I had to do a quick and dirty migration from my old site. All the old blog posts imported okay, but the click-through links are broken. I'll get 'em fixed eventually. Also, yes, I know page this is ugly as sin. For now, this is what it is.
A fun pair of pics from yesterday. The Met held a celebration in honor of Tom Ardolino, late drummer of NRBQ and widely admired among local musicians. Dozens of verteran musicians performed to a packed house, they played more NRBQ than you’d hear at an NRBQ show. Rick Couto caught this shot of me harassing a drummer, I’ve added the image I was taking at the time. (Update: Notice that in the phone photo, the shadow of the camera is on his face. I had to move back a little to get a clean shot.) Bob Giusti is on drums, one of my favorite drummers and he never complains about how close I get. You can see a full gallery on my Facebook page.
By the way, it makes life much easier when the club offers self-service white balance:
As for exposure… Most of the day, I was shooting around ISO 3200, 1/125th f4 for the front of the stage shots. some of the other angles were a little darker and I had to open it up some.
Josh is having a Merry Christmas.
That’s Joe McNally’s description of straight on-camera flash, and it’s hard to disagree with him. But every once in a while you have a must-shoot subject, an inoperative flash trigger, and nothing but a winter night’s sky to bounce off. In this case, I learned at the very last minute that Spogga and Melissa aka Medusa would be fire-dancing together at a Woonsocket holiday street event. I rushed out the door, arrived about halfway through their two-hour performance, set up the only flash I had with me, a Canon 580 EXII, on the only radio I had with me, a Pocket Wizard Flex-TT5. Strobe geeks know how that turned out…
… there was no way I could get the flash to fire reliably, probably due to the flash interfering with the radio. Even in basic trigger mode, I couldn’t make it work. And of course, you can’t reconfigure the Flex-TT5′s in the field, at least not easily. Also, it was cold and at some point you have to stop fiddling with the gear and start shooting.
So, “disaster light” it was… I stuck with shooting some digital in TTL mode, just so I could control it. The basic settings were the same as usual, ISO 100, f6.3, about 1/4 second. I used about -2 stops of flash compensation… that kept the horrible flash from dominating the picture, and just served to light the dancers and freeze their motion. Without flash, they’d have been in near-darkness, only a few ghosts show up where the flames lit them during the long exposure.
As usual, my technique with fire dancing shots is simple. Don’t overexpose the flames. Got that? It’s a pretty simple rule, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only photographer in the world who has figured it out. Almost everybody who shoots fire overexposes lots of the area of the flame. Often the flames look like big white balls or detail-less streaks. How interesting is that? My shots are only out of gamut in a few details, which lets me sharpen the flames. Think about the exposure for a second… I’m shooting at night, hardly any streetlights, and I’m shooting at ISO 100. That’s how bright the flames are. Without flash, the dancers would be nearly invisible. But I set the exposure so the flames look good, and then I light the dancers to match.
One additional trick… I didn’t gel the flash… this let me warm up the white balance in Camera Raw, which makes the flames just that much deeper.
Not my best photos, but the subjects more than make up for it. I just can’t tell you how much fun it is to shoot this stuff. See more of Spogga and Medusa at YouTube.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve noticed that I like to combine moving light sources with flash. Fire dancing is a good example. But the best subject I’ve come across is a hoop dancer named Jen, who works with musician Jeff Bujak. They come through my home base at The Spot Underground about once a month, and… first I noticed Jen’s dancing, then I tried shooting some 3D. That was good, but all you saw was the hoop… Jen was just a dark blur if she was even visible. Then it struck me… moving lights and flash. She agreed to try it. Works like a charm. Click on the thumbnail at left to see a gallery from the effort.
Here’s how we did it… it’s really not that difficult if you know your basic exposure principles.
Setting the exposure is actually the easy part… the very first time I photographed Jen, I noticed that at ISO 100, the exposure for the hoop was about f6.3-f8. Didn’t matter how long the exposure was, the moving hoop would be the same brightness. When it moves slower, it’s a little brighter, and when it moves faster, it’s a little dimmer, but that’s about all.
I was having good luck at about 1/2 second exposure, so I’ve stayed around there. If the shutter is too slow, the hoop would just clutter things up; too fast, and I’d miss the effect. It’s just a case of suiting the length of the exposure to the movement you’re trying to capture. A longer exposure will let in more ambient light, though, so if the room is brightly lit, that will be a factor. But the dance floor at The Underground is fairly dark, so I didn’t have to worry too much about that.
To light Jen, I used two studio strobes, but speedlights should have plenty of power. What was critical, though, was that I gridded both lights to narrow the beam, so they only covered the small area where Jen would dance. That way, the background would stay nice and dark. I placed an Einstein 640 with a 40 degree grid on stage right, about 15 feet back into the dance floor, and an Alien Bee 1600 with 20 degree grid on stage left, about even with the front of the stage. Really, I just chose these because of convenience, the important thing was to make them cross slightly behind where Jen would dance. She usually dances near the front at stage left, so I aimed the lights around there. One light or both would strike her, even as she moved around. Power level on both was “very low”, and I was able to tweak it as the night went on. Here’s my last test exposure, most of the dancing took place just in front of the bright spot. Notice the motion blur from the handheld 1/2-second exposure… it only shows up in the lighted EXIT sign, everything else is lit mostly by flash.
