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Canon 5DMarkII 24-70mm f/2.8L (40mm) 1/4 sec. at f/14 ISO 100 Canon 580EXII
Welcome to my world of Bad Light Photography. I’m constantly photographing great situations in mid-day contrasty light (bright highlights, dark shadows). I internally tear at my mind pondering, “What can I do? Think creatively!” I believe in the ancient Chinese proverb: Crisis = Opportunity.
A couple of years ago I was traveling in the lesser-known state of Chattisgarh in India, photographing some of the numerous tribal groups. I stopped at Kangrapada village to make images of the Godaba Tribe’s fast-moving Dhemsa dance. It was a cloudless day at the stark hour of 2pm. They were outside, ready to dance, under big trees. The first thing I always do when I see a situation that I’m interested in photographing is to ask myself, “What is the problem?” Well, this problem was very evident: the light was mottled bright light and deep shadow, beyond the contrast range of my sensor (about half the range of the human eye). They were dancing under the shade of the trees, but it was an inconsistent pattern of light and shade and beyond the dancers was a glaring background. “What can I do? Think creatively!” Eureka, an idea: Pan and Flash!
I set my Canon 5DMark II camera at ISO 100. Then made an exposure for the lowest shutter speed possible of the dancers when they were the shade. That was ¼ sec. at f/14. Perfecto! My starting point for thinking about panning is 1/15 sec., but the slower the shutter speed the more dramatic the background blur. However, the problem with panning people at very slow shutter speeds is that the feet (and the hands) move at a much faster speed than the torso, so they can “ghost out”, disappear completely, and you are left with an image of a footless, handless torso drifting through space.
This is when using direct, bright flash is very helpful (I was using a Canon 580EXII, but a pop-up would work great in this situation). A flash burst is about 1/800th sec., so it will accentuate and freeze that moment within the blur. So it gives an illusion of sharpness with a blur. I always expect mistakes and misses so I “panned and flashed”for dozens of frames. I experimented from 1/15th sec. to ¼ sec. shutter speeds (aperture was not important). I was standing a bit away from the dancers and I needed a bright burst to make an impact, so I probably was on + 1.7 EV with the flash pointed directly at the dancers without a diffuser.
I had a number of interesting images to choose from but this frame I liked the most. The troublesome, splotchy light was smoothed into lines that mimicked the stripes in the women’s dresses. The multiple feet are not a problem as they enhance the feeling of the dance. If you look carefully you can see how the use of flash sharpened the toes and heels. The background of people, bushes, bicycles blurred into patterns of color.
I actually love it when there are problems because then I’m forced to think of a creative solution. Most of my initial photographic ideas are ones that are familiar to me and come easily. As the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his diary:
“Life is pretty simple: you do some stuff.
Most fails. Some works.
You do more of what works.
If it works big, others quickly copy it.
Then you do something else.
The trick is to do something else.”
I returned a few weeks ago from five weeks in India leading a National Geographic Expedition photo group to Rajasthan (great fun, great group!) and then I was photographing tribal groups in Orissa and Chattisgarh for three weeks. I wore my neck brace 24/7 (see this post). I felt like a robot since I had to turn my entire body whenever I needed to look to the side; but interestingly, only a few people ever commented on it. I think most tribals thought the brace was a fashion statement (and I was accessorizing with a buff and scarves).
Well, as I wrote in the previous post, I never found a suitable lightweight photo vest for tropical weather, so I tested travel vests and decided on the Magellan Travel Vest. It failed “the photo vest test”. In its defense, the Magellan travel vest is not meant to be a photo vest. However, it also failed “the travel vest test”. I love the fabric and cut of the vest. Yet for the pockets to be truly useable they really do need to be bigger (and there is room). I did wear the vest a few times when I didn’t want to carry my Eagle Creek Departure waist pouch (see this post) but needed a place to hide money in an interior pocket and stow my sunglasses. Otherwise the vest was not that useful and since it was hot in India I abandoned it most of the time.
Now the good news! I love the Lowepro Street and Field system. It was perfect for walking around markets and in villages. I brought all my gear over in my trusty Lowepro Orion AW bag (I may have to mount a campaign for Lowepro to resurrect this great camera bag from its discontinued status, join me!) but it was primarily a vessel for my equipment and stayed in the car most of the time. Honestly I usually only needed two lenses: the 16-35m f/2.8 and usually the 24-70mm. Occasionally I also carried the 24mm f/ 1.6 (I love it, so sharp!). I think I only walked around with my 100-400mm f/4.5 a couple of times.
