Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Corvette Cafe

Corvette Cafe
Corvette Cafe 50's Shoot

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Where Were You In '62

The music is what I remember most, lively songs filled with story telling lyrics about the emotions of young
teenage love. It was music that defined an era, an era when the hot rod came of age along with a generation of searching youth. I was just ten years old, but I do remember the times, the songs, the look, the feel of the day. It was a time when I first began to notice the power and boldness of the muscle cars and can remember the distinctive styling family cars possessed back then.

In 1962...I was there filled with fascination and wonder of what life was like back in the day when cruising the main drag with the AM radio blaring away was the boss thing to do. Gasoline prices hovered around 30 cents a gallon back then and a person could cruise all night on a couple dollars of gas. Even today every time I hear the music again, the melodies of those magical songs cast a spell across my memories.

It was a time when one of the greatest high school basketball teams I've ever witnessed played their games to a rousing crowd. The Eagles of Hobbs, New Mexico where my dad was a journalism teacher and yearbook sponsor. I was able to attend most of the home games because he would be there taking pictures of the games for the school. That first year if memory serves me right, the Eagles averaged over 100 points a game...and this was long before the shot clock and three point shot became the norm. Man they were good...full court press the whole game and often scored 20+ points before the other team made their first basket. They were coached by the legendary Ralph Tasker, one of the winningest high school coaches of all time. It was great fun and created wonderful memories...back then in 1962.

Down the street from our small but comfortable home a young married couple pulled into their driveway one day with a brand new classic black 1963, split window Corvette. Within 5 minutes we were all down there hovering over it. It was my first taste of what owning a muscle car could mean. From that moment on I relished the thought of cruising the main drag and could not wait until I could drive.

Oddly enough, a few short years later, that is exactly what I and most of the high school kids did on Friday nights after the football game. It was another town in another state, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, but on Friday nights the main drag turned into cruise city and during the cool of the summer nights cars of all shapes and sizes could be seen cruising Wood Drive along with the inevitable drag race between stop lights.

 In 1974 when the classic movie American Graffiti came out, I was surprised at just how much it resembled our Friday nights. In our fair city you could find one of the best technical schools in the country, the technical branch of Oklahoma State University where future auto mechanics were taught their trade. Because of that it wasn't unusual to see jacked up hot rods cruise the streets, some as classic as the American Graffiti cars.

The decade between 1962 and 1972 saw America change. Those of us who lived through that decade remember well the sometimes tumultuous and often revealing shift in society. Even so, we can also remember with fondness the classic cars, the lights, the music, the sounds, the flavor of the times. Wherever I was in 1962 remains locked into my memories with great affection. When a classic tune triggers a certain memory, when a classic car jump starts the old rumblings to cruise the main drag, when I stop just long enough from my often dull routine to remember those times, well those are memories well worth hanging on to and well worth recalling. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The "Color Effect" - Using Color to Affect The Photographic Mood

Color plays an important role in the mood of a photograph. Deliberate uses of the color spectrum can heighten the specific effect you are wanting to portray, but sometimes by default, how you use color will generate a variety of moods. Lets take a look at three basic colors, Red, Blue, and Green, and see how they affect the mood of a photograph.

Red along with its variations of orange and yellow, denotes passion and aggressiveness, or playful and energetic, and sometimes happy and friendly. When used in a photograph red variations can be used to bring attention to a specific area, or shake up the composition. Red variation in an image can bring life to what might otherwise be an ordinary composition.

Blue, on the other hand, denotes trust and serenity, along with a calmness not always found in other colors. Depending on if you use a light blue or a darker shade, blue can bring a refreshing energetic element and liveliness to an image. Using a blue gel on a speedlight setup in the corner of a room can cast a cheery flavor across the room when used as a subtle accent.

Green then denotes stability and a natural state. One feels comfortable and at home with shades of green and it acts like a counter balance to bolder colors that may be found in the composition. It softens the impact of the image.

In the photograph of the National Corvette Museum full moon image above there are two basic colors with an orange shade of red along with blue as the primary colors. The contrast between the two bring an element of power and purpose to the image with the power of the reddish light bringing attention to the Sky Dome and the blue of the sky bringing a calm serenity to the image. Although they are different colors, the vibration they create seems to work well here.

