Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘CLS

Me, Suki, and the Forest

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One foggy morning in San Francisco this week on a much needed day off work, Suki and I headed out of the house. Hoping to get a nice shot of her for my 52 week photo project, we headed for a local park. Though located right in the city and surrounded by neighborhoods and shops, once you enter Mt. Davidson park, you forget you’re in a city at all.

Strolling through the forest made me feel like a character in an episode of Lost! Because of the dense fog and light rain that rolled over the city earlier in the day, the forest was very damp. Trails were muddy, and the trees dripped water down on us constantly. Suki and I both got pretty dirty as a result. It was also extremely humid, which made the climb to the top of the mountain particularly uncomfortable, especially since I had photo gear. The top image was taken using an off-camera SB-900 unit through a shoot-through umbrella, which I carried and set up in the mud all by myself (and no, Suki did not help me).

Suki was fascinated by the forest. She loved to run ahead and check out what was further down the trail. If I lagged behind, she’d turn around and wait for me, giving me this look that seems to say “hey, what gives? Hurry up will ya!”

Notice how dirty her face is from sticking her nose in the wet plant-life that surrounds the trail. Good thing I had clean rags in the car!

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Shot Data:
Camera: Nikon D300s
Top: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 13mm f/4, 1/200 Sec ISO200 (CLS triggered SB-900)
Shot 2: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/3.5 1/500 Sec ISO200
Shot 3: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/6.3 1/80 Sec ISO200
Bottom: Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR at 300mm f/5.6 1/500 Sec ISO800

Behind the Scenes

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This week’s project shot of Suki was pretty difficult. I didn’t have any time to take the shot all week, and this holiday weekend has been booked with activity. Finally had some free time in the afternoon this Sunday, and a bunch of friends wanted to get together for some hiking. So we decided to bring Suki along, and figured we’d get a shot of her while on the trail. Well, we got to the end of the trail, and I still had nothing! So I handed an SB-900 to my cousin, and took an impromptu, dramatically lit shot of Suki for week 21 of 52. See the final image on my Flickr page.

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Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 at 135mm f/18 ISO100 1/320 Second // SB-900 gelled warm, TTL, +2.0EV

Written by Jonathan

May 30, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Bring the Studio With You!

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One of the things I’ve learned  from running around the city taking pictures of Suki for my 52 week project is that natural lighting doesn’t always cut it. Bringing some basic lighting equipment along with you when you go out, however, can let you take control of a situation in which the existing light just won’t give you a nice photo. Take this series of images, for example. Strolling around one of my favorite areas of the city, Suki jumped up on this long platform along the sidewalk, and I immediately had a shot in mind.  I lined up my camera and took the shot below, a test image to see what the camera was thinking about the scene:

Meh, no shot here. The lighting is flat, and not coming from the direction I need it. Notice that the bulk of the light  in the scene is coming from behind Suki. As a result, she’s dark. With no directional light on her, the subject of the photo, she appears flat and one-dimensional. Boo…

Fortunately, I had my SB-900 speedlight with me. Fired it wirelessly at Suki from my left through a small piece diffusion material, and the difference was dramatic (top image and below). Notice that she now has increased color, dimension, clarity, and separation from the background.

This is what I love about Nikon’s CLS, or Creative Lighting System. You can carry portable speedlights with you anywhere, and it’s like bringing the controlled elements of a studio out into the less-predictable field. Firing multiple lights wirelessly and getting your desired exposure is incredibly easy with CLS, as the camera does most of the thinking for you. It also helps to have a subject that is used to having her picture taken!

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Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC // SB-900 Speedlight off-camera

See another shot using this setup HERE

Photo shoot: Jasmine Libatique

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Got a call yesterday from Jasmine Libatique, a local singer/songwriter here in San Francisco, requesting a photo shoot for her upcoming album entitled Dreaming Away. Her album is still in the recording stage of development, but she wanted to start compiling some concepts for her album artwork.

San Francisco’s Mission District is filled with cool urban art, and Jasmine selected one of the Mission’s many murals to incorporate into the shoot. This will be the first of likely several different concepts we will attempt before she makes a final selection of images to include in her album.

It was a very last-minute shoot! Had to rush home after work and quickly grab whatever gear I could get my hands on before heading out to the Mission District before the sun went down. My SB-800 unit failed on me due to bad batteries during the shoot. I was using it as a commander so I could get my command pulses firing behind or above me to my remote SB-900. Without it, I had to bounce the command signal from my camera’s pop-up off my free hand towards the remote unit. It actually worked! It also made me think a little more about how nice it would be to have radio triggers.  Anyway, despite the rushed nature of the job, we had a great time!

