Leading an Outdoor Lighting Photography Workshop

Adding light  Bailea & Flash  Big lenses  Participants  Sarah lighting Bailea  Model in the meadow  Hide from the wind  Flash & Reflector  Low angle shot  Didya get it

I always enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when a student of photography makes the decision to participate. During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead. That is left to the participants.

Those are the words I used when I was discussing the first of two workshops I am leading this spring on the use of off-camera lighting. The first two-day workshop was about lighting in a studio and was held in a well-equipped photography location where I introduced how different lighting tools are used for portrait photography.

I have now finished the first of a two-session outdoor lighting workshop where the participants were surprised when faced with using many of those same lighting tools outside.

This workshop was about using light out-of-doors and I think returning participants were struck with how straight forward lighting is inside compared to outside. In the studio one synchronizes the camera’s shutterspeed to the studio flash and uses the aperture to determine the exposure of the light reflecting off a subject. However, out-of-doors a photographer is faced with additional variables and must balance the natural ambient light with an off-camera flash, and when using flash effectively it is more about creating and controlling shadows than filling them.

The weather was not willing to co-operate very much. It had rained all night and although the day brightened up some, a cold breeze from fresh snow in the mountains made us shiver when it wandered through our workshop space every now and then. Nonetheless, crappy weather or sunny days, it’s all about adding light, so in spite of the cool damp weather, the ten participating photographers and our intrepid model, Bailea, defiantly (maybe hopefully is a better word) stepped out of the warm studio and into the constantly changing light of day.

In this lighting workshop we dealt with the key aspects of outdoor portrait photography, such as understanding exposure, how photographers would learn to control depth of field, and to gain off-camera flash techniques that would transform their outdoor portraits into something special. And, as with my last workshop, there was excitement as participants got down to business and weren’t at all shy about getting shoulder to shoulder in a process of experimenting with and exploring outdoor lighting.

I had off-camera wireless flash setups in three locations, a large barn, a meadow beside a turn of the century horse buggy, and in the long grass where an old abandoned Cadillac rested. The photographers put each location to good use, and now I am looking forward to the next session. The few images I have seen so far are excellent and I am certain spending another day helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

Comments? I do like all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

The Autumn Garden for Photographers

       

For the past week I have been looking at my wife’s garden as I walk the path from our front door to the car on my way out.  Her garden plants are dry; actually, crackling dry might be a better way to describe the plant life here in British Columbia’s interior after another summer season with very little precipitation.  She explains that she has a “dry garden,” and that she doesn’t water the garden, only for new plants when necessary.  Plants are selected that have the best chance of survival given the conditions. Parts of the garden are crispy dry, or have gone dormant, and offer a unique opportunity for photography before fall rains soften the landscape.

The nights are now getting cooler and the days aren’t as blistering hot as they have been for the past month and the plants that still have leaves that haven’t shriveled and fallen to the ground are beginning to change colour.

Most of the books that discuss garden photography recommend photographing plants in the morning when everything is fresh. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography; and, I doubt those presenting their photographs to garden or photography clubs include photographs of lifeless plants. However, for this dedicated photographer, the combination of very dry, withered leaves and those with just enough life left to change colour are intriguing. As I have in the past I’ll admit that, unlike my wife, I can name few of the many of the flowers growing in our garden. To me, I look for colour and shape and how they fit in the environment.

My regular readers are already aware that I venture into our garden on rainy days and when it’s snowing. I enjoy photographing our garden in any season, and its dry condition is an invitation not a deterrent. So, this morning when I got up to a bright, clear, 9 degree autumn day, I thought I shouldn’t wait any longer and walked around our garden slowly looking for the flowers I would photograph later when the sun began to drop in the sky.

I waited for what I’ll call the “quiet light” at days end. I like that light that lasts for a very short time before dark when there is still light enough to see details, but not bright enough create highlights. As much as I like to use it, I can’t claim the term “quiet light”. That goes to photographer John Sexton and is described in his wonderful book of black and white photographs titled, “Quiet Light”. A protégé of Ansel Adams, Sexton and his collection of black and white photographs that he calls “an exploration of the natural environment” is inspiring; and it’s him, and photographers like him, that make me want to search out the unusual in the natural environment that would normally be ignored.