This next image uses a combination of light blues and greens along with some yellow and orange accents. The prevailing green color provides a level of serenity to the scene where the contrasts of yellow and orange brings a powerful message that comes with the change of seasons. Yellow is simply an interim color between red and green and so it blends the two traits into a mood where the viewer senses not only the subtle calmness of the location but the more aggressive strength of the moment. The viewer at once wants to both be there and also feels at home at the same time.

Even indoors when using artificial light, color becomes an important consideration creating a photograph with impact. The picture of the young lady in the flowered light blue dress used a mix of artificial lighting to achieve some of the same effects we've discussed so far. Along with a front facing softbox to illuminate the model, a single speedlight with a blue gel attached was fired from the corner on the right to throw a subtle blue cast across the scene. Primarily it was used to bring a cheeriness to the room by filling the room with a pale blue tint that reflected off the many shiny surfaces and to help accent the blue dress. It also provided a trusting calmness to the scene. In the background another speedlight with a reddish orange gel was fired into a dark corner to bring life and attention to the depth of the room. It also served to contrast with the blue to warm up the mood with a more aggressive flavor.

The last image is from the banner page of this blog site. It contains a powerful aggressive message designed to capture the attention of visitors to the site. The bold reds, oranges, and yellows overpower the image to such a degree one hardly notices the more subtle bluish gray horizon line and the subtle green hue of the field of coneflowers. It does exactly what it was intended to do; generate an emotional response in the viewer to such a degree they want to see more. One can feel the movement in this image almost as though this image might be a single frame from a powerful introductory video.

Lighting, regardless if natural light or artificial light, is not necessarily always something that must be precisely measured. In many cases if not most of them, catching the light just right is instinctive and intuitive at the same time. It also requires some experimentation. I go by the adage of it's right when it looks right and I don't always over work the process, don't always rely on the histogram or the exposure meter. The in-camera metering is simply a tool I use to get a ball park beginning exposure setting. From there I compensate the exposure up or down and adjust the lighting until I get the desired look. When it looks right...I know it...and sometimes right doesn't always mesh with what the book says it should be.

Color then can be used to bring a specific kind of life to your images. By watching for and using the colors of found in nature, then enhancing them through exposure and composition, one can generate visual moods to such a degree, the viewer may not even realize they are being inspired by what they see. Photography is all about light for a great many reasons, not the least of which is because the colors of light are what generate the mood of your photograph. You should always desire more from your camera than a simple xerox copy image of what you see. Understanding and knowing how to capture and use those colors effectively is key to creating images with a powerful impact.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Filling in The Blanks with Accent Lights - Lighting a Classic Location

The Corvette Cafe is a classic setting with a nostalgic look and feel to it. When given an opportunity for a model shoot in such a location figuring out how to light it is vital to obtaining the desired results. When combined with a time limit of 30 minutes to complete the shoot, well one must work quickly and effectively to be able to identify those key areas that need a bit more light, a sort of filling in the blanks approach.

The key to good accent lighting is to make it appear natural. What you do not want is to make your lighting look like a bunch of harsh flash cubes have gone off. So, let's take a look at how the lighting on this photograph was setup.

First of all the natural light streaming into and across the room looked pretty good to the eye, but taking a quick photo using the natural ambient light revealed just how dark it really was, especially back in the corners and behind the counter. Way too many shadows and bright spots scattered here and there that made a natural light photo look flat and empty. The room required some help to lift the light where it look natural and exciting. To make it work, I had to strategically place 4 speedlights around the room to provide colorful accents.

The main light was fitted to a 20 x 30 softbox and was situated so it would cast a natural looking light across the front of the model. I set the speedlight to a wide area setting and powered it up to around 1/2 power. This helped to enhance the natural light filtering in from the large windows by the entrance and gave a look to the room where it appeared a strong outside source of light was filtering through.

