Thursday, June 25, 2009

Using reflectors

When you're out on location like this the last thing you want to be lugging around is a couple of light stands and big flashes. Yesterday I talked a little about small flashes but even those guys sometimes detract from the effect you're trying to create.

No right or wrong, just whatever suits your creative vision. In this case I was in a bit of a pickle.

I was doing a shoot for Tim and Gwyneth Nevard of their glorious property - the Mareeba Wetlands. This amazing area of savanna an hour or so west of Cairns is a haven for wild birds. Jabirus, brolgas, Gouldian Finches and too many others to mention flock to the man made lagoons built by the Nevards. Mornings are a once in a lifetime experience.

We were doing some shots for their brochures and they particularly wanted a shot from this hill overlooking the reserve. Only problem was the sun was right behind us. That means two things - one the sun is shining right into the lens of the camera, and two the people are in shadow.

First thing I needed to do was hide the sun! That was the easy part of the equation. I just moved left and right until it was hidden behind a tree. Sun problem solved!

Now the problem was the faces in shadow. I originally tried a small flash but I was shooting film and it was a bit hard to guage what the effect would be. When your butt's on the line you like to be safe! No LCDs on this shoot so for a lighting effect I could see and control I pulled out my trusty reflector.

One of the most common configurations of reflectors is a circular one that comes with big circular sleeves that fit over a collapsible frame. You have the option of a white reflector, a silver one, a gold one or a black one. If you don't put the sleeve over the frame it is a translucent piece of material that is great for filtering harsh sunlight.

The trick is to catch the rays of the sun and bounce them back into exactly the right space. The hard bit when there's only one of you is to look through the viewfinder while trying to manipulate the damn thing into the right place on a windy afternoon!

I must have looked quite funny as I shifted my position left and right. moved my left hand (holding the reflector) up and down and this way and that. Flattening it out, curling it over. Eventually I managed to get it into a pretty good position rested against the legs of my tripod and start shooting.

You can see the nice orange light on the face of the guide pointing into the distance as well as on Gwyneth's face with the binoculars held up to her face. Tim is a bit farther back and is not lit as well but has a nice backlit halo around his head.

As photographers we tend to collect stuff. Kind of like nesting bowerbirds only not everything's blue! Put your hand up if you've got more camera bags than you know what to do with. Just when you think you don't need that doovelacky that's been sitting in the back of the cupboard for six months you might just find a use for it. That's why on commercial travel jobs particularly I tend to take everything and pick and choose what will do the job.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Little flashes and travel photography

One of the students doing my weekend photography course in a few days (still a couple of places left if anybody's keen!) asked me whether she should invest in an external flash to add to her camera.

Without a doubt I would say yes, yes and double yes. This photo at the left shows you exactly what can be done with little flashes.

Does it look like it was shot in a studio with big softboxes and expensive equipment? Not on your nelly. It was done in my kitchen with no studio equipment at all.

All I needed was a couple of speedlight flashes and a big white wall - well two actually. My wife is standing next to our kitchen table and my youngest son Keyra is standing on one of the kitchen table chairs next to her. They're about 10cm (yep you read that right!) in front of the wall of the kitchen.

I'm leaning over the kitchen table and pointing a 28-70mm zoom at them. Now it was quite dark because it was nearly bath time so my ambient exposure was about 1/15 second at f2.8 - way too slow to hand hold let alone stop any movement.

So I brought in a couple of little Speedlight flashes. I put one on the table next to me (just to my right hand side) and one on the floor at my feet (just to my left hand side). Now here's the trick to this lovely soft light. If I had pointed the flashes directly at my wife and son the light would have been harsh and horrible - just like you get from all direct flash.

So what to do? I turned the heads off the flash around so they were pointing AWAY from my subjects but at a white wall about 20cm behind me. So the light from the flash was bouncing off the white wall at my subjects. In effect the wall becomes the light, not the flash itself. So now you have a great big area providing the light, hence the softness.

All that extra light from the flash meant that my shutter speed was now 1/125 second and I could close my aperture down to f7.1 for a bigger depth of field. The lights were fired with a little infrared transmitter - which you'll need if you're shooting Canon. If you're shooting Nikon then many of their cameras have built-in transmitters so you don't need to buy a triggering device.

So should you buy an external flash (plus a transmitter if you need one) ? If you like the look of this light then without a doubt I would say yes. I set this shot up in about two seconds. Once it was set up I could just shoot away until I got something I like. No red eye, no harsh shadows. Just beautiful studio quality light. An easy decision if you ask me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday's Link

I wanted to point you to a really interesting podcast I found the other day. It features travel photographer David Sanger and he talks about how his business works and the changes it's going through. On the other side of the coin is Rich Legg, also a stock photographer but working within a different field and business structure - microstock. It's interesting to hear the two parties talk very cordially about what are very different photography models. You can find the link to it on David's site here.

Kirk Tuck wrote a great book called Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography. It's a really handy reference for those of you starting out in the world of using small flashes off-camera. He's also got a blog and I wanted to send you to his latest post which I found really thought provoking.

And finally a nice article about preparing yourself to become a professional photographer. There's some really great points here.

Anyway they're all a bit business oriented today. That's because I'm giving a talk to the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) NQ chapter tonight, talking a bit about what I do and how I do it. So I guess I'm kind of in a business type of mood!