The Making Of A Photograph III

As part of my long delated housekeeping duties of neatly filing away a bunch of images I made in January, February, and March of this year I also have to "rate" them, apply standard metadata, and a few keywords here and there. To ward off that dull mundane-ness of slogging through this kind of mind-numbing task I just cannot help myself but to also revisit some of those images I made. Which includes long periods of consideration, re-re-re-monkeying around with various image fine tuning and other stuff that's way more fun than just filing tasks.

Today I thought I would distract myself with by sharing a few thoughts going through my head before during and after shooting a few images for my response to a LaRoque challenge. A welcome distraction to shooting more practical workman like images that I was doing during most of that period.

This particular image is one I keep coming back to as one of the ones I actually like from that short session. There are a few others that I really like as well but thought this one might be just a hair more interesting for discussion both from a techie point of view as well as a thought process view. I included a full screen 100% view at the top - open in a new window to examine all the pixels if you want. I also included a smaller JPEG of the full frame above.

I happened to be playing with motion for this session. Something I really like to do but almost never get an opportunity in more conservative "safe" photographs. I shot everything from mild motion to wild. Some of that motion fueled by the movement of the subject, some of it fueled by my controlled jerking of the camera, some both. I made versions using only ambient as well as stuff that combined ambient and strobe you see here. This one the effects of the motion blurred ambient and the frozen flash lit pieces are quite subtle. Actually they are very subtle on the flash lit parts and a mix of subtle to extreme on the ambient only parts.

For human subjects at about this distance doing things at about normal speed I find the range of 1/4 to 1/15 second to produce that strange mix of frozen and heavily blurred in the same frame. This session was entirely shot at 1/8 second. The flat broad fill is ambient light. The key light is a bare SB-800 speedlight to camera right at about 8" above Anastasia's eye level pointed strait down the axis of her nose. Well almost but I shot all of them while she was fairly active so light placement has some variation of on/off axis.

The main lighting effects which you can see clearly in the 100% screen shot at the top is quite obviously that speedlight freezing the forward leading features of my chosen subject this one happened to have a nice mix of what I wanted. Possibly arbitrary depending on my mood today. I like other ones as well. One technical feature that was critical in achiving this effect even this subtle was rear curtain sync. The other obvious thing is Anastasia's constant motion. What you cannot see is the upwardly directed large fan on the floor directly under all of that fabric which is longer than you might think from first glance. Anastasia was constantly moving the fabric around almost as if flying a kite.

Contrary to what you might believe if you haven't played with motion blur a lot is that this kind of thing is completely random. It can be for sure but if you practice a lot I will assure you it becomes a whole lot less random and your timing will improve immensely - so will your odds at nailing something you had in your minds eye. I guess the corollary is don't try this stuff for the first time when it "counts". Put a few hours of experimentation in with subjects that don't count and are conveniently located right where you happen to be. You'll be surprised at how it improves not only your shutter timing on "effect-y" stuff like this but everything. I'm far more successful depending on my timing rather than going to continuous shooting. Even at 6 or 7 frames a second it's completely random with way more misses than hits.

I do want to point out a few not so obvious things here that are absolutely just as important in any photograph as the broad brush stuff that I just went through. They have to do with light and as always being a student of light. There is one tricky thing going on with the speedlight in addition to the rear-sync thing. I smashed it into stuff to break it up and make sure it only lit up pieces of the frame instead of a big broad wash of strobe. Super important lesson to learn in any lighting you bring to the table but also something to take note of even if you "don't do flash".

The other subtle thing here that is worth some thought is to take a look at the far edge of Anastasia's face. See that subtle glow on the edge against the wall? It doesn't scream at you - "look at me, I am an edge light" - but it's HUGE in terms of the way this image looks. It has nothing to do with all the techno rear-sync strob-y stuff nor the motion that I just walked through. It's there because of the environment. There is shafts of sunshine that are inconveniently located at a bad angle to use as direct light sources but one of them is smashing into the white wall just out of frame to the left. That's then getting kicked back to make that nice soft subtle edge light on Anastasia's face. It provides separation and depth. It's not brighter than the flash technically but shows up the way that it does because of the angle of incidence thing…

There's also a piece of the sun directly behind Anastasia in the lower part of the frame. See it? See the kickback that is lighting up the underside of her thigh? The point isn't for you to reproduce this exact set of circumstances. Virtually impossible. What's certain is that other ones - very similar ones will exist no matter where you are shooting. You just have to look and be aware of them and use them for what you are trying to do at a given moment. I talk about taking advantage of the environment in all sorts of various ways in the lighting field guides.

The flash power, the ratio of the main ambient fill, the shutter speed/aperture/iso combination I happen to choose took those more subtle effects into account. Where I asked Anastasia to perform. Where I stood and what angle I pointed the camera and of course my framing decisions all mattered here for those "secondary effects". In my mind this is way way way less about rear-sync than it is about those other things. You can't take them into account and make choices about them if you aren't paying attention to them in the first place.

What's more is that you can do the same things even if you are bringing additional light to the table. The kinds of things that you notice and you like in a particular environment. Or you can simulate that environment in countless ways. This is what I mean by being a student of light - not for an hour or a year but in this endeavor that's a lifelong pursuit.

As time has worn on I have found that I use the environment more and more effectively vs fighting with it. I also have found that even in full-on studio setups I tend to use less lights rather than more as time goes on. I use them more effectively. I make them interact with the environment. I make them do more than one job. I also tend not to add more of them to counteract problems I caused by suboptimal use in the first place.

I am definitely not at the end of figuring out. I probably never will be but I sure meld what used to be two seperate exercises in my head into one much more holistic thought process at this point. Hope this proves interesting to a few of you.


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