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© nevada wier Peru. Paucartambo. Virgen del Carmen festival.
Canon 5D Mark II Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8 II USM (18mm) 1/30 sec; f/7.1; ISO 1600
Shutter Priority. Evaluative Metering. Daylight white balance
I’m on my way (literally, in the air right now) to Peru so this is the perfect time to write about an image I made last year at the fabulous Virgen del Carmen festival in the pueblo of Paucartambo. If you have been following my posts about photography you know that I enjoy photographing at night with fill-flash. Of course, this is not easy (another reason I enjoy the challenge) and I am used to making a lot of mistakes. In fact, I mostly make mistakes; but that is part of the process. There are a lot of inhibiting factors photographing a festival at night. First of all, at Paucartambo, it is extremely crowded and you never really know what is going on (even if you speak Spanish well, which I don’t). I am used to “wiggling” myself into a good location. I knew where the dancers were coming from (inside the church) but not when, so it was important to find a good location early, and maintain it. That wasn’t easy. I was in a great place and then, just before the action, the police (kindly) moved me. I wiggled back into another location that I actually liked better, and crouched low, so as not block anyone behind me. (I bless my good knees.)
I was aware of the yellow temperature of the incandescent streetlights. Even though it was dark they provided plenty of ambient light. I usually work with Daylight White Balance and decided to keep this setting to maintain the yellowish light temperature. Instead of putting a balancing warming gel over my flash I just used a dome diffuser with the flash straight on, to throw a whitish light onto the warm scene. I hesitated using a high ISO with the Canon 5D Mark II (I preferred to stay at 800 ISO or less), but I knew at night I needed 1600 in order to preserve some depth-of-field since focus was going to be tricky. So, it was very important to have the correct exposure; I didn’t want to have to open up any of the shadows in the RAW processing and expose distracting noise.
Certainly, I wanted a bit of a slow shutter-speed to have a bit of blur in the background for the appearance of action since I knew that my flash burst would preserve sharpness on the actors/clowns/dancers. 1/30 of second seemed perfect with a -1 EV on my flash set on TTL exposure. I was sitting on the curb so I was about 10 feet from the performers in the parade (praying the police wouldn’t move me again). I felt good about my location because I saw I had a bit of the dark sky (it was 6pm, more than an hour after sunset) and if I could place a dancer right there in the dark sky I felt it would have impact. And, there they came! I glanced at my histogram and flash exposure. I worked with different shutter speeds. I panned. I stopped action. I maintained my position, against many odds, until the police moved me and 20 other people, kindly, across the street. Oh well, I thought I had my image. And, I did.
Any questions? I’m back at it again this year!
Hasta luego amigos y amigos!
Photoshop.com has just posted a new interview with me.
Here’s a snapshot of the interview. Please click the link to read the full story. Happy Trails! Nevada
India. Nagaland. Aoleang Monyu festival. Wakching Village. Naga tribe. Young boys in front of Murong. 2008
- Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II Canon IS 24-105 mm (58mm)
- Camera Setting: 1/125 sec. f/10 ISO 400
I have the good fortune of traveling to a myriad of remarkable places in the world. And, India certainly has its share of remarkable places and cultures!.
I have been to Nagaland in the far northeast, near the Myanmar border, a number of times. In 2008 I visited the northern area of the Mon Nagas during their festival period. In addition to visiting the communal tribal festival gathering in town of Mon, of course, I traveled to the villages.
At Wakching I spied two boys in their traditional festival garb wearing Spiderman masks. I beckoned to them to stand up near the traditional Naga murong (meeting place for the men of the tribe) that is decorated with carved wooden creatures.
I always ask myself before clicking the shutter. “What is the problem?” There is always a problem that might require removing a piece of trash, or adjusting my position to eliminate a disruptive element in the background, or … oh there are so many possibilities. In this case, the light was even because of a subtle fog but that meant the sky was bright white. Since the eye is attracted to the lightest thing in an image it was important to incorporate the white sky as an effective design element.
I motioned for the two boys to move slightly over so that the left most boy was fully in the white sky helping to tone down its predominance. I wanted the right boy to maintain a presence in the murong so that they were bodily connected.