The main counter possessed a wonderful shiny brushed chrome patina which included the bar stool chairs. There was also a good splattering of red painted walls and the bar stool padding was also colored red which added an exciting vintage look to  the scene. In the far back corner was a recessed booth with a single soft incandescent light hanging from the ceiling. This area proved to be rather dark, so I added a speedlight angled upward to fill in that dark area. A reddish gel was added to provide a splash of color in the background and to help tie in with the red seats and painted walls and to provide a bit of color vibration.

Cafe Shoot Lighting Layout

In order to highlight the chrome and shiny surface of the counter I placed another speedlight to the right and attached a blue gel which cast a wonderfully cheerful bluish tint across the room. This bluish tint was caught and reflected by the chrome and also complimented the models dress which caught a hint of blue across the back edge providing a subtle separation from the background. Her white lacy hat also caught some of that blue light which helped it to contrast and stand out as an interesting compositional element.

The room seemd to vibrate more with the hint of blue light as compared with a more normal white daylight. A fourth ungelled light was placed well off camera to the right and simply angled straight up to fire against the ceiling and add a bit more ambient light across the room. All of these accent lights were powered down to between 1/16th and 1/4 power to provide just a enough light to do the job. Some experimentation was required to find the right combination for each light.

The exciting checkered flag floor added a wonderful balance to the scene and reflected bits and pieces of all the lighting. The area behind the counter remained a bit dark, but all the shiny surfaces caught and reflected enough of the extra light to fill it in enough to allow it to become more visable.

Compositionally, the angle of the shot was critical and the high angle used was simply a spur of the moment attempt to try a different take the image farther down the compositional path. The checkerboard floor and wide angle lens skewed the look just enough to make it appear like leading lines directing the eye into and across the image. In reality, the checkerboard floor is what made the shot, yet it does so naturally and without overpowering the image. It simply looks like it belongs which is what it should do.

So, lighting a scene like this one requires the ability to see the corners, recognize the potential of what is there, and then enhance the natural flavor just enough to give the composition a powerful yet subtle appearance by filling in the blanks with effective accent lights.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Quick Shoot - When "Classic" Was Lived (Part 2)

The Corvette Cafe at the National Corvette Museum retains a nostalgic flavor which returns one to the glory days of the 50's diner experience. When the opportunity presented itself to do a model shoot inside this iconic looking location, there was nothing else I could do but accept.

As part two of the Quick Shoot post lets take a look at how we pulled off an exciting throw back photo shoot staged inside this classic looking venue.

One of the prevailing visual elements inside the diner is all the chrome that sparkles like crystal when light falls across the fixtures. As part of the shoot, I wanted to capture this look, but I also wanted to take advantage of the reflective properties one can find inside the cafe. I decided to use 4 lights. One main light with a 20 x 30 softbox used mostly as fill light on our model, again the lovely Katie. I used two gelled lights, one with a red filter and one with a blue filter. These gelled lights were primarily used as background lights to bring interest and color to the dark corner areas. The blue light provided a crisp clean look and was used in some of the shots to enhance the overall contrast against the red background light and to also create some nice reflections off the chrome fixtures. I used a fourth light simply set way in the back and pointed straight up as a bounce light against the lighter color of the ceiling. This provided a brighter ambient light to the overall image.

Again we only had 30 minutes to complete our shoot so we had to work fast. The first setup was to use one of the corner free standing tables and two high chairs. The blue gelled light was placed outside just off the corner of the cafe and pointed through a window so its light would fall across the wall. The red gelled light was placed in the opposite position inside and pointed to illuminate the other side of the wall. My main light with the softbox was positioned out in front at a slight angle and used to fill in the light on our model. The forth light simply bounced straight up from behind. A few adjustments here and there to get the gelled lights to fill in correctly and we made a good number of simple but interesting shots from this corner.

Next we stepped into one of the isles and took advantage of the outside ambient light. We still required a main light as a fill light, but we managed a few 50's biker girl shots. I loved the way the black and white checkered floor created a classic look in these shots. The Black and White version of the images worked great with this setup.

