Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Self-Made Postcards

Boot Camp II Headshot 1I have never done my own shoot in a studio so when I booked Aperture Studios to take maternity shots of Stephane and Maia followed by a session of high school prom photos with my daughter and her friends, I thought it would be a good time to take my 'self-portrait' portion of the Strobist Boot Camp II First Assignment.

Unlike the first portion of this assignment, this one went as planned and was pretty quick to set up. I had an old 4 by 5 camera I wanted to work into the shot, so I put an Alien Bee 1600 with a soft box for the main lighting on camera right and another AB on the left to fill in the the shadows on the camera. Now I only had to deal with the shadows caused by the big 4 by 5 blocking the light from the two Alien Bees. I put an SB-800 behind the 4 by 5, dialed it waaaay down to 1/64, wide throw and held it in my hand, aimed at my face. I used Pocket Wizards to trigger. Magically, everything just seemed to work. The posing, the lighting, and the exposure all worked on the first pass. I grabbed some shots of Stephane, who is also a photographer, then stepped into the set-up myself and let Stephane pull the trigger.

You can see where the lights are by looking at the reflections in both the lens of the 4 by 5 and my eye:

Boot Camp II Headshot 1 Detail1

Boot Camp II Headshot 1 Detail2

You may have to click on the photos to go to the Fickr page and run your mouse over the photo to see my notes, which highlight each of the light's reflection.

I can't say that the second portion of the assignment went so well. The Halifax Photo Society had set up a shoot with a local motorcycle club and arranged for some local models to come along as well.We've been doing these along the lines of the "Strobist Meet-up", where we book models in for a TF* (time for shots) arrangement, which allowed us to practice our shooting and in return the models get some shots for their portfolio.

I went in with a plan to shoot only CLS. No manual settings and no pocket wizards. Just CLS and it was close to a disaster. I've already blogged the gory details of my Motorcycle Babes shoot, if you want details on my learning. If you would like to see some of the other shots the gang at HPS took, click here. There are four pages and counting of some freakin' great shots.


Saturday, 20 June 2009

Motorcycle Babes

HPS Motorcycle Shoot (6)I shot a few hot ladies on some cool bikes last week. Or at least I tried to. Ever since reading Joe McNally's Hot Shoe Diaries, I've been playing around with the Nikon CLS lighting system, but without much success. When Mike set up this shoot, I decided I would tough it out and force myself to use only the CLS. No Pocket Wizards. No Sekonic Flash Meter. Only CLS.

I almost chickened out when Trish and I showed up at the shoot. I didn't feel I had the system down 100% and boy was I right. While my trusty old SB-800 presented no problems, my brand new SB-900 was a very different story.

First, I still haven't found a swivel / cold shoe that will accept the SB-900's 'fat foot', so I had to use it bare, with no light modifiers. Bare light was not what I had in mind for this shoot, so I had to quickly think of a different lighting scheme.

Then I couldn't remember how to change the remote mode on the 900 to CLS and it wailed away in full power, optical trigger for about half my shots. This just blew out half the models' faces and was not particularly flattering.

Finally, as I was shooting, I realized that at least one of the flashes was not triggering. Sometimes it was the 800 and sometimes it was the 900. I had forgotten that CLS is a 'line-of-sight' triggering optical system and not an RF triggering method like the Pocket Wizards. I was using the D700's built in flash to control the CLS as well as provide a little bit of fill light. As I moved around shooting not paying attention to where I was relative to the two strobes, I frequently had the built-in flash pointed away from at least one of the flashes. Check out this shot, where the fill flash did not fire to the one following, where it did:

HPS Motorcycle Shoot (3)

HPS Motorcycle Shoot (2)

In the end, the laws of probability worked in my favor: I fired off enough frames that I was able to catch a handful of acceptable images:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Sunday, 14 June 2009

Sanity Check

Ripped (4)A few years ago, when I was still using Kodak's Easyshare Gallery, I did a little study to compare what I thought were my best photographs against what 20 of my friends thought were my best photographs. I was very surprised at the difference in opinions. Now that I am using Flickr, I am able to do this little study when ever I want. So I just did.

As of this morning, I have had 93,447 views on my images on Flickr and this image is the #1 favourite of all my Flickr visitors. The "top 10" of all my Flickr visitors is this set:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

This contrasts to my favourite "10" images:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

There are only two images that over lap and I'm not certain if that is good or bad. I do not know what common thread (if any) links the photographs in the first set together. I certainly do not find fault with any of the image selections by them, but if every photo has two people in it, the photographer and the viewer, I need to work a bit harder to understand the 'why' of these favourites.

As for my favourites, that is quite easy: I still
lean towards abstract, graphic images. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since I am only beginning to understand how to create a compelling portrait.


Thursday, 4 June 2009

Fine Art Nudes

Jenny WaitingShooting fine art nudes is a cross between portraiture and abstraction styles. While there is a model involved, if you focus on the model, you end up with a portrait. For example, this shot is definitely about Jenny and there is nothing 'fine art' about it, so it would certainly be classified as a portrait, albeit not a great one. I caught Jenny in a reflective mood as she was waiting for me to work through my lighting set up.

Note: not safe for work (NSFW).

For a fine art nude, you need to think about how you want the lines and planes in your shot to relate. You want people to remark on the image as a whole and not on the person in the shot. However, as you drift into the 'abstract' mindset, you cannot forget that the model is a person and not just some graphic element to juggle in your composition. The shots also have to be safe and you have to talk to the model about what you have in mind. In fact, you will have 67.98% fewer curse words after the shoot if you talk to your model. Most have great insight and can contribute significantly to your work if you let them.

I had the pleasure of working with Jenny, Andree, and Haileigh this past week-end. We met during a fine art workshop hosted by Brian Larter at his Aperture Studios and taught by Steve Richard. If you have 10 minutes to spare, hit the link to Steve's gallery. His images are stunning.

I didn't walk away with too many shots from this session, as I spent most of my time trying to wrap my mind around shooting models without shooting portraits. We were also shooting with a stopwatch and had only 20 minutes to shoot each setup. If a concept didn't work, such as my session with Haileigh, then there wasn't a lot of time to re-shoot.

I have two favorites from this shot. This is one of them and is of Andree on a couch.

Contrasting rigid lines with womanly curves turns out to be a bit of a theme with me when I shot Andree. However, the shot below turned out to be more of a portrait. In the original file, there is a warm glow that reflects Andree's wonderfully fun personality, although the warmness is lost when viewing a JPG photo through your web browser.


Jenny is wonderful model to work with. With only a little discussion between us on the concept for a shot, she ran through a series of poses with ease, like this one where we were using an old hat for a prop.

Jenny and Hat

My other favorite shot, aside from Andree's couch shot above, is this one of Jenny with an old steamer trunk. Seeing the trunk, I immediately thought of an old post card.

Jenny and the Trunk

Thanks to Jenny, Andree, Haileigh, Brian, and Steve for an awesome week-end of shooting. Special thanks to my partners in shooting, Stephane and Mike, for their help in the above shots.