I was acutely aware of the pattern that the wood and sky were creating. It was clear to me that the composition had to be impeccable. Obviously the boy’s facial expressions were not important, it was their total body language that had to convey impact. I noted that their legs were separated and arm positions were natural. They were definitely confident and willing to be photographed. But one always has to work fast with young boys; they can bolt at any moment! So all of this happened very quickly in my mind.
But it had to right in the frame because I do not crop or change any content in my images!
This photograph became part of an exhibit/book work-in-progress called Outer India. I had a showing of its first phrase at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe NM in 2010 (I have another show coming up at the Zia Gallery in Chicago this coming September 7 – October 13, 2012.) I decided when I began printing for the show that some of the Northeast images would be selectively de-saturated. This is a gritty, tribal area and a more muted look suited the area. I did a mockup in Lightroom as a guideline then started from scratch in Photoshop—layer by adjustment layer (sometimes over 40 layers), to sculpt the image. It was a painstaking process but I am very pleased with the prints for the series. And, I especially love this one.
Printed in my studio with the HP Z3200 printer on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta paper.
Good idea Candance!
Here’s the color image with a minimal of work in Lightroom.
Although this image was made in the long ago days of film, it highlights a number of technical considerations that are still relevant and important. First off, I would like to give a Shout Out to those of us who learned how to make exact exposures on celluloid! I was consistently in a state of Exposure Angst while photographing in difficult light. If the exposure wasn’t within 2/3 stop, the image was too light or too dark. So, my images had to be double-perfect coming out of the camera: the composition and content had to be impeccable (you couldn’t crop slide film unless you brought out the scissors or gaffers tape) and the exposure had to be spot-on with the intended saturation.
And, guess what? It is still critical to make the correct exposure in low-light situations. Although noise reduction is getting better and better in new cameras, if your image is underexposed and taken at a high ISO, you are going to have problems when you begin brightening it in your editing program. Noise is inherent in all shadows, especially if you are using a lower-end camera with a small sensor, and is more pronounced at high ISOs and long exposures. As you move those brightening sliders you will begin to see discolored pixels that makes your image look grainy and odd. Film has plump pleasing grain; digital has square slovenly pixels that are best hidden in the shadows.
And, another Shout Out to Spot Metering! Although most of the time I use Evaluative Metering (Matrix, Segmented, etc. to non Canon users), high-contrast situations beg for the more precise Spot Metering. I have always used the in-camera meters; I find them very accurate. There is no reason to carry more gear than necessary.
So circling back to the above image: I was in Vientiane, Laos photographing the magnificent That Luang Festival. Many of the festival events take place during the day but my favorite time to photograph was in the late evening when people circumambulated the lit That Luang Stupa holding candles. Since I was using Kodak Ektachrome SW transparency film ISO 100, pushed to 200, there was not enough light to stop the action without panning or using a flash. I decided on the later since I wanted the beautiful That Luang Stupa sharp in the background. I put my camera on a tripod in the vertical position, set my meter to Spot Metering (2% coverage on the Canon 1V) and aimed the focusing/meter point at the stupa. I don’t know what exposure I used but I am guessing that it was about one second, maybe longer. Although people were carrying candles there wasn’t much ambient light in the foreground, plus the That Luang was so bright that the rest of the frame was bound to go dark (slide film only has a latitude of approximately 4-5 stops exposure range).
I can’t remember if I put the Canon flash directly on the hot shoe or was holding it with a TTL wire; either way would be a very similar result since I would not have held it too far out. I powered down the intensity of the flash output probably to – 2 EV. Finally I added a Lumiquest FX diffuser with an amber gel.
