Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘sb-800

Party Photography

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—-Nikon D300s + Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 at f/5.6, 1/80 sec ISO800

One question I’m often asked is something like : “How do I get sharp photos when taking pictures of my friends dancing indoors? What lens should I get for this purpose?”

Well, in most cases, the answer has less to do with your lens and more to do with whether or not you’re using flash. Just so happened to have hosted a dance party last night at my house, so I took the opportunity to demonstrate what I mean, using a variety of lenses and shutter speeds, and of course, my hot shoe flashes. The dancing took place in my living room at night, which means no daylight pouring through the window to give me f-stoppage. The room is lit by two floor lamps, providing, I dunno, just about f/0.1 inside. Seriously though, even using my fastest lens, I ‘d probably squeeze out a shutter speed of about 1/80th shooting wide open at f/1.4 at ISO3200 in this room. Ouch…not nearly fast enough to stop action under these conditions.


—-Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/5.6, 1/125 sec ISO800

Freezing motion in bright day light out doors is relatively simple, right? You can easily hit say 1/640 or 1/1000 and higher, even stopped down, effectively freezing motion. Can’t really do that in a room like this. There’s simply not enough ambient. Using flash lets you shoot at lower shutter speeds and still freeze action.

Wait a minute! How is it that you can freeze motion with low shutter speeds when you use your flash? Another question I get asked a lot. They key, again, is in the pop of light you’re throwing at your subject. The shutter may be going at say 1/80 or even 1/15, but that flash is hitting your subject at like 1/1500th, fast enough to freeze them in their tracks. If you want to imply motion in your dancing shots, you can drag the shutter at around 1/10 to 1/15 (make sure you camera is set to rear curtain sync):


—-Nikon D300s + Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 at f/5.6, 1/15 sec ISO800

Or select higher shutter speeds to freeze them completely:


—–Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 14mm f/5.6, 1/80 ISO800

Another note: you gotta go manual exposure in scenes like this. Throw your camera into aperture priority, for instance, and it will select what it thinks is an appropriate shutter speed to expose the scene. Well, you’re pointing your camera at darkness, which means it’ll select shutter speeds that are far too low. Use shutter priority and you camera will open up your lens to its maximum, limiting your depth of field options. For the entire night, I dictated the shutter speed and aperture and let the camera’s intelligent flash system work its magic. Worked well in this case too because in such a small, dimly lit room, almost all of the light is coming from my flash units.

Another question I get asked: “My lens doesn’t have VC/VR/IS. Can I still get sharp shots with it?” Yes! None of the lenses I used last night are stabilized:


—-Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135 f/2.8 at 95mm f/5.6, 1/80 sec ISO800


—-Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135 f/2.8


—-Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135 f/2.8


—-Nikon D300s + Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8

It’s important to remember that neither lens nor sensor based image stabilization systems help freeze subject motion. They only help reduce blur induced by small movements caused by the photographer hand-holding the camera. They key, again, is the flash.

Of course, when people are standing still, it’s even easier. =)

Written by Jonathan

August 30, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Does Flash Have to Look Like…Flash?

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Suki and I headed out to the beach for a stroll along the water this evening after I got off work. The weather has been totally gloomy in San Francisco lately, however, so there wasn’t any dramatic light to make use of when arrived on sight. The test shot I took of her above gives you an indication of what kind of light was out there tonight. Blegh…Suki knows it too.

There was simply too much wind to use any sort of large light modifier, so I had to add some light in with my bare strobes. What to do? Thought I’d create a sunset-like effect with a single SB-900 placed maybe 20 or 30 feet from our position. Here’s how it turned out:

Placed a full cut of orange gel (CTO) over the bare SB-900 to give it the orange glow you’d expect from the sun when it’s low on the horizon. See? Flash doesn’t have to look like “flash,” right?

Now Suki is getting into it!

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Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Written by Jonathan

August 20, 2010 at 10:57 pm

The Last Minute Group Shot

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This morning I attended a graduation ceremony for a group of students who successfully completed a rigorous training course in American Sign Language. It was an exciting event that drew a few hundred people, mostly friends and family of the students. Bridget and I were involved heavily in helping run the course, and I even brought my camera to every session to document the entire semester. This morning, I arrived about an hour early to help set up the A/V equipment needed to run the graduation, but soon after I arrived, I was asked to take a class photo. A group of 35, a relatively dimly lit hall crowded with people, and uh oh…I didn’t have my camera. On top of that, the shot needed to be done BEFORE the graduation started.  The wife ran home and grabbed whatever she could for me while I set up the A/V. By the time she got back with some camera gear, however, we only had about fifteen minutes or so to get the shot. A photographic nightmare! I was sweating bullets as I frantically set up a light stand camera right with an SB-900 through an umbrella, feathered high and left. Second light is hand held by my wife standing on a chair camera left, feathered high and right. Now I had about 8 minutes until the start of the graduation program. Gulp.

See how many people were there? This is the reason why I had to use my ultra wide lens for this group shot. There were a TON of people already on site, including a crowd of people with point and shoot cameras behind me. This meant I couldn’t back up very far. So I mounted my Tokina 11-16,  rushed like crazy to try to get all the students in some sort of order, fired off four or five frames, and that was it, time to start the ceremony. Whew….trust me, it was harder that in sounds!

View the “last minute” group shot larger here.

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Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Written by Jonathan

July 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Don’t Start with a Plan

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When I first started Suki’s 52 week project this year, I tried my best to have a very specific concept in mind for each image, planning each shot as meticulously as I could before we even headed out the door. I’m nearly halfway through the project now, and I’ve learned that having a plan is not always the best way to get a great shot. Reminds me of what Jay Maisel, a highly regarded NY based photographer once said:

Not knowing what you’re going to shoot is the great adventure. If you go out knowing what you’re going to shoot, the great adventure is gone. Most people work to have a plan; I’ve worked to not have a plan for shooting when I go out.

I love this advice, and I’ve done my best to incorporate the principle behind it not only in my 52 week project, but in my photography in general.

Nowadays, the only planning I do when I go out to take a photo of Suki is deciding the location. Once we’ve settled into a spot, I then start scanning the area and coming up with ideas. It forces you to be observant, to look intently for interesting compositions, lines, and light. Instead of locking down on a specific plan, you find yourself exploring with a free and clear mind, and exploration and adventure is what makes photography great.

My best images of Suki this year are the ones where no planning was involved, where I’d just say “hey, let’s go to [insert location here] and try to get some sort of shot of Suki.” The images you see in this post, for example, are from a series I shot of her last Sunday during an early morning stroll. No plan involved. Just me, some camera gear, and a Shiba Inu. We walked and walked until I saw an element of the environment that struck me. It’s a great way to approach your photography. Just make sure you always have your camera with you!

My Favorite Lenses

So lately I’ve decided that my two absolute favorite lenses in my bag right now are…..[drum-roll]…. The Nikkor 70-300mm VR (used in the top image) and the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (used in the third photo from the top). Yup. My longest telephoto and my widest wide-angle. Both allow me to greatly exaggerate the perception of distance in an image. Want to really add some impact and dimension to your photos? Move further away from your subject and rack out your telephoto lens. Using an ultra-wide? Move in super close to your subject. Experiment and see what happens!

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Camera Info:
Nikon D300s
1st image: Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 260mm f/8, 1/400 second, ISO200
3rd image: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, 11mm, f/16, 1/320 second, ISO200
CLS triggered SB-800 + SB-900 used in both images

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