So I had 2-3 pouches on the waist belt for the 1-2 lenses and one pouch for flash accessories. I also carried my Garmin GPS and Canon S95 on the belt. In addition, I usually had my converted Canon 5D infrared camera in an older TopLoad Zoom (it is not as bulky as the new ones) slung over a shoulder to my left side. So I still looked armed and dangerous (well, not so dangerous) but all the weight was off my shoulders and my neck. It really was just perfect.
I also found that I could slip my Canon 580EX flash into one of the pockets with the Rogue Flashbender – Small Positionable Reflector or LumiQuest FX diffuser and have a workable off-camera flash when I was kneeling and photographing upwards. The new Pocket Wizards Flex TT5 and Mini TT1 Radio Slave for Canon function so much better than the Canon wireless transmitter.
Now I’m on my way to Myanmar and am taking the same setup with me. I have some suggestions for Lowepro about the pouches but generally I am really happy with the gear.
I have graduated to a soft collar and am beginning to get some movement back in my neck. Bless the healing power of bones, and bless seat belts!
I am going to have to design a photo vest though.
…even when it seems impossible to handhold an image in the dark that if you put your camera on continuous and rip off at least five shots that the middle images has a high probability of being sharp even at 1/2 sec.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perahera
… sometimes there just are times when one needs a tripod! Some subjects beg to be sharp with a substantial depth of field in low light situations.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Dambulla Rock Cave
…95% of the boring photographs are taken straight on. Get low, get high, get a new lease on your physical perspective.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Negombo Beach
and if you don’t have any idea what you doing, just try… if you don’t click the shutter you are 100% guaranteed to fail!
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perhera Elephant Festival
So here I sit in LAX, waiting for my plane to New Delhi. I won’t be carrying my usual retinue of gear; but having a creative perspective is of more importance than another lens. I’m looking forward to the simplicity of only using a lens or two, although I know it will feel quite strange. My new mantra: “Don’t forget to move…but move slowly and carefully!”
© nevada wier 2009 Rajasthan, India
I just received an email asking me about the above image that was in my recent show Outer India at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. I was leading a National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan last year (great fun!) and we were photographing on the Sam sand dunes outside of Jaisalmer. It was a beautiful evening and had the good fortune of meeting a caravan of travelers who were willing to spend some time with us on the sand dunes. I photographed wide, long, standing, lying down and then.. said “Lensbaby“! So I pulled out my Lensbaby Composer and starting photographing. I decided to try an panoramic. So I shot a series of images with the idea of merging them. I knew it would be tricky but I did find two images that were clicked seconds apart that worked perfectly when stitched together (I used the miraculous Photomerge in Photoshop CS5). As I have written before, I choose not to crop or change any content in my images, so these are two intact images stitched together. Pretty cool! Otherwise there is no way to create this kind of double selective focus. I could have achieved this with a tilt-shift lens but I find the Lensbaby works best in motion situations. I love it when what I see is a catalyst for a creative image.
I’m leading another National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan this fall. If your interested in this year or next you can get more information at NationalGeographic.com
I’m thrilled that Flying with Fish (a mighty fine blog) wrote this blog post for me! I just say “Ditto”! No reason to get all in a panic about Form 4457 (and I have been getting way too many emails about this!)
I have only been asked once in 30 years for one of these forms and that was over 20 years ago when I was returning from Morocco with Lisl Dennis. I was her assistant for an Architectural Digest story and she had cases of camera gear. The official stared at all the cases and then pointed to my camera bag and asked for the certified list. I thought Lisl’s jaw was going to boink the floor when produced one (she didn’t have any).
I haven’t bothered with this form since then though.
On another note — last year a bored customs official in New Delhi open a Pelican case, that was crammed with extra wires, charges, flashes, etc., that I had stowed in a checked suitcase. He officiously informed me that I need permits for those wires. I was dumbfounded and resolutely insisted that I didn’t. I obviously was not giving in to his thinly veiled extortion and he finally let me go. I discovered that the suitcase had a white chalked X on it, which alerts customs to look inside. So now I keep a Wet-One in my pocket and when I see that chalked X (at least three times now in India and Myanmar) — I just discreetly wipe it away. Works like a charm!
And also, I have been hearing that carry-on is being weighed for inter-Asia flights with Emirates and other airlines so check before you fly with a new airline.