I took a couple of frames and (vision of light bulb going on) I realized that my flash was set to Front Curtain Sync (1st Curtain Sync), which meant that the flash was going off at the beginning of the exposure. At a fast shutter speed that doesn’t matter but at the slow 1 – 2 second exposure it meant that the flash (about 1/800th sec) would illuminate the people but then the shutter will remain open for the rest of the exposure. The stupa would have the correct exposure but, the bright candle flames would show up as a trail of light in front of the people. That would look strange; the candlelight needed to trail behind. So I set the flash to Rear Curtain sync (2nd Curtain Sync) to correct this problem. Of course that created, yet another, problem. I had judge when to click the shutter when a person would be in the right position in the frame when the flash went off. That wasn’t so easy. I would see a likely looking person; click the shutter to begin the exposure; then, they would stop to talk to someone and no one was in front of the camera when the flash went off. Or, they would slow down or speed up, or someone would pass them at exactly the wrong moment, or… so many possibilities for a bad image! Since it wasn’t possible to review the images in a film camera (ah bless the digital LCD screen), I had absolutely no idea if I was getting a useable image. So I just kept at it. I learned early on, in difficult situations, click deliberately and copiously! It is still true
When I got home to my light table I reviewed the images and most ended up immediately in the trash. (I just loved tossing slides away, so cathartic!). Finally I found this image of a young child looking up at the camera at eye-level. I was thrilled. Notice the candle flames neatly trailing behind. And, it was a perfect exposure as well as a compelling frame.
“Everything has to matter in an image.” I always say.
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.”
The first photography magazine I read religiously was Outdoor Photographer. I bet I bought its inaugural issue in 1985. There was nothing like it on the newsstands for avid photographers. I poured over the magazine, tearing out pages about technical and creative tips that inspired me. I learned so much and was riveted by spectacular images.
I was first featured in the November 1993 issue (photos from my first book Land of Nine Dragons: Vietnam Today). I was ecstatic! I continued to be featured over the years in various articles: Landscape & People, India’s Himayalas, an article about my National Geographic Blue Nile expedition, an article I wrote on flash “Flash on the Go” — are ones that come to mind. OP also supported Visual Journeys, a nationwide lecture series with Lisl Dennis and myself, that was on the road from 1995 – 1997. I owe many thanks to Steve Werner, the Publisher/Editor in Chief.
I have to admit that my subscription lapsed as I became more adept in photography. I moved on their pro digital magazine Digital Photo Pro. [And, there was that article I promised to write years ago that I never did. Editor extraordinaire, the extremely witty Christopher Robinson, I think has forgiven me. Please?]
Generously, they just profiled me in the recent November 2011 issue People in Color. I heard it was out so I bought the magazine a couple of days ago and think it is a well written article. Aside from this bit of vanity, I still love OP! [And, shout out to them for putting a watermark on the photo, not just a credit in the text.]
However, I don’t need another printed magazine subscription; I can barely get through the four I have: Photo District News, Digital Photo Pro, National Geographic, and Mac World. I love printed books, newspapers, and magazines. I like flipping pages. However, I like even better not toting all this heavy printed matter on my travels (that’s when I read them). So, I do have an increasing number of digital subscriptions: NY Times, Wired, National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker, and I’m sure more will come. I love to read. And, now I have a digital subscription to OP! I didn’t know it existed until a few hours when I was researching for this post. I get to see more great images on my ipad!
So, please read the article and think about subscribing. In fact continue to subscribe to magazines, printed or digital. I got my start in professional photography being published in magazines. I wish that for today’s emerging photographers. Hopefully, once this awkward period of publishing is over, photographers might be able to make a reasonable living again in editorial magazines.
What’s your favorite photography magazine? Printed or Digital version?
5DMarkII 24mm f/1.4 1/40sec at f/1.4 ISO 1250
I am starting a new section call Anatomy of a Photo. I’ll post different images (mostly recent) and explain the inner workings of how they were made. Enjoy!
I was in Peru a couple of months ago; I hadn’t there for five years and I really loved it. We went to Lampa, a lovely small town, north of Julicaca. I enjoyed photographing in the late afternoon when the shadows were deep and long, however I knew that plaza would be lovely just after the sun set and the artificial lights appeared. Lampa is 15 degrees south of the equator so the dusk does not linger. The sun set at 5:35pm on July 11th. I figured there would be 10 – 15 minutes of “dull” light before the ambient artificial light glowed with the same intensity as the lingering blue in the sky. Then there would only be 10 to 15 minutes, maximum, to photograph before the sky turned too dark.