About midway through our shoot we moved over to the counter where a row of chrome high chairs nudged against the shiny front surface of the counter. The background appeared a bit dark so I moved the red gelled light over to the far corner and angled it upward about 45 degrees to create a unique red fill light in a dark area. The blue gelled light was pointed toward the model from the back of the room. This effectively filled the room with a cheerful neon blue cast. The main light with the softbox was placed about 10 feet or so to one side and pointed at Katie and the fourth ambient light simply bounced straight up from a far corner again to provide a little exptra ambient light.

As always, some experimentation was required to get the proper adjustment levels on each light some no one light overwhelmed the composition. The key to good lighting is to make it look natural. These photos turned out rather exciting with the vibration of blue and red colors contrasting with each other, yet it look natural as though a series of neon signs were glowing in the background. We kept the Biker look for a few shots and then had Katie change into her light blue flower dress. When combined with the white lacy hat, her wonderful look was classic 50's. These turned out to be some of the best shots of the day.

Again I tried eye level, mid-level, and ground level shots along with standing on a chair to obtain a high vantage point to look down. What I wanted to capture was a wide-angle skewed look using the checkered floor as a vanishing point that lead toward to main subject.

Before we knew it, our 30 minutes was over and we had to start breaking it down so the good folks who work at the cafe could go home. We had a great time in the short amount of time we were given and much thanks goes to the NCM staff and the Corvette Cafe staff for allowing us to do this shoot. Thanks also to Bill for inspiring the idea and to Katie our model for being a such a good sport. Her genuine and snappy smile really enhanced the finished photos.

The Quick Shoot process I discovered is a great way to obtain spontaneous fresh looks with a portrait model. Being placed into this kind of scenario forces one to work rapidly to set up simple compositions that will retain a nostalgic feel just as though one had simply stepped back in time and captured someone as they might have been.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Quick Shoot - When "Classic" Was Lived (Part 1)

Growing up in the 1950's and 60's created visual snapshots of life adventures from nostalgic events, places, and iconic moments where even today they retain a special place within our memories. Seems like today many photographers are shifting their focus more and more to reproduce images reflective of those years as well as the 1930's and 40's. All for good reason; they were a time when the term Classic was lived.

For the past year and a half or so I've been fortunate to work part time at the National Corvette Museum (NCM), so I am surrounded by restored reminders from those bygone days. One section of the museum is dedicated to Nostalgia where displays are set in period times with the classic cars of those days being the emphasis of the exhibit, and a throw back attempt to recapture those distantly familiar hot rod or car scenes those of us who lived during those times so fondly remember. Also, on the south end of the museum is the Corvette Cafe where one can return to the simplistic days of the old style diner with chrome counters and bold colors to order a good hamburger. It retains the sights and sounds and aromas that at once take us back to those good old vintage days.

When a photographer friend of mine inquired about the possible use of the cafe as a setting for a 1950's model shoot, I jumped at the opportunity to obtain permission to do so. Permission was granted but with some restrictions; we'd have about 30 minutes to do the shoot. That alone makes it difficult as you really do not have much time to experiment, so you gotta know ahead of time what you want to accomplish...thus the idea of the Quick Shoot comes into play.

Actually what happened is that we were granted permission to do two shoots on two separate days; one in
the cafe and one in the Nostalgia section of the NCM. The first shoot was to be in the Nostalgia section during after hours and again we would have about 30 minutes to complete the shoot. A few days before I took a few test shots to get an idea of the angles and how the ambient light worked. This helped to formulate how to position the model well before hand so we could concentrate on shooting and less on setting up the shot.

Our model, the lovely Katie, arrived about 25 minutes before the museum closed and we quickly moved to the Nostalgia section where several classic 1950's era Corvettes were on display in front of a Toy Store and barber shop and in another section, a vintage Mobil Gas station. Lights were set, I used three for the toy store / barber shop shoot and 4 for the Mobil Gas Station shoot.

At the Toy Store / Barber Shop location, one light was set as a backlight and pointed toward the barber shop from the side to provide some extra light on a dark area. Another light was set toward the back in a dark area and pointed toward the model. On it was placed a red gel to provide a splash of color and hint of outline. This effect gave the shot that evening look being set aglow by neon lights. The main light was set in front with a 20 x 30 softbox. I set the red gel backlight on medium power.  My main light with a soft box was set at about 1/2 power, and the third background fill light was set to near full power as it was to broadcast its light across a broad area.