Last month I taught two workshops, Creativity and Travel Photography, for the Santa Fe Workshops. I love teaching (and working as a Mentor also), although I don’t have time to teach more than two or three a year. I had two remarkable groups and they inspired me as much as, I hope, I inspired them. You can see their final shows here and here (week 2).
At the end of the first week one of the members of the class handed me a piece of paper with two questions and asked if I would answer them. They were brilliant, although I remember fumbling through the answers. However yesterday, just hours before I was leaving for a flight to Sri Lanka, I found the paper on my desk. Since the luggage was loaded in my car; I decided to think about my answers a bit more coherently. I got most of the way through them, then it was off to the airport. Now I’m on the 15 hour flight from LA to Bangkok, (then to Colombo) and am finishing the post.
What are 10 Things you are glad that you knew when you decided to become a professional travel photographer? So, in no particular order, here they are:
- Because of my experience as a river guide, rock climber and Outward Bound instructor I learned the difference between perceived risk and actual risk. A very valuable distinction to have when one is traveling in foreign countries.
- Also because of my previous experience as a guide and instructor, I knew not to projection my thoughts, feelings, or interpretations on anyone else. I learned that there is no way to really know what someone is thinking, unless you ask or give them space to answer, verbally or non-verbally. Presume nothing; expect everything.
- I knew that I had some great traits for a traveler: I can handle alcohol; I can sleep anywhere; I have an “iron stomach”; I have a bad sense of smell; and I remain very calm in times of stress or uncertainty. All very useful for the solo traveler
- It was very clear that I was “born to roam”. I didn’t care about getting married and having a family; I just wanted to travel. And, I was passionate about photography.
- I knew that there is no such thing as luck. Luck is everywhere; it is just a matter of taking advantage of it.
- I am glad that I had brilliant teachers who taught me to think creativity and write coherently. I am also glad I learned how to type.
- I am glad I began photographing with black and white film and taught myself the fundamentals of working in a darkroom.
- I am also glad I used fixed focal length lenses and was forced to move to fill a frame.
- Although I was not a painter, I admired and studied artists from historic to contemporary. I understood the power of color, and why the color wheel was important in art.
- I knew that it was never going to be an easy field in which to make a living. And, that it was best to keep my overhead very low.
What are 10 Things you wish you had known when you decided to become a professional travel photographer? Again, in no particular order, but notice that most have to do with business:
- That photography is 80% about business, not photography. I really should have hung out with MBA students and not river guides and rock climbers (for potential boyfriends).
- Just about everything that had to do with photography since I am self-taught—which means that the teacher knew very little.
- It took me awhile to figure out that it was useless to try and photograph what I saw, since slide film can only render about four stops of contrast range, while my eyes could see about 16 stops. Really, I was just using reality to express my perception of it.
- That there is a difference between marketing and business and you have to be great at both.
- That many clients do not understand that photographers need to make a decent living also (especially non-profit organizations) and are always asking for free images. And, that it was never a good idea to give into these requests without some kind of compensation.
- That one should buy a house young to build up credit and equity. Invest in yourself but also in other ways.
- Those credit cards are essential, but evil.
- That I should never have carried such heavy cameras bags or pack packs.
- That computers would eventually rule my life (well, maybe it good that I didn’t know that actually)
- That no matter how recognized I would become in photography, the phone would never ring on its own. I would have to hustle and reinvent myself all the time.
And now you ask…
What would I like to know now? How to clone myself since I have to keep hustling!
Check out this post I wrote for the Singh-Ray blog!
“Traveling the back roads and narrow trails of Asia, Africa and South America for hours at a time to reach the world’s most remote tribal areas and cultures gives National Geographic photographerNevada Wier plenty of time to think about the gear she takes with her… what stuff is important and what might not be. “Believe me, my filters are important. In particular three kinds of Singh-Ray filters go with me everywhere. There’s a Hi-Lux filter on each of my lenses, and I also carry a 77mm LB Warming Polarizer and a 77mm Vari-ND filter. Each one of these filters is essential and fits neatly in my camera bag that I have to carry around all day.
“I keep a Hi-Lux UV filter on each lens because I want the best possible glass between my lens and the world. I photograph in extreme elemental conditions — rain, snow, fog, hot days, cold nights… you name it. I’ve learned the importance of protecting my valuable lenses. However, I do not want a filter that degrades my image quality so I always go with the Hi-Lux.
To read the rest go to … http://singhray.blogspot.com/2010/06/on-narrowest-trails-in-most-faraway.html
I’m on my final flight to New Delhi. I never bemoan long flights because I enjoy the time to read and revel in the fact that I’m not on a steamer ship (plus I use my frequent flier miles to upgrade to business class).
