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


Anonymous said...

Great shot!

Miz said...

lovelove the photo.
looks to me like he is manifesting his ROCK STAR destiny.

love what a proud proud mama you are.

Footdr69 said...

What an Awesome Shot!!! He Looks So Handsome!!! Look out Bieber fans!! Austin is Coming atcha!!! ;-)