I wanted the shoot to resemble a cross between a PinUp shoot and a Nostalgic shoot with the model performing simple pinup like poses along with the everyday things a 50's era girl might do.

The problem was the angles because there was only a narrow path through which to frame and shoot. I tried eye level, mid level, and ground level looks. I also repositioned the lights to obtain the maximum effect from the gelled backlight. I wanted the lighting to become a subtle part of the story where key accents were used to emphasize the situation. With only 30 minutes or so to shoot, we had to work fast and take chances.

The Mobil Gas Station setting provided a wider array of lighting challenges because not only did I have to light the model, I also needed to light the garage area, the Mobil Pegasus sign, and also provide some red gel light to enhance that night time neon sign look.

Over all in spite of having to work quickly, the effect turned out quite well I believe. Next up will be the Classic 50's Diner shoot...looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

You Know it When it Happens - Photograph with a Purpose

Photographing with a purpose in mind helps you the photographer to focus on the task at hand without getting all caught up in the X's and O's of the game. Many times over the years my photographic efforts have tended to take the approach, well, let's go out and see what happens. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it does not. In recent years I have shifted somewhat away from that approach, mostly, to focus more on creating one single style of other words, I go about it with the intended to purpose to capture a certain type of photograph...a personal vision of sorts.

Photography is about a great deal many things and creating a personal vision ranks very high on the list. Almost every photographer I know develops their own personal style and style in the visual arts is influenced by the personal experiences we all have. In just about everything we do, we can discover analogies that serve to define what we do. For instance one axiom about photography I've learned has a direct connection to all the bass fishing I managed to do over the years. You see, you may find fish-holding structure without bass, but you will never find bass without structure. The same applies to photography. You may experience great light without capturing a great photograph, but you will never capture a great photograph without great light.

Photographing with a purpose does require a shift in the way we go about taking pictures. When photographing people, what I try to do is to continue to take the photo idea further with each photograph. The idea of taking the photo further is something I picked up watching a Joe McNally video a few years ago. He was reviewing and commenting on some photos submitted by individuals. On one particular image he said some good things about it then he said...Don't be afraid to take it further...push it...look for a uniqueness and do not settle when you think you have got it.  

That idea has stayed with me and as I progress photographically, I find myself wanting to do more, wanting to take the image to another level. I try to visualize what my finished product will look like when all the ingredients are there...and when I get there...well, I just know it when it happens...yet I still believe there is always something more I could do.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sometimes, I Just Wonder

Sometimes, I will browse through many of the previous stories I've posted just to remind myself of what is there, then I realize I've written hundreds of them, most all unique compositions totalling hundreds of thousands of words related to mostly photography, but also about experiences around those photographs. A life collection of sorts they are, about adventures in photography and at times mis-adventures in life. Occasionally, I will re-read one, or two, or three and think, you know that was a good article, and then wonder if anyone else thought so for there are few if any comments attached to them. 

Those stories will be there for a very long time, maybe long after I am gone. They contain photo captures of moments in time that will never again present themselves, but more importantly, they reflect a part of who I am and how I see the world. I suppose that makes them me anyway.

Sometimes I do wonder why I do this...write all these blog posts. I often wonder if people actually read them or do they simply click LIKE and move on, or just move on with indifference without doing anything.

Then, I wonder to myself, again, who am I doing this for? Is it for the few people who actually take time to read the articles, or is it for myself to satisfy some kind of creative inner desire to share what I know with others. Not sure I really know the answer, nor am I sure I want to know.

Still, I have many photographer friends and I've enjoyed associating with them over the years, but sometimes I wonder if I have managed to ignore other just as important parts of my life because of it. Often that kind of association can lead to certain assumptions that may or may not be accurate which eventually, when reality sets in, I often discover I have made incorrect assumptions about the ideas I was contemplating.

The results of such thoughts can often lead to disappointment and maybe even some feelings of rejection. Then again a good dose of reality can slap you back into focus and redirect your desires and whims to realign them with what truly is important.