Want to get a preview of Jasmine’s music? Head on over to her Fanpage, where you can listen to all the songs on her upcoming album. Become a fan!

Also, check out more images from this shoot on my website!

Soft, Wrapping Light

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Suki likes to hang out in the same room where I keep all my photographic equipment, so often times I’ll just go in the room, set up, and start photographing her. She’s there anyway, right? Last week, I decided to get a nice shot of her face, especially since I didn’t have a chance to go outdoors and make an image of her for week 11 of my 52 week project. There aren’t any large windows in the room and it was late afternoon, so it was artificial light or no shot. Suki is just about as soft to the touch as she looks, so I wanted to convey that softness in the photo.

Light from a bare strobe is not soft. It’s hard and harsh. So to make it as soft as possible, you need to diffuse it…a LOT. This is how I did it:

What you see here are two SB units (SB-800 and SB-900), firing up into an all-in-one umbrella with its reflective shroud in place. The light from the two units will hit the umbrella and come back down towards Suki, but not before it hits another layer of diffusion: a skylite diffusion panel. Using two units increases my light volume and keeps my recycle times shorter than using just one, since all this diffusion makes the SB units work harder. Now I have a bigger light source relative to my subject, and a softer quality of light (learned all this from Joe McNally!).

Poor Suki. Relaxing in a room, and all of a sudden these huge pops of light start going off above her head. This was her initial reaction to the big diffusion panel:

The sounds of the camera, the pop of light, the whine of the flashes as they recharge, the big beeps they make to indicate they’re ready to go, someone’s voice saying “look at me! look at me! stay! stay!” …. it’s a lot for a dog to hear and see. But Suki’s pretty used to it now.  In fact, she gets bored and sleepy after a while:

But hey, the final week 11 shot was worth the trouble, right Suki?!

Camera: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC and Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8

ASL Handshapes

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I have some friends who are teaching an American Sign Language class and needed a photographer this past weekend. In ASL, signs are constructed using a limited set of specific hand shapes. They needed each hand shape to be photographed for use in the class’s course materials, including the class website and various keynote presentations.

Photos needed to be done on-site, so I had lug my equipment over. My goal for the lighting was to make the hands look as dimensional as possible. I didn’t want the the lighting to be too flat, and I wanted it to be easy to determine what shape the hand is making in every shot. I have one SB-800 hitting the background, one SB-900 unit firing from above, and a light-stand below holding a silver reflector. The image above is just a screen capture from the Library module in Lightroom 3 Beta.

Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135 f/2.8

UPDATE:

I’ve received a few requests to make prints of this hand shape chart available for ASL instructors. If you’re interested in purchasing a print or poster of this chart, head over to asl.jonathanflemingphotography.com.

Written by Jonathan

March 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Expand or Compress?

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I thought that after picking up my Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8, my Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens would no longer be a relevant tool in my camera bag. But after having both for some time now, I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t get rid of the Nikkor. Why?

While the Tokina allows faster shutter speeds in lower light due to its constant f/2.8 aperture, the sweet thing about the Nikkor is its much longer focal range. When racked out on my D300s, I get a a full frame equivalent of a 450mm focal length in a compact, lightweight package with the Nikkor 70-300. The reason why this is important to me is that it allows me to really compress the foreground and background elements of a scene using those long focal lengths.

This kind of compression can give your photos real power and subject isolation, and can also help you exclude undesirable surrounding elements from the image you’re trying to create. The images here from Suki’s last shoot this weekend illustrate this point. I received many inquiries after I posted my week 10 photo on flickr (chosen from this series) about where I took the photo. Some people said it looked like Suki was on mars (hah!), and others thought that the background was the sky. Since I shot the photo at 240mm, Suki was compressed so close to the golden background that it was hard for many to tell exactly where she was (the background was all water, as you can see here). This was the exact effect I wanted to create, and I couldn’t have done it without using such a long focal length.

Conversely, using a super wide angle lens expands the foreground and background elements, and gives an exaggerated sense of space around your subject, as can be seen in this photo of Suki, taken with my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8.

Above: This shot was taken at a shorter 70mm. You can see much less compression as a result.

One trick I learned from studying Moose Peterson’s (a very well-known landscape and wildlife photographer) work is to try to avoid composing with your zoom ring. In other words, use your feet to get into position and compose your shot, then select a focal length based on how much you want to expand or compress the elements in the frame. Good advice!

Nikon D300s + AFS Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, varying focal lengths