Saturday, February 17, 2018

Recreating a Sunset Using Flash

One of the problems we have as wedding and event photographers is that we usually don't have any control over the environment we are shooting in.  If the church uses their Kindergarten room as their bridal room, you can't ask for another room.  If the weather isn't to your liking, rescheduling the wedding for another day isn't an option!  You have to play the cards you are dealt, and still capture the day the way your bride wants to remember it.

Off-camera flash (OCF) can be a powerful tool in these situations.  You can use lighting to accent some things, and de-emphasize other things.  You can use both the intensity and color of lighting to create a specific mood for your photos.

Last year I was second-shooting a wedding the same weekend that the remnants of Hurricane Harvey blew through our area.  The sky was solid overcast, and I knew early on that there was no way we were going to get any sort of nice sunset.  The venue had a small pond with a dock that stuck out into it.  It was a great setting, but the bland available light wasn't going to do it justice.  Nothing that adding some flashes couldn't cure.

I put my most powerful flash (a Godox AD200) on the shore near the dock, facing the couple standing on the end of the dock.  This was going to be my "sun".  I didn't raise it up too high, because I wanted to mimic a low sun right before it dips below the horizon.  I put a Full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel on it to give a warm glow.  I had a second flash on my camera to provide  a little fill, so the side of the couple facing away from the "sun" wouldn't be in complete shadow.  I used a 1/4 CTO gel to warm it a little, but not as much as my "sun".

The resulting photo had a nice warm romantic feel to it, but the sky was still an ugly gray.  I lowered the white balance of the image from normal daylight (5500 degrees Kelvin) to 4000 degrees Kelvin.  This cut down the orange somewhat, but it added a wonderful blue tint to the sky and water.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Taylor's Night Shoot

Shooting portraits at night can be one of the most challenging assignments.  Lighting can be tricky, because you want to make sure your subject is properly lit, while still seeing lights and other details in the background.   But it can also be one of the most rewarding, providing a wonderful contrast between lights and the darkness.  I wanted to try shooting at night down at the Waterfront.  During the holidays their central square features a lot of lights and decorations, making it the ideal background for this type of shoot.  It was an interesting challenge trying to balance the light from my off-camera flashes with the Christmas decorations.

Taylor is a relatively new model going to school in the Pittsburgh area.  It was our first time working together, and I don't think it will be our last.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sheldon's "Mommy and Me" Shopping Session

During the holiday season I scheduled a shoot with one of my favorite models, Sheldon, and her daughter Adalyn.  I wanted to try doing a "Mommy and Me" shopping shoot.  The Waterfront has some nice Christmas decorations in their central square, so that would be a convenient place to shoot.

We had an unexpectedly bright sunny day for our shoot.  My go-to setup for shooting in sunlight is to shoot with the sun behind the subject and having a flash in the front to fill in the shadows on the face.  I've literally used some variation of this for 40 years.  The sun makes a nice hairlight/rimlight on the subject.  But sometimes a regular flash struggles in this situation to have enough power to fill in the shadows.  Fortunately I had my Godox AD200 super-flash along, with three times the power of a standard on-camera flash.  Plenty of power to fill in the shadows, even at a distance.

Sheldon is also a photographer, in addition to being a model.  I think this gives her an edge and helps our sessions to flow easily.  Adalyn, meanwhile, is perfecting her "Diva Model" impression (which is actually pretty easy for a 2-year old).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Bettis Holiday Party

Earlier this month I photographed the kids in Santa's lap and the annual Bettis Holiday Party at Salvatore's in Baldwin Borough.  It is hard to believe that the first time I did this particular event was in 1983!  That's long enough that the little kids I photographed back then now bring their children to see Santa.  That first year we has no idea how popular it was going to be.  The line for Santa literally went around all four sides of the room.   Back then I shot it on film, and we had to get every employee's name in order so we could deliver the prints.  Now of course I shoot it on digital, and post the files to an online gallery that the parents can download from.  I still keep the previous years' digital file online, and every year I have at least one family that goes through those older files and finds their family's photos going back several years .  It is neat to literally see their kids grow up in five years' worth of photos.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Erin's Bat Mitzvah

Erin's Bat Mitzvah in the middle of March officially kicked off our 2017 season. Fortunately her family loves to have a good time, and love to have their photo taken!  The party was at the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Squirrel Hill.  It is a great place to shoot because there's a balcony around the entire dance floor which gives a unique angle for some photos and also a safe place to position off-camera flashes so they won't become victimized by overly exuberant Hora dancers.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 Swissvale Mile Race and Walk

This was the third year for the Swissvale Mile, a one mile race and walk that is a fundraiser for the Swissvale Police Department's K9 unit.  I'm proud to say that we've been a sponsor since the race began.

This year the weather was very cooperative, and we had a great turnout for both the run and the walk.  The first year there was only the one mile walk, and I took a little over 100 photos.  Last year there was both a race and a walk.  Unfortunately there was some serious rain and turnout was low.  I shot around 200 photos.  This year, with the good weather, and having a second photographer (my son), we ended up with almost 700 photos.

