Monday, May 31, 2010

Photo Exercise: Showing the Sun who’s boss

I couldn’t believe the weather this morning; 52 degrees under nearly clear blue skies. I say nearly because there is a huge forest fire raging about 250 miles away, (somewhere called ‘Canada’) and copious amounts of smoke are drifting into Maine.
No matter. The skies, the (mostly) fresh air, the Sunshine….all perfect. This is spring time in Maine at it’s finest, and almost immediately, my mind turns to photography.
Generally speaking, the worst possible time to take an outside picture of a person is when the skies are clear, and Sun is overhead. Strong, sharp shadows develop under the nose and chin, people start squinting, blue skies can get washed out, the list goes on. In short, it ain’t pretty. 

Solution? Fill flash. But I know what your already thinking…’no problem! My camera has a built in flash!’
The problem(s) with your camera’s built in flash is that it’s not nearly powerful enough to overpower the Sun (unless your about an inch from your subjects face, and who wants to see that!) in addition, most onboard camera flashes are positioned either directly above your cameras lens, or slightly off center. Either way, it’s a prescription for an unflattering, flat lighting pattern. Besides, what’s the fun in a simple on board flash?
My thoughts exactly… 

Beating the Sun at it’s own game: Off Camera Strobes
Today was a perfect day to demonstrate how to use off-camera lighting to fill in those bad boy shadows. The basic idea was to front- light my subject enough so that, hopefully, the light falling on him would be balanced with the ambient light around him. As an added bonus, doing it right means  we won’t wash out the details in the background.  And speaking of backgrounds, today's background was the beautiful and picturesque Rockport Harbor, in  Rockport, Maine. My victim subject was my son Austin. And his guitar.
To light my subject, I placed two portable, battery powered strobes, mounted on light stands,  and  just off camera; one to the subjects left, and one almost directly in front of him. Each strobe is fired remotely using Cybersync Radio Triggers (which, by the way, are awesome). The lack of wires allows complete freedom of movement for both the photographer and the strobes. 

I instructed Austin to look at the strobe in front of him, which would guarantee his face was evenly illuminated, while the strobe to his left would help to fill in most or all of the shadows on that side of him. After a couple of test shots, we nailed it. Of course, I can’t leave things well enough alone, so the images were processed in Photoshop and then ran through a Topaz Labs filter to give it some style. I love the end results. So did Austin. And his guitar.

It should be mentioned that while portable strobes can be fired into bounce umbrellas or into ‘shoot-through’' white umbrellas, I decided to instead go with the ‘bare bulb’ approach. What this means is that there is nothing between the front of the flash head and the subject. No diffusers, no umbrellas, nothing. The reason for this was two fold. 

First, I actually tried the shoot thru umbrella at the start of the shoot. The light ended up being too soft, which, at least in my opinion, did not look right, at least not with my subject anyways. Now, had my subject been a pretty girl in a wedding dress, that would be an entirely different story. 

Secondly, let’s face it: the all powerful Sun rules the roost, and overpowering the Sun on a day like today requires tons of light. And since I’m a poor photographer who can’t afford the really fancy lights, the kind that are so bright you end up with a tan,  I,  uh, choose instead to use bare bulb portable strobes. 

Reason #154 for always having a camera with you
In the middle of all this, just off camera, two young men were making the most of the warm Spring  day by taking a dip in the Rockport Harbor’s clear waters. As soon as I heard the splash I knew I had to get a picture of these guys. They were all too happy to demonstrate their pier-diving skills, and with the help of the wireless radio triggers on my strobe, and while holding the light stand away from the pier and pointed up at the boys,  I was able to light them from below as they were freefalling into the cool Maine waters. Thanks guys!  

This overview was brief, and since we forgot the ‘docu-camera’ at home, I don’t have any ‘behind the scene’ shots showing the setup. (My bad. Next time, ‘k?)