Last year I wrote about Packing Camera Gear for Flights which is still relevant (see below for the new luggage in which I put the Pelican case for flights). So this time I thought I would mention a few travel and photo items that might interest you.
No one will ever convince me that digital photography is less expensive than film. Sure, I don’t have to carry around hundreds of rolls of film but I do bring an abundance of hard drives, accessories and wires. Since I have seen almost everything fail that can fail, I quake with paranoia. All it takes is one bitty wire to break down a system. Therefore I have to bring backups of usb, mini usb, micro usb, firewire 400, firewire 800, firewire 400 to 800, ipod cords, adapters, and endless power chargers. And, all those cords take up lots of room. Thanks to an article in MacWorld a few months ago Shrinking your Mobile World, I was spurred on to abandon my long cords supplied with the devices and search for short ones (sadly short cords are not less expensive, au contraire). The links on the MacWorld site helped but finding short firewire cords wasn’t that simple. Finally I stumbled upon www.usbfirewire.com. And here are some of the wires I’m bring with me. None are over 9″ except the usb extension cord in case I do need a long one. I love them!
I also found a great travel vest from Scotte Vest. This is not a photo vest but a vest to be worn on planes and other travel situations. It is very evolved and even has little cards in each pocket explaining how it can be used. There are conduits in the vest for ipod cords, a clip for a micro cleaner cloth, hidden pockets for change, etc. At first I thought there were too many pockets but at least they are all slim lined and not bulky.
However, it is definitely not made for tropical weather.
I was roasting inside the Bangkok airport (and it is air-conditioned). I will have to reluctantly abandon it for the rest of my travels in India and Myanmar. Pity… maybe they will make a tropical one soon! I also like that they are tapered differently for women and men.
Someday I’m going to design the perfect lightweight photo vest, because I have tried and rejected all of them. Stay tuned for WierGear — a series of unpadded, lightweight stuff that we all need!
… Now I’m in New Delhi; jetlagged and up at 5am to finish this blog post. I had to take the vest off in the New Delhi airport and it is packed away for my return international flight in December. It certainly will be cool enough at that time to wear it.
Here is one more item that I have been traveling with for years and years — the Eagle Creek Market Pouch
I swear by it because it means that it is always hooked to my belt so I yet to lose a passport, money, and I always have a sundry of small useful items with me. Plus it fits under my camera bag waist strap so it is hidden away from searching fingers.
Look at all the stuff that fits in it! (I have an older model but the new ones look similar). I’ve spread it out on my bed for you and I think it is quite impressive!
Yes, that is a small bag of hot red chili because I can’t live without it (although it does seem strange that I have add chili to India food but they never believe me that I like it really spicy). And I keep a compass, flashlight, and Purell on that small carabiner swinging from the pouch; children covet it.
I have been a BIG fan of Eagle Creek stuff since they first began as a small company eons ago.
So while I’m on the subject of Eagle Creek — I purchased (yes, the world does not shower me with free gear) for this trip two new bags. One is the new HC2 Hovercraft Upright 25 which fits my Pelican Case (plus other stuff) perfectly; it is rigid enough to protect it for international flights. And a new carry-on roller since I had utterly destroyed the last one and even duct tape wasn’t doing the job any longer — the HC2 Hovercraft Upright 22. Yep, my Lowepro Orion fits inside as well as two extra camera bodies, an extra lens, 2 Rugged Lacie harddrives, a jacket and other stuff. I just wish I had gotten blue ones instead of black because everyone has black luggage and it would be easier to identify off the luggage carousel. So instead I have electric blue luggage tags. And, last year I purchased the HC2 Hovercraft Duffel 30 for my clothes since it is lighter, a bit bigger, and less rigid than the Upright but it still has those magic wheels.
Another essential travel item is a flat sink stopper and powdered Ivory Snow because I refuse to pay for outrageously priced hotel laundry.
Finally, I have decided that an Amazon Kindle is a worthy purchase (wish I had the new International one). I am a voracious reader so bringing books on trips has always been a weight issue. Now all I have to worry about is not losing the power cord!
And I’m off to Jodphur tomorrow. I’m thrilled to be out photographing again soon! More blog posts to come.
I suspect that 98% of the travel images in the world are taken straight on with one subject in the frame. That is fine if there is a compelling reason to do so–the expression is remarkable, the action compelling, the light god-like radiant, or it just had to be composed that way.