Not sure why I am writing this post as it is so different from all the others I typically write, driven mostly I suppose by melancholy thoughts resulting from missed opportunities or rejected attempts to connect with people in a positive way. It is a difficult pill to swallow to have your efforts and work seemingly go unnoticed, maybe unappreciated, but, that is a part of life all of us must endure from time to time.

Oh, I understand not everyone thinks the same way and they have lives too that carry them here and there, to the point what small token offering I might supply seems rather unimportant. I'm sure I've done the same thing. I suppose, if I wonder about it long enough, I'll get over it and continue to do what I've always done; create simply because I can, pursue simply because I want to, and enjoy what I do regardless of what others might think.

The important thing is to keep striving, keep moving short, to keep wondering about hopes and dreams regardless if they come true or not. I would rather have wondered about such things most of which may never come true, than to go through life stuck in a rut filled with little or no wonderment about what is out there and never having known the excitement of what can be.

I've found myself alone at times wondering what lies over a distant hill, then I hiked to the top of it just to see what was there. I've gazed toward a dark night sky searching for hidden wonders. I've stood facing a prairie storm with nowhere to hide, and drifted on silent waters under a canopy of stars.

I've heard the thunder of a thousand stampeding bison, and listened for hours to the calming silence of a wandering breeze. I've stood knee deep in a drift of snow stung by a biting wind at my face, and held a hundred delicate blooms in my hands. I've captured the subtle movement of a sunrise and the bold flavor of a thousand setting suns.

When I write about photography or when I offer to do a workshop, it is not just the technical X's and O's I offer, I'm offering an opportunity to share the experiences associated around those photographs. I only hope others will understand such things.

Why do I wonder?  You know...maybe I've just answered my own question.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Depth of Field - How I use It

Simply stated, Depth of Field (DOF) is that portion of a photograph that remains in focus both in front of and behind where your focal point is made. If I focus on a particular object, depending on the focal length of the lens, the aperture, and where I focus, a certain portion of the image may or may not remain in focus. The longer the focal length of the lens, something like 200mm or 400mm or larger, the relative depth of field becomes narrower for a given aperture. The larger the aperture, say f/2.8 or f/3.5...or even f/6.3 as opposed to a small aperture like f/16 or f/22, the narrower the Depth of Field becomes.

Here are two examples. The first image is general scenic shot that required a short focal length lens 18mm along with a small aperture f/22. By doing so, virtually the entire image remains in focus from almost directly in front of the lens to all the back to the sky. This is an effective technique to use for most scenic shots.

This next image is a subject specific shot where I used a long focal length lens, 500mm, along with a relatively middle to large size aperture, f/6.3. The idea on this one was to isolate the blue bird against a blurred background. The 500mm lens does by itself shorten the DOF which in turn creates a blurred background, but when combined with a larger aperture the effect can become quite dramatic.

What is important here is understanding how to use Depth of Field effectively in a photograph. So let's discuss how I use it and what I look for.

I use a tight DOF and a wide DOF for all kinds of shots including both scenic and subject specific shots. Subject specific shots are those shots where you want to isolate your subject and emphasis its characteristics without interference from visual background noise. Portrait closeups are good examples on when to use this technique, like the image shown here.

I most often use this approach when the background is generic in nature and can be used primarily as a simple natural backdrop. When blurred, the background now becomes something that enhances the image as opposed to competeing with it. However, there are times I want to include the background as part of the portrait. This is most often applied when the background provides a Measure of Place for the portrait, like this next image which was shot as f/10 at 50mm. As you can see, the entire image remains in focus with the pillars providing a dramatic flavor to the image.

Keeping with that idea, scenic shots can be quite effective when created using a tight DOF. Shots like these are approached much the same way as closeup portraits. Hre, I wanted to isolate this branch of fall leaves against the golden brown of the background. By doing so, the background blurred as it is contributes to the color flavor of the image without interfereing with the main subject.

