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© Nevada Wier Camagüey, Cuba.
Canon 5D MarkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM 19mm 0.6sec at f/6.3 ISO 800
Aperture Priority. Evaluative Metering
No flash fired, on a tripod.
I don’t remember who said, “If your photographs are boring then find a better subject”. I certainly cannot argue with that statement. Most of us search for interesting landscapes, story and project ideas in our hometowns. However I have an opposite problem: Because of all the place to which I travel — I am overflowing with interesting subjects, in fact, sometimes I think I am cursed with them.
I think travel photography is one of the hardest genres because of this. I have seen some of the best editorial and commercial photographers show some of the most boring, mundane travel images in presentations. The elation of travel trumped the artistry of photography
Travel is an elixir. I am addicted to travel; I am a sensory junkie. I love the smells, the feelings of adventure, newness and self-discovery. I revel in the unknown and being off-kilter. I love meeting new people, eating unusual foods, and not knowing what the next minute will bring my way. Photography is fine friend with which to travel – it has forced me to interaction intimately, non-verbally, and honestly with strangers. I am forced to come in close and initiate the relationship. I have become a better person because I travel.
So of course we are emotionally attached to our travel photographs. They are snapshots of us, the ultimate selfie. When we exhibit a photograph made during our travels, we are showing a little bit of our soul. However, honestly, any photograph is a bit of our soul. It is not enough to render an image of an interesting person that we met, or a stunning statue, or intricate architecture. Our job as a photographer is to make an interesting image of whatever we decide to immortalize. There is no such thing as a boring subject, just boring ways of photographing it. An interesting subject also demands an interesting or unique viewpoint.
I have the luxury of traveling to some of the most intriguing places in the world, primarily to photograph the cultures that live within.
Cuba is on the photo radar! And, it is a photographers dream: imaginative decay, intriguing people, unexpected color, and exuberant expressions! Color, light, action, pattern! And, plenty of gestures!
It is too easy. Just walk down a street in Cuba and without thinking you will find your hands on your camera “click”, “click”, “click”. It is infectious and joyful. There are very few shy people and very few “no!” I open my arms and I feel as if I can hug Cuba. That is a great travel feeling.
Yet, as a photographer I have to not only feel, but think. I have to not only experience, but also interpret. I have to make an interesting image of an interesting subject.
This is a long preachy, preamble to talking about the above image. But it is part of its anatomy.
The image above was taken early in 2014 when I was traveling throughout Cuba with a two photographer friends, American and Cuban. Carlos, my Cuban friend, had met Luis Antonio (80 years old) on previous trip. He lived in a one of those sad, beautiful, decrepit, extraordinary, run-down, “how-can-anyone-live-here!” houses that is too prevalent in Cuba.
If you are only a street photojournalist, trying to be an unobtrusive observer, then you can wait find the “decisive” moments. I have a bit more in repertoire and often find that I have to compose a portrait, and that requires extending myself in order to create a relationship. This time I had an entrée, and that makes it easier of course. Often times I have to be open and outright, and invite myself inside someone’s home (“Puedo?”). Often amusing (or horrifying) them with my pathetic Spanish (or non-existent language since I primarily travel in Asia).
Luis was charming; his neighbors were charming. I loved the entire experience. But, I wanted to make a different portrait of him. I walked all around his decaying house. I marveled at the colors in the “how-can-he-cook-here!” kitchen. It was dark. I had my workhorse Canon 5DMarkIII but photographing handheld would have required cranking the ISO to such a high degree that I knew the image would fall apart upon close inspection. I rarely travel with a tripod but this time I had one with me.
I decided to photograph Luis from the within the kitchen with my widest-angle lens. The colors were a subtle pastel palette. I used the highest ISO that I knew would hold the most detail with the least amount of noise. Since it was still image I knew a slow shutter speed was fine… but not too slow.
I like environmental portraits where the environment is as important as the person within it.
So tomorrow I head to Cuba again. And, it WILL be fun!! And, I will enjoy being a traveler there. And, I will also have to see differently and make images with impact, intent, and originality. Not an easy task!