I have done my share of straight-on shooting. Most of the time I was just being lazy or bereft of vision. Or, maybe I was just having a good time walking down the streets of India, Vietnam, New York or anywhere with my camera. An interesting person, or a pretty door, or a splash of color does not insure a great photograph of these subjects. So, I better have an inarguable reason when I choose one of these images as a select!
Fortunately, when I get to a situation that beckons to me as a photographer I can often pull myself together, back away from the straight-on shot, and elevate my creativity.
Here’s an example of an extremely interesting person that first I photographed as a straight on head shot. It is okay, not terrible, but certainly not exciting.
I rethought the situation and MOVED and looked for more texture, depth and expression. It is still straight-on but now there is a reason.
© nevada wier Myanmar, Chin State
It meant changing my perspective (the physical distance and angle from myself to the subject). Moving is one of the best ways to become a better photographer (especially if you are using a mid-range lens).
Last year I was in Mongolia photographing the Kazakh eagle hunters. I often take this kind of image so that the person gets used to having me photograph them, or so I can send back a print I think they might like. But then, at the end of the edit they usually end up in the trash.
In this composition there is a clump of horses in the background, the horizon is in the middle of the frame, and there is empty space that has no purpose. It is just another boring shot of an interesting person.
Since everything has to matter in a frame, I moved right under the eagle, and laid down on the ground, in order to shoot up at the sky. It almost looks like the eagle wants to swoop down and eat me (maybe it did!).
© nevada wier Mongolia. Far west.
I am always looking for an interesting angle. Not long ago I was in Southern India. It is so easy to photograph in India that I feel I have to work extra hard to create a compelling image! I had a wonderful encounter with some pilgrims at the lovely Meenakshi Sundareswarar Thirukoil Temple.
© nevada wier India. Madurai.
I knelt down with my wide angle lens, exposed for the sky (I often work on manual mode), and added a touch of flash. (I will discuss my use of wide angles and fill flash in future posts). I think you can now image that a straight-on shot would be rather mundane in comparison.
So take your straight-on “insurance” shot — then think, feel, and move!
Recently I had the good fortune of being interviewed by two top-notch photographers who have very forward-looking blogs: Ibarionex Perello, The Candid Frame; and Matt Brandon, The Digital Trekker.
The interviews took place months apart but they happened to be published days apart. This is not the first time I’ve been interviewed on a podcast, but it made me pause and think about The New World Order for photographers.
(You can also find these podcasts on iTunes)
There has been a steady, gradual shift in the business of photography over the past few years, but I really see a major tectonic shift this summer.
When I started out it was all about magazines. I wanted to be published in magazines; whenever I was interviewed it was in magazines. Editors were The Great Barrier Reef that all photographers had to penetrate.
Magazines are still around but they are not the only forums for photographers, and they have less and less circulation and influence. Conversely, there is an increasing abundance of alternative venues for photo stories (with and without audio), single images, and videos. It is quite exciting, overwhelming, and much more democratic.
But, I can’t help but wonder …who will be paying for it? How will professional editorial (current event, travel, nature, etc.) photographers survive in this New World Order? And, it seems so much more work to me than writing proposals and figuring out to crack into specific magazines.
Plus there is no way to funnel the photographers who rise to the top through talent and hard work into central showcases. Magazines used to be that funnel leading to recognition known throughout out the general public, not just photographers. Now there seems to be a myriad of cells (through Twitter, Facebook, Flicker, Internet forums, etc.) providing platforms for enthusiastic photographers. This is a great boon to a wide range of photographers, but none have a wide range of followers. So it is A Wonderful New World Order for avid photographers and an increasingly stressing one for professionals. But I don’t think this is such a bad thing (ha! fooled you…no, I’m not bemoaning the situation).
I think it is time for a change. The day rate in magazines has not changed in over twenty-five years (I can’t think of any other profession where a pay rate hasn’t increased.) So pros can moan and groan, but it can be very exciting to reinvent one self. And, eventually, I think there will be a new conduit for the world at large to see the creme de la creme of photographers. And will there be will be a new God of Visual Judgment after the demise of magazine editors? (Do you think the median is the best judge of an art form? I don’t.)
I don’t have any answers; it’s exciting and thought provoking (as well as often frustrating) to be at the cusp of such a change.
As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”
So I watch, marvel and try to ride the surf on top of the wave! Whether I get crunched … I don’t know.
© nevada wier Myanmar. Inle Lake.