I did have one surprise that I wasn't expecting.  After we were done, I discovered that the clocks in the two cameras were off by almost 30 seconds.  As a result, the photos aren't exactly in chronological order.  I thought they had been in sync a month earlier, and once they are set they shouldn't be off by that much.  Moral of the story:  I've added a "Check cameras clock sync" item to my preparations checklists.

The full set of images are here.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

So You're Shooting Film at a Wedding for the First Time

Come to find out, film is making a comeback, just like vinyl records.  Not just for artists and students, but for mainstream wedding and portrait photographers.  Unfortunately, digital cameras have been around long enough that some newer photographers have NEVER shot film.  Here are some tips I've put together, based on the 20 years I shot film at weddings before switching to digital in 2004.  These tips assume you're using a 35mm film body that is compatible with your digital cameras and lenses.

You have to shoot the entire roll at the same ISO.  I know, I know, this one is obvious, especially if you've shot film before you switched to digital.  But the question does get asked by newer photographers who have only shot digital.  You can't switch ISO between shots.  In the pre-digital era, I would have my "regular" film (ISO 100 or 400) in one camera body, and "high speed" (ISO 800) film loaded in a second body.  If you only have one film body, I would recommend using versatile ISO 400 film.  If there isn't enough light for ISO 400, switch to your digital camera.

Always carry a spare roll in your pocket. It is one of those Murphy's Law type of things that you will always hit the end of the roll right before something important, and always when your are not near your camera bag.  One time I totally misjudged how many shots I would take of the processional, and hit the end of the roll just as the bride was about to come down the aisle.  I immediately walked towards the back of the church, and put my hand up in front of my chest in a "stop" motion.  The bride saw it, and yanked her dad back.  Once I knew they were stopped, I pulled out the film from my pocket, dropped to my knees and changed the film in 7 seconds (and this was with a manual rewind crank and having to thread the new film leader into a slot on the takeup reel).  If I hadn't had a spare roll on me, I would have been dead.

Use your digital camera to check your shots.  Back before digital, there was a thing called Polaroid Instant Film.  A lot of photographers would have a Polaroid back for their medium-format camera or view camera.  There was even one enterprising New York camera repairman who developed a Polaroid back for the Nikon F3 pro 35mm camera.  After you took a photo, you would pull the film out of the holder by an exposed tab, and in a minute or less you had a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch print.  The Polaroids were used to check lighting setups, composition, and exposure.  It wasn't a quick process, because you would have to wait 30 to 60 seconds for each Polaroid shot to develop.  Photographers wouldn't start shooting film until they were satisfied with the Polaroids.  Today you can do the same thing with your digital camera, and it is much faster and easier.  Plus, you'll have a digital backup copy of the image, just in case. 

Always be aware of how many shots you have left on the roll.  When I switched to digital, one of the amazing things was the number of photos I could store on a single memory card.  With 35mm film, the most you will get is 36 photos per roll.  Compared to a memory card, that isn't a lot.  You need to anticipate how many shots you will shoot at the next item on the schedule, and make sure you have enough film left took cover it.  If you don't, you will likely have to change the roll before you get to the end.  There's nothing worse than taking the first three shots of the cake cutting (for example) and finding you're out of film and have to change rolls.

Don't forget to rewind the film before you open the camera back!  One big difference between film and digital is that you have to rewind the film back into the light-proof cartridge before you open the back of the camera and remove the cartridge.  Otherwise you'll ruin the film by exposing it to light.  It is one of the most sickening feelings in the world to open the camera back and see the film still on the takeup reel  (been there, done that...).  If you shut the back quickly, hopefully you will only lose the last 6 or so shots on the roll.

Know your equipment.  Film cameras are generally older than the digital cameras you are currently using.  In some ways this is good, because they will be simpler and easier to use than your digital cameras.  But they will be different.  Controls will be in different locations.  Then there is the whole issue of loading and unloading film.  Make sure you've shot some film beforehand, so you are familiar with how it is done.  You might have to change film in a hurry if you hit the end of the roll at the wrong time.  Ideally you should be able to do it in the dark...

Have a system for tracking your film.  Back in the day, Kodak plastic film canisters were opaque, so I used color-coded circular Avery labels to tell the films apart (yellow for color print film, white for B&W, red for Kodachrome, and blue for Ektachtrome).  Unused film had the label stuck on the lid.  When the film was loaded in the camera, the label was transferred to the back of the camera.  When the roll was finished, the sticker went on the bottom of the can, and I wrote a sequence number on it, so I could tell the order the rolls were shot.  Finally, all used film went in a ziplock bag to keep it together (so it didn't get lost) and separate from the fresh film.

Hope this helps.  If you have some tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments.  If I think up some more tips, there may eventually be a Part 2 to this article.