© Nevada Wier 2012 Cuba. Havana. Dance Studio. Digital Infrared.
Canon EOS 5D EF 24-105 f/4 IS USM (80mm)
0.6 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1250
I’m on my way to Cuba tomorrow with another Santa Fe Workshops People-to-People sponsored tour of Havana and Trinidad. So I feel it is appropriate to discuss an image I made last year in Cuba.
I’m in the process of printing for my new exhibit featuring only digital infrared prints that will premier at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe on September 24, 2013. So I have infrared on my mind and want to share this image with you. It will be featured in a summer show of Verve artists titled “Figures Studied” Friday, June 28, 2013 – Saturday, August 31, 2013
For those of you who are not familiar with the digital Infrared process. I sent a Canon 5D (I am now using a Canon 5DMark II) to www.lifepixel.com to remove the hot mirror filter in front of the sensor that blocks infrared light and replace it with a custom manufactured infrared or clear filter filter. To read more about this mystical process please go to their website. I have the Standard Conversion. I love that I am creating an image of a subject that I can see in visible light but I am really making a visible rendering with invisible light; mildly surreal and metaphysical.
The above image was made in at the Ballet Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba studio in Havana, Cuba. We were graciously allowed to photograph for a couple of hours in a two different classes. There were obvious limitations; primarily we did not want to disturb the class in any way. Even though our group of eight was split up we also were conscious of sharing a limited space. Since I was the coordinator of the group I was especially concerned not to wander into anyone’s frame. (If I was a paying member of the group I sure would be annoyed if the guide was consistently in the best spot.) We also had a limited amount of time so we had to work very, very quickly.
I crouched down in the back of the room, and then consciously moved to either side of the room. We had our own choreography of movement around each other as we photographing the student dancers.
When I have a limited amount of time I work really quickly and try a myriad of combinations of shutter speeds and apertures. Since the image was about movement and expression there are basically two approaches: use a fast shutter speed to stop the action or a slow one to blur the movement. The first choice is the easiest and produces good but often-predictable images. I am a big fan of slow shutter speeds, yet there is more chance of failure. Conversely, there is also more chance of creating a singular personal image. Working in dim light means it is more difficult to use a faster shutter speed; another reason to experiment more with slower shutter speeds.
The room did have a bank of windows coming in from the right side so it wasn’t too dim. Nevertheless, I used 1250 ISO that was amendable to the use of a wide range of shutter speeds without producing too much noise.
One limitation I have with my infrared camera is the unpredictability of the focus. Infrared light does not focus on the same plane as visible light. In the old fixed focal length lenses there is an infrared scale on the front of the lens. However, with zoom lenses this is not possible. My 5D was calibrated for the 35mm focal length on my 24-105mm lens. Nevertheless I try to stay as close to f/8 as possible, and will the 5D I try hard never to go above 1600 ISO.
In this particular image I edged close to the front of classroom on the left side and framed the image through the mirror, hence the graduations in the light across the wall. Most the images when I used shutter speeds close to 1 second were too blurry or just didn’t have the definitions in the torsos and limbs that I prefer. The truth is that I only needed one image that worked. Just one. There are other images that are good but this one is my favorite, primarily because the lead dancer is so sharp, and the other dancers are distinct enough.
Digital infrared allows a bit of the visible light so there are touches of blue and yellow within the image. (Each conversion has different color palettes and there are choices when one processes the image. You can swap the blue and yellow color channel, but I rarely do this. And, occasionally there is a reddish color instead of yellow.)
The image is in the final stages of perfecting the print. For me, printing is like sculpting. I have to create depth and dimension on a piece of paper. I am also there, just a bit more fine tuning in the “burning and dodging”.
However for now, I’m off again to crumbling, fascinating Cuba. I have a new Olympus OM-D EM-5 that I’m using for color photography (usually I take a 5D Mark III but I’m testing the smaller, lighter mirrorless Olympus camera, more on that later). However, I have a Canon 5D Mark II for infrared images. I don’t go on any trip now without my infrared camera.