The point is...always be aware of your surroundings, especially what is in the background and plan your shots according to the type of DOF that will create the most appealing effect. It is a realtively simple concept that more often than not is not always properly used. By understanding how your camera / lens combination works in regards to DOF, you can use this technique to generate some amazing photographs.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Day in The Field

Early June sometimes finds itself struggling to decide where it wants to go. It seems to know the dog days of summer are but a week or two away, yet somehow probably in defiance of the inevitable, the first week of June seems to always cling to the last remnants of spring. That is the way it was leading up to and then falling on a single June day afternoon recently. For six months we had tried to schedule a location shoot but available time and circumstance prevented us from connecting...that is until that day.

Leading up to our shoot the previous few days rain fell and the tempertures dropped lower than are typical for this time of year around these parts. Then the days turned almost perfect when highs in the mid 70's along with a light breeze. Clouds rolled in and created a covering blanket of soft white, which for a photographer is mostly perfect as the sky then becomes a giant softbox casting gently smooth light. Our day was set and the shoot was on...location was Romanza Johnson Park where Trammel Creek winds its way around the edges.

I showed up a little early to set up the changing tent and the speedlight stands...checked and rechecked the settings and the camera remote; Group A channel 1, Group B channel 1...yes, the power settings changed on queue for each. The softbox was attached to Group A light and Group B was powered down to about 1/32nd power...just enough to provide a subtle highlight. Group A is always my main light, and Group B is usually my main highlighter. Sometimes I'll use up to four lights adding a Group C and D all fired as Channel 1, but this day only two lights proved necessary and as it turned out, they worked exactly the way I planned.

My model was a delightful young lady, Sophie, who arrived shortly there after with her mom. After a quick intro as to what we were wanting to accomplish, we decided to setup along the split rail fence that stretched along the entrance road on the outer edge of the park. Because of the rain, the ground was too muddy elsewhere and the creek was running higher than normal preventing us from using the gravel bar.

The first few shots I made were simply establishing shots to verify exposure and light angles. Turns out a few of those were pretty good shots and became part of the image grouping. As always my desire was to have the model simply be herself, yet add a hint of sassy along with a dash perky. Some models are more difficult to work with, but some, like Sophie, took to it like a pro. I never overdo instructions, choosing to drop hints and suggestions and then let the model fill in the gaps with her own style and personality. Sometimes it is necessary to encourage a bit more animation from them and then offer a range of opportunity for them to give it a try.

I almost always use a long lens as this allows for a wider range of depth of field control plus it reduces any uncomfortable personal space intrutions that might occur using a shorter focal length lens. Some of the most effective shots are done when you simply allow the model to slowly move across a few yards without posing, without becoming too static. A flip of the hair, a subtle look down, a slight tilt of the head, gentle smile...allow the natural light to work the background, but allow the model to become herself without being overly concerned about her actions. Just allow the off camera flash to fill in the rest of the light.

The key...the eyes. They must be clear, bright, and sharp with strong color definition. Always focus on the eyes, not always an easy compositional task when your model is moving toward you. The trick is to take a lot of shots so you will almost always have a few come out the way you want them to.

Most of my shoots last about an hour and half...move out much past two hours and everyone starts getting tired with a noticable drop off in energy.

Every photographer develops their own style and I haved gained a great deal of insight from many of my photographer friends. Some tend to slant toward more of an edgy look, others are very creative and stylish, still others are plain and ordinary. Over time my style has grown into a simple homey look accented with a slight amount of sass and sweetness. Mostly I just let the model be themselves as much as possible and encourage them to loosen up enough to feel comfortable with what we are doing.

All in all this early June outing turned out to be a delightful day in the field...and the results...well, I think they turned out rather well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

B-29 FIFI - A Portrait of a Legend

The B-29 bomber of World War II fame proved itself an iconic airplane both in design and function. It became the most expensive design project during the war exceeding even the development of the Atomic Bomb in cost. Almost 4,000 of them were built and two of them, the Enola Gay and Bocks Car dropped two atomic bombs on Japan ending the war.

