandwiching with gaffer’s tape.  For now I’m attaching it with gaff tape, but will make a little cardboard housing for it soon so that it can be slid into place on the head of the strobe.

But what its present incarnation lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in performance.  I will admit that I have not perfected the art of aiming the speedlight with this grid, but I love the effect.  It makes for a very circular, “spotlight” effect, and the light fall-off is rapid and dramatic.

Portrait of Meg Wiegand

Portrait of Meg Wiegand, Heidelberg Restaurant, Columbia, Mo.

How dramatic?  I took the flash with me to a get-together of friends at a bar last week and did some experiments with it.  I only brought my TTL cord; next time I’ll just take the wireless transmitter, as its far less cumbersome.  (Nothing scares your friends more than a zipline of TTL cord randomly roaming a table with the potential to knock over their beer.) More after the jump…
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Lighting Glass

Patron Tequila - Bright Field Lighting - "Plan B"

Patron Tequila – Bright Field Lighting – “Plan B”

Last weekend I went into the studio with a bottle of Patrón tequila and one clear idea of how to light it, only to scrap it and move on to plan b.  But then I decided that plan c–one that I had not even considered–was really going to be the best route.

My idea was to have the lime resting against the bottle on a sheet of glass with a dark background.  On another day, with different materials (like a giant sheet of black, glossy acrylic), it could be a piece of cake.  Instead, I ran into problems from the start: the dark cloth I had taped to the softbox kept falling off (Light, Science and Magic suggest making the dark background the size of the frame, and then butting that right up against the light source).

I threw out that idea and switched to bright field illumination (giving the glass black lines for definition).  It’s easier, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as something lit via dark field patterns.  I could have quit with this image, because it’s passable, but it’s also incredibly dull.  I don’t think even Crate and Barrel would want to use an image like this one in their catalogs.

My bank of ideas was dry, but a good friend of mine, Mito Habe-Evans, suggested making a “beach” for the tequila and lime out of some sand made for models and dioramas that was in the studio.  Combined with some blue gel, the result was actually pretty good. More after the jump…
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