Here is a preview of another Infrared image I made in Rajasthan, India.
I love the Invisible Made Visible possibilities.
© Nevada Wier 2010 India. Rajasthan. Pushkar Fair. Digital Infrared.
Canon EOS 5D EF 24-105 f/4 IS USM (24mm)
1/60 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800
Canon EOS 5D Mark II EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM (365mm) 1/200 sec; f/16; ISO 200
I did it! A new blog post. A promise actualized. It is a beautiful thing. I hope you enjoy it. Happy 2013.
I’m off to Nagaland, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, N.E. India. Sitting in the Newark airport waiting for my flight to Mumbai and then Kolkata. I’m a happy gal.
I know all the reasons we often use not to photograph. “The light is terrible”. “Nobody wants to be photographed”. “I don’t have the right lens”. “I’m tired”. As a professional you HAVE to overcome all these fake excuses. Especially recognizing that it is my projection that someone doesn’t want to be photographed when I haven’t even approached him or her.
When I am not on assignment it is easy to let that devil in my head take over.
I call this “inertia”. Trust me, there is always a good reason not to photograph. I know all the excuses; I know them intimately and they haunt me.
And, then after I have swum past all those blockades, I still have to make an interesting image out of an interesting subject. I have to make extraordinary ordinary images. Photography takes mental and physical effort, as well as exercising creative muscles.
I’m am on my way to India, so it is appropriate to reflect on an image I made last year at this time. I was in the lovely western state of Gujarat. It doesn’t require much effort to make a striking photograph in India; it is so darn colorful, vibrant, and exciting. It is too easy to photograph an interesting face in front of a azure doorway, and, voila, the interesting subject carries the image. But that is just another form of inertia. My mission is to look beyond the obvious and find the gem within the gem. My challenge is to make an interesting image of an interesting subject. I think that is the difference between a good travel photographer and a great one.
It is late afternoon in a small village in the Little Rann of Kutch. The light was lovely, soft, and inviting. I was at the river while women were gathering water. It was a feast of color and activity. My first inclination was to gravitate to the women washing the clothes. However, I don’t trust my first inclinations, they are usually based on images that I (or someone else) have already made. I want something different. I’m internally muttering “Where is the unique image? Where is the unique image?”
I decided to photograph into the sun with the river in the background to turn the water bearers into silhouettes. A silhouette needs to be crisp, clear and have a special clarity of its own; people can’t merge into each other or other objects. That is a challenge when people are milling about. If I do manage to isolate someone from others, then it is also important that the arms and legs are separated and not look like sticks. I also realized that the riverbank was cutting the frame horizontally in half, definitely a compositional problem. I needed to get higher. I had to eliminate the ground and only have the river in the background. (Where’s that ladder?).
I saw an abandoned well just behind me with a raised rim four feet high and about 6 inches wide. I climbed up on the rim to the horror of Manoj, my Indian friend, (some of you might remember that I broke my C2 in a car accident a few years ago) and he pleaded with me to get down. I am sure he was visualizing my paralyzing plummet into the well behind me. However I have great balance and knew it wasn’t a problem, but to avoid Manoj having a nervous breakdown and assure longevity in life as well as on the rim, I asked someone to brace my legs.
Excellent, now I was high enough so I could frame people in front of the backlit river without the ground interfering in the frame. I needed my 100-400mm lens from this distance and now I had to think about my exposure. I learned from my film days to get the exposure right and not depend upon software. I appreciate that training, but I also appreciate the relief of the versatility of RAW processing. The background river acted as a giant mirror; it was bright, very bright. I had to open up my exposure compensation +2 stops and then I waited for “a moment”. I was ready but the water-gathering ladies were diminishing in number. The few that arrived merged into each other and looked like two-headed blobs in the frame. I am not averse to setting up a photograph but I much prefer a natural moment. So I waited.