When one of the few flying examples of the B-29, FIFI, came to Bowling Green, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to capture this beautiful airplane. What I wanted to do was photograph it at dusk using several speedlights along with some light painting, however, when I inquired about doing such a thing, the crew balked and it fell through. I was left with trying to capture the nostalgic nature of FIFI under less than ideal conditions. As a result, the images I took were made with the intent of creating black and white images. Black and white lends itself well to capturing dramatic skies when the lighting conditions are marginal. Converting to B&W allows one to take advantage of contrast which will offset the negative factors assiciated with middle of the day lighting. Another difficulty were the other people who had come to see the B-29. It was difficult to shoot around them and in some cases it became necessary to clone them out of the image in post processing, not always an easy task.

Fortunately, in spite of the tough conditions, the sky cooperated and I was presented with a blend of whispy clouds and blue skies, both of which contributed to exciting black and white conversions.

The idea behind the images was to recreate that 1940's look. The conversion process included using Nik software Silver Effects which allows for various black and white effects including simulating the use of different kinds of black and white papers. This advantage creates exciting possibilities. Most of the images that were converted used the Ilford Delta 100 Pro paper simulation. I also applied a sepia tone effect on a few of the images, along with high contrast and high structure giving the images a powerful, crisp look.

Capturing a portrait of a legend like the B-29 transported me if only for a few moments back in time to another era when because of the circumstances of the time, great planes were created which were destined to become some of the most beautifully functional machines ever created.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How The Picture Was Made - Blending Two Zones of Light

Photography requires as much post processing as it does time in the field. In fact, almost all digital images require some post processing to bring out the extra pop we all desire in our photos. Fortunately, there are a few easy to learn techniques that help us in creating a finished photograph. One of these is knowing how to blend two Zones of light.

First let's go back a step or two. Blending two zones of light starts in the camera and is accomplished by taking at least two separate images of the same subject, one using the ambient light and one using a speedlight(s), then blending them in photoshop as a single photograph. The reason we do this is because when using speedlights, it sometimes becomes necessary for the lightstand to be in the shot in order to get the best angle to light the subject. When that happens we need an easy way to remove the lightstand without having to perform a lot of cloning magic which can at times get cumbersome. It is also necessary because the ambient light is almost always darker than the light from the flash and we must allow for the 'Burning In' of that background light before the flash fires to illuminate our main subject.

Let's look at the portrait of a 1976 Corvette I recently made. The situation was like this. The background was the National Corvette Museum and I wanted to take the photo during that narrow window between dusk and dark. Doing so would allow for the capture of the dynamic lighting on the museum's Skydome and also allow for some of the dusky light in the sky to be captured. This however prevented me from capturing the Corvette with a correct exposure using just the available light. To accomplish that feat required the use of multiple speedlights positioned strategically around the Corvette to illuminate it.

The two zones of light then were; The background ambient light coming from the sky and the museum, and the speedlights used to expose the car. In order to have an effective light on the car required that two of the speedlights, one with a softbox attached, be in the shot. A first baseline photo was made without the lights in place and was done simply to get the ambient light exposure where I wanted it. The second shot then was setup with the lights in place to capture the car.

The first two images then shows the ambient light photo without the speedlights in the picture. It was opened as a RAW image and tweaked to obtain the desired results for the background light, then saved and opened inside the Photoshop Elements work window. The Tweak settings were noted for later use.

There were some powerlines showing in the sky in the upper left of the image so they were removed using the Healing tool. Then the second image taken using the lights was opened also as a RAW image.

Notice the softbox showing in the upper right of the image and also not as noticeable the speedlight sitting on the other side of the car firing into the window. The same RAW settings were applied so the second image would closely match the background settings of the previous image. Notice the Powerlines are also visable in the second image, but they were left alone.

Next I used the Select All option under the Select dropdown box then selected Copy under the EDIT dropdown. I then reopened the first image and used the PASTE option to overlay the second image exactly on top of the first one. This created a Layer Mask that could then be used to erase anything showing on the top layer to expose what was beneath it. In this case I simply seleted the Erase tool and expanded the brush to a medium size and erased the sky area, the softbox, and the speedlight shooting into the car.

With a little more applied tweaking of the brightness, contrast, color, and the removal of some stray artifacts to clean up the final image...the results!