I wandered around with my tripod, a stand-mounted wireless flash pushed into a 30-inch diffuser, and a 200mm macro lens on my camera, and worked at picking out interesting shapes to photograph. The subdued light was perfect. I could place the camera on the tripod, focus on some intriguing-shaped plant, then direct the diffused flash from different positions to open up the flat-light conditions.

It’s easy to move the flash closer or further away to change the way the light effects a subject, or release the shutter several times while opening or closing the aperture.  The outcome would be different versions. Some would have shadows depending on the position of the light while others would or wouldn’t have a dark background depending on the exposure.

I didn’t spend a long time because the light didn’t last long, but I released my shutter at least a hundred times photographing different plants, trying to be as creative as possible and get the exposure and the angle just right. I had a good time and expect I’ll be at it again before everything changes again.

I appreciate all your comments, Thanks

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photography on a Frosty Morning

 Daybreak was foggy within a white, crystallized wonderland of hoarfrost-decorated trees and vegetation.  That scene is what I have been waking up to every day this past week. The damp cold has been bothersome, but what photographer could pass up such a creative opportunity to wander through frosty woods and fields trying out different lenses and locations. I like the search and the discovery.

This morning I talked my wife, Linda, into venturing out into the cold to photograph the hoarfrost in her garden. For that we each mounted macro lenses on our cameras and I included a flash mounted on a light stand for both of us. There was a time when we would have been burdened with wires running from the flash to camera, but those days have passed now that wireless flash technology has become the standard.

The morning was overcast and foggy, so the addition of flash was a must in the dim light.  I have a ring flash that I like to use when I photograph plants, but the white crystalline hoarfrost would have been easily over exposed with the direct light from a flash mounted around my lens and I wanted to preserve as much of the delicate details as possible. All we had to do was position our flashes for the best light angle.

Our cameras allowed us to sync the shutterspeed above 1/250th of a second. Many modern cameras have a feature in their menus called “Hi-Sync” or something close to it and I recommend readers check their manuals on how to select and use a high flash synchronizing speed so they won’t be limited to 1/250th of a second shutterspeed.

Handholding at 1/500th of a second (or greater) reduces camera shake and with the addition of flash it is easy to stop any plant movement. Whenever I use a flash outside I like to reduce the ambient light by a stop or two so that if I didn’t use a flash the scene and subject would have been under exposed, consequently, I add the flash to illuminate the main subject, and those elements that the flash doesn’t affect are under exposed, and that flash is off camera sending light from the side or the rear, not limiting us to the on camera flash directly in front of the subject, or forcing us to position ourselves dependent on the sun.

We had a lazy morning and got out late, so although we both prefer to use tripods for close-up photography, we needed to working fast as the temperature rose. We could hear and see the crystals falling with the morning breeze. I suppose if we had a warm outside couch and been bundled up, just sitting on the porch would have been nice. Nevertheless, we got right into photographing our frosty subjects only stopping when we had to reposition our flash.

I approach and light a plant the same way I would a person. I begin by checking the exposure with my camera meter. I always use manual mode so in today’s foggy low light and because I was using hi-sync I could keep my shutterspeed at 1/650th and sometimes higher. Next I chose the best angle of view for my subject, and as always pay attention to what’s in the background. Lastly, I move the light around making exposures until I am satisfied with the highlights and shadows on my subject just as I would if I were doing portraiture of an individual.

I like foggy, frosty mornings and the last few days have been a great time to wander around with my camera. Soon everything is going to change. The frosty vegetation will be replaced with green buds and the cold, foggy, overcast days will be filled with sunny days and blue sky. Yes, I am looking forward to that, but for now winter is a creative challenge and I wouldn’t change it.

www.enmanscamera.com

And thanks to 96arley (www.shootabout.com) for the nomination.