My legs became exceedingly tired of balancing on the narrow ledge, so I got down a couple of times and shook them out for a while. But, I knew I didn’t have a usable image yet, so I clambered back up. I was aware that the reflected setting sun was so bright that it would refract at the edges of the silhouette, but I didn’t realize that it would rim the body with a multitude of mini “sun stars”. The image above is one of the last frames of the day. My legs were turning to Silly Putty, my spotter was distracted, and it was clear it was time to leave. “One more, one more!” And, that “one more” is the image. It is the only image that had a clear profile of person, a reasonable separation of the arms, and a provocative expression with the legs, and complete rimming of diffractive light. It was worth the time balancing on that rim for 45 minutes. I knew I was in the right place. I was just praying for the right person and gesture. Most often perseverance pays out.
I could have easily photographed the women washing clothes in the lovely direct evening light. It sure would have been easier on my body and Manoj’s heart rate. However, I have a zillion of these kind of lovely images and the world has a zillion squared of them. The trick is to find one that is singular and impulsively unique to that moment in time.
So off I go again, in search of a personal, evocative moment and interpretation. Let’s hope that I don’t succumb to the myriad of to avoid the effort it takes.
© nevada wier 2012 Iceland, Skogafoss Falls
iphone 4s; App: Camera Bag, Italiano processing
Whoever said “the best camera is the one you have with you” hit it straight on the mark. Recently I was in Iceland, enjoying its summer of eternal daylight and plethora of amazing waterfalls. I shy away from deeming myself a “nature photographer”. One either is extraordinarily lucky to be in great location with amazing light or they are persistent in order to be in that great location and finally have amazing light. I am not that patient and luck is fleeting. However, in Iceland there I was, on a tripod (ack!) photographing its abnormal number of incredible and accessible waterfalls. It felt as if every day I was at the bottom or top or side of yet another mind-blowing thundering cascade. At the first one, I used a neutral density filter for that languid slow shutter – de rigeurs for any water enthusiast. At the next I made panoramas. At another I played with multiple exposures (actually I really like what I did with the multiple exposures; it sure took Canon a long time to put that feature on the 5D camera!) and at yet another I even tried the new HDR feature on the Canon 5DMarkIII, even though I am not a fan of HDR. Finally I thought “Screw it, I’m just going to go look at the next waterfall!” But, grabbed my iPhone at the last minute. And, of course, at this particular waterfall I had the best photography opportunity of all because there was a wedding party of hardy Icelanders braving the cold spray for their photographers. People! My métier! Naturally I tagged along… with my iPhone. In my opinion, the iPhone is as “serious” of a camera as my SLRs. What type of camera one uses is irrelevant; it is how you use that matters. So there I was making the best waterfall image of the trip with my iPhone.
After my initial frenzy of photo app buying and fiddling with photos in a ridiculously small screen, I decided that I only have the time and patience to use with two apps that does the processing for me. Since I don’t crop my images I found that Hipstatmatic (usually John S lens and Kodot film), or Camera Bag (I use Lolo, Italiano, and occasionally Magazine). that I liked best for my images. I have zero desire, or time, to spend messing about with other app processing. I already spend too much time in front of the computer editing my images and processing the RAW images I use in my assignments and personal projects. Two apps are plenty for me.
During my travels I am usually carrying a Canon 5DMarkIII, with a retinue of lenses, for color images and a converted Infrared camera (I have a Canon 5DMarkII with a standard IR conversion and a Canon 5D with an enhanced IR conversion). And, I have the iPhone. That’s a lot of cameras to keep track of but I enjoy all the creative challenges.
I’m heading off to China today to photograph the hill tribes in Guizhou. I have my arsenal of SLRs, lenses, flashes, accessories… and my iPhone! I bet I use it a lot, and not just because I left my other cameras behind.
The following is another images I made this past spring in India at a vintage car museum in Gujarat. I used my iPhone4s to create a preconceived collage of images.
© nevada wier 2012 India, Vintage Car Museum, Gujarat
iphone 4s; App: Camera Bag, Lolo processing
© 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!
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.”
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?