The first evening I brought my 5DMarkII with a 24mm f/1.4 lens and photographed hand holding, occasionally with an off-camera flash with a 1/2CTO gel. It was fine and I got some reasonable images. However, the church was a dominating presence and it begged to be sharp. The next evening I returned with my tripod and set up near a food stall and waited for people to cross into my frame. It is not a busy plaza, even on a Saturday night. I felt very lucky to have this confluence of activity. I only had ONE opportunity, and ONE click of the shutter when the spacing between the subjects was perfect.
It was taken on 7/11/2011 at 5:53 PM. A couple of minutes later the sky was too dark.
So why did I use such a shallow depth of field since I was on a tripod? Because I needed a relatively fast shutter speed so that my subjects would not ghost out. I did want a bit of motion blur but not too much; the subjects had to be recognizable. The church was at “infinity” and I almost parallel to it so I know it would be sharp even at the very shallow f/stop of 1.4. (You get what you pay for… the Canon 24mm f/1.4 fast lens is expensive but sharp). I kept my White Balance on Daylight to preserve the Kelvin temperature of the various mixed lighting. ISO 1250 was as high as I wanted to go with this camera.
Any other questions?
I’m in SFO on my way home from Bhutan.
Can you believe… I now have a small fracture on my foot (a common fracture of the 5th metatarsal) and am wearing a fashionable cast courtesy of the Punaka hospital. I was collateral damage from a “yak attack”.
“The Yak” courtesy of Elizabeth Menzies (wouldn’t you run from him!)
The beast was going for someone else but he looked mean so I decided that I should move also. I turned to run but tripped down a hill. Thinking of my neck (see previous post) I propelled myself into the arms of a hefty Bhutanese but landed on a turned foot. Luckily I was with Hill Hastings, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon. I had an x-ray in Punaka and Hill put on a plaster cast and fashioned a walking shoe out of my Chaco sandal with a rocking piece of wood on the bottom. Hooray for Ortho Engineering. So I hobbled my way eastwards through Dzongs and high roads. I rode a horse on the Merak-Sakteng trek up and down thousands of feet of steep rocky trails (although we got snowed out from crossing the pass.). Hooray for Norbu and Rakpa. My driver painted a huge phallus on the cast to keep away evil spirits (a common motif in Bhutan — huge ones painted on houses, wooden ones handing from roofs, etc.) The Bhutanese were thrilled and giggled copiously at the sight. However, I was not so sure that the airport security would understand, so I shrouded it with a lovely blue scarf. The cast is being replaced on Tuesday with a boring western one which I probably will wear for another three weeks. However, I am making sure that “Dick” remains intact and upright and will have a place of honor as bathroom art!
They lie about “trouble only comes in threes”. Oh, they lie!
Sorry everyone! there has been a glitch in my comments section but it is fixed now. I hope.
Hola I’m in Mexico City on my way to San Cristobal! I’m teaching a workshop in Mexico The Travel Photography Dream Team Tour (with Jeremy Woodhouse, Brenda Tharp, Holly Wilmeth, and myself)… I’m going to teach myself the i phone camera with lots of help from everyone here in Mexico!. So I got started yesterday with an app called Hipstamatic! This is going to be fun… and very challenging for me. It seems to require lots of fumbling and missing shots, but that’s the learning process! I know there are a zillon photo apps out there. Favorites anyone?
(iphone 3; App: Hipstamatic; Film: Blanko; Lens: John S)
This one is very simple straight-on (not my favs as you know) but I’m amazed how good it works in high noon contrasty sunlight. You have to frame properly with the Kodat funky border lens and that is a bit challenging with Hipstamatic, as the frame box is teeny on the iphone. I love that the new technology has opened up so many alternatives… but you still have to frame an interesting image. The funky processing helps, but only to a point. The first image is a more interesting photograph.
© copyright nevada wier Mexico City.
(iphone 3; App: Hipstamatic; Film: Kodat XGrizzled; Lens: John S)
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.