Jen’s a whirlwind, a great dancer, and she deserves a lot of the credit here. It’s one of those things, she does it so well that she makes it look easy… until you see somebody else try it. Very similar to watching Spogga fire dance. Important to always remember that great photographs would not be possible without the special talents that we’re capturing.
Questions or comments? Post ‘em on my Facebook Page.
Some colleagues & I have an exhibition of stereoscopic 3D photos, opening this week, and it’s going to be one the best shows of 3D still photography in New England… ever. The Boston Globe wrote up a preview, and we expect quite a turnout.
We have a strong lineup of photographers participating, including two of the people who inspired me to take it up 25 years ago, Dan Gosch and Max Alexander. We also have some very high quality slide viewers in which to show them. Viewers will get a chance to look at each slide at their own pace. There’s no better way to view 3D photographs, and very unusual to have so many talented photographers showing at once.
The show was put together by Ron Labbe of Studio3D in Maynard, MA, and we’re showing in a small gallery nearby, to keep the logistics manageable. But don’t let the modest location fool you, this is a world-class exhibition. I’m notoriously modest about my own work, but when I narrowed 25 years of stereo photos down to 20 slides, it was pretty easy to fill my slots with some impressive pics. There are eight photographers showing, you do the math. Plan to spend an hour looking through the various exhibits.
Well, that didn’t take long. Spogga and I had discussed the idea of a full moon shoot. Thursday was supposed to have been the night, but he had a last-minute gig, so I grabbed Josh and we dashed out to my pre-planned spot. Frankly, I was relieved not to be shooting fire on the frst attempt. Getting subject and moon aligned, lit, and focused is hard enough without the additional complications of fire and long exposures. But since Thursday’s shoot worked so well, I was fairly confident that I could pull it off. Which was good, because Spogga called as soon as he saw Josh’s photos and said “let’s do it.” I guess I got his attention.
On the whole, everything worked very well, although we got delayed, had equipment hassles and got started about 20 minutes late, so the moon was higher than we wanted. This complicates on two levels, it puts the moon higher in the frame, but it also forces me to be closer to the subject. Since we’re looking up at the moon slightly, I pretty much had to shoot on the ground, and still wasn’t able to get as far away as I wanted…. backing up would have raised the moon relative to Spogga. I got the exposure from just four test frames, and we were off. Spogga only had a little fuel with him, we decided to make the most of it.
Now, a word about exposing fire… when fire is moving, as it is here, the shutter speed doesn’t affect the exposure of the fire itself. Like other moving lights, it passes over a given spot on the
film sensor for a discreet amount of time. So the exposure is basically f-stop dependent, similar to flash. I can shoot Spogga’s fire dance at ISO 100, f6.3 night after night, and I always get the flames right. You’ll notice that I don’t overexpose the flames, and I try to sharpen them a little in post to bring out the detail. But wait…. to get the depth of field that I need, I have to shoot at f32. So I moved to ISO 1600. Notice in this frame, where there’s less movement of the fire, it gets overexposed a little.
That’s all well and good, but we need to get the exposure on the moon right, too. And here’s where it gets complicated, because my calculation told me I should be at 1/50th second, and my long exposures were about 1/5th of a second. That’s more than 3 stops extra. But… it worked. close enough, anyway. I did minimal post-processing, mostly adjusted highlight recovery, which brought out a lot of detail in the moon, used a lot of “fill light” slider (ideally, I’d have used a real fill light, but time didn’t permit), and my usual light sharpening.
Although it all worked pretty well, many aspects of the shoot could have been better. For one, we should have shot a day or two earlier, when the moonrise was earlier and there was still some color in the sky. We also wasted the best 20 minutes of good angles by not being prepared (an hour beforehand, it was completely overcast, so give us credit for even making it.) And I’d like to find better ways to use the moon as a composition element. For now, I’m pretty pleased just to have figured out the exposure and focus.
Shooting Spogga’s dance is necessarily intense, because each burn lasts only about four minutes. Since I was using a Canon 430EXII flash, I got ahead of the recycle capability several times… as often happens, one of the misfires turned out beautiful. Turned out he had enough fuel for a second burn, so we repeated… eleven minutes from start to finish. The moon waits for nobody.
A few planning tips if you’d like to shoot full moonrises with foreground subjects. I use a free program called The Photographer’s Ephemeris, available for PC’s and phones. It integrates with Google Maps and shows the rise/set angles on the screen, making it easy to prev-visualize your angles. I sent these two images to Spogga for planning purposes, the red “X” on the map shows the final shooting location we chose. I find the days before the full moon preferable, as the sky tends to be lighter. Also, some days there will be haze obscuring the horizon, and you won’t actually see the moon rise. What happens on these nights is that it gradually appears from the haze, about 20 minutes after actual moonrise. The best months are the ones with the least humidity. The farther you can get from your subject, the bigger the moon will be… you’ll have to crop, but with a 400mm lens, you should be able to get an 8×10 image from most 12-megapixel SLR’s. The longer your lens, the less cropping you’ll need, but the size of the moon relative to the subject depends entirely on distance.
Calculate your depth of field ahead of time. Learn to manually focus in the dark on a spot somewhat behind the subject. Also, learn to handhold 1/4-second exposures with a telephoto. Other than that, it’s a breeze. Have fun!
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