If you should attempt this basic off-camera strobe technique, I’d love to see your results.
Thanks for stopping by…

Kevin Kratka

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer arrives with a splash (well…almost)

I had just pulled an ice-cold Shipyard Summer Ale out of the fridge in celebration of  the latest version of PC Linux that I was getting ready to install on the kids computer. When all of a sudden, like a couple of undersized ninjas, my 6 and 11 year olds show up out of nowhere. For a second, they stare at me, then, with voices in such unison that they would put a boys choir to shame, they say, ‘Dad, can you setup the Slip-N-Slide for us? PLEEEEAAAASSSSSEEEE?

How can I say no to that? Tux can wait.


And so it is in late spring here in Maine: the kids hear some birds singing, they notice a few buds on the Maple trees, and all of a sudden… Summer is here!!! 

Or is it? 

Living in Maine, one gets used to the fact that Summers are short. Too short. And even though the wireless thermometer on my dining room wall reads 72 degrees outside, that stiff ocean breeze makes it feel much cooler. And these kids want to do what? I guess I can’t blame them, I mean, after all, it was a long, cold winter. Long. And cold.

Did I mention it was a long and cold winter? Um…I digress..

So out comes the Slip-N-Slide. Brand new. Reny’s $5.00. In 10 minutes we have it laid out in the back yard, the garden hose hooked up and turned on, and I’m keep my distance ‘cause the last thing I want today is to get wet.

But wait! What am I think! There’s going to be ample picture opportunities here!!

Out comes the camera and the portable strobes and wireless triggers. Smile for daddy and make a big splash!

While the 6 and 11 year old quickly realized that cold water and a stiff breeze equals Brrrrrrrrrrrrr….my 15 year old didn’t seem to mind at all, and with a running start, he made his father proud by doing a face plant right into the little pool at the end of the Slip-N-Slide.

Perhaps this is a glimpse of what the rest of the summer season may hold; water, Sun, fun and tons of photo opportunities. However long (or short) your summer may be where you live, be sure to enjoy it, and whatever you do….don’t forget your camera!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving forward

It’s been 22 years since I picked up my first 35mm SLR. I remember it well, a Minolta SRT200. A well made, heavy, aluminum and die-cast metal workhorse. My parents had bought it used and gave it to me on graduation from high school. The camera was made in 1968, and had a dent in the aluminum housing.

That event changed my Horse HDR life. I didn’t know how to use it yet, but that simple no thrills camera and the humble 50/f1.8 lens that came with it taught me so much.

Because I could never afford a different lens, that first prime lens helped me to learn how to zoom with my feet, which forced me to get right into the scene with my subjects. I learned about exposure and shutter speed. I still had no concept of depth of field, and I had no idea that that simple 50mm lens was ideal for portraits.

This year, 2010, I move forward. Digital technology has taken the world of photography and turned it on its ear. No more wondering if that picture we just took will come out right. Instead, we shoot, review, delete it or keep it, and repeat. This year, I hope to turn my love for photography in a business. My hope is that I can produce beautiful pictures for people, enough so that they will actually pay me to do so. First and foremost, I’m in love with the final image, regardless of the subject matter. Well, mostly anyways.

If your a follower of this blog, you will see a wide range of imagery that I like to produce. Portraits, Experimental pictures, Stock imagery, Scenic, Light Painting, HDR, the list goes on. I’m not exactly interested in just one My First Cameratype of image, but rather, most of them. And just how many are there? That’s the best part….nobody really knows. The list keeps growing as does our creative nature.

My heartfelt thanks for being a reader of my blog. I love sharing what I do. This blog is kinda like that first SLR I had so many years ago; it’s new, it cool, and most of all,  it’s a start.

But unlike the dent in the aluminum housing of my first camera, I hope to make a virtual dent, so to speak, in my goals. A goal of expanding my creative nature and using it to benefit others and to benefit my family 

The natural question is, where will I be in the next 22 years? Only time will tell.