Gonna be a long one…..

Like the title says, this is likely to be a long posting. But I do have lots to say and I think it’s only fair to warn you advance. So settle in, grab a cup of tea or a bottle of beer or a glass of single-malt, and take a journey with me…..

This is the daughter being semi-forced into being my model for an afternoon of shooting at the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

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Nice, eh?

A few weeks back I ventured to the cemetery with some fellow Flickr mates, who also happen to live in the area. We had a great time shooting and chatting, and then followed it up with some nice dinner. While shooting I thought about how nice it would be to return on an overcast day and shoot some images of the various statues and such. You know….pretty common fare for cemetery photography. But as I like that sort of thing I have no problem with running with the crowd. And so I did return on just such an overcast day with pending rain.

While visiting on this overcast day I noticed that the Ginkgo trees had finally shed most of their leaves, which had been quite attached when I was there the week before. Even in the diffuse light of this overcast day the leaves made for quite a splash of colour as they lay upon both lawn and road. While it took a while an idea did eventually develop in my mind that I should return with daughter in tow and shot her against these leaves. I thought that her darkish red hair, pale complexion and penchant for blue-coloured clothing would make for wonderful contrast and compliment against these Ginkgo leaves. And so it was that I returned home with this idea in mind only to find that the weather predicted for the next day was to be more of the same: overcast, but without threat of rain. And so I informed the daughter of my plans for her.

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The next day (Thursday, if memory serves) was indeed overcast and I eagerly awaited her return to home from school. Once she arrived I filled my car with my camera kit, some towels (as it was damp from the previous night’s rain) and a ladder, which was to be used to offer me some altitude by which I might better shot the photographs as the daughter lay upon the leaves.

So far the planning and excursion have been pretty straight-forwarded. But this was, for me, an incredibly stressful situation. I had never before done anything like this. I did manage to cajole the daughter and a friend of hers to semi-pose for me for a series of pictures of them playing Guitar Hero, but this was completely different. I was about to embark upon something new and completely different and my life’s history tells me that such journeys always, not sometimes or almost always, but always end in failure and misery.

We started with a few pictures, but I realized that she was too stiff so I talked her through loosening up and being more natural. Surprisingly it worked. She took well to my directions and relaxed, thus relieving much of the tension that the first few photographs conveyed. I also quickly learned that full-body-length images weren’t working. Not at all. They looked to linear and didn’t pop in any meaningful way (as much meaning as one can gather from the 3.0-inch LCD screen on the back of a digital camera). So I shifted focus (pun completely intended) to shots that were much closer up and here I struck upon success or, at the very least, success compared with what I had been getting.

Concerned that the overcast day was going to leave the daughter underexposed, I had brought along my flash unit (Canon 580EX II) to help me through the shoot. However, I wasn’t certain it was worth bringing as I really have zero knowledge and/or skill with its use. About the only thing I know is that I can regularly obtain better flash images indoors by bouncing the light off ceilings or walls when using it (thanks Strobist!). And I have managed to get better flash pictures in this manner, but I had always set the camera to full automatic mode when doing so. Under cemetery conditions there were no walls or ceilings from which to bounce the flash and full automatic mode for the camera seemed….well….non-experimental. As such I had made up my mind that I would shoot in my preferred mode of Aperture Priority and use the flash to help lift shadow or even tones as I saw fit.

The results were interesting if nothing else…

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I knew that full-power flash would not work at all. Period. No way. No how. And I do know enough about the workings of my flash such that I could change it’s output (up or down), which I did. I experimented with different settings: -1/3, -1/1, -1&2/3, etc. until I found a setting that didn’t completely wash out her skin tones or create shadows on the leaves behind her. This was actually quite a bit of fun for me, experimenting and all that, but not so much for the daughter, who had to remain in the same position while I took multiple shots of her at different flash power settings.

In the end I believe that the non-flash images are fine on their own. I do not think she is underexposed or that the images are too dark in general (it was really overcast and being November the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky anyway). As a matter-of-fact, I think lifting the shadows with the flash unit removed a bit of the three dimensional quality that comes from the aid of shadows. However, and in defence of my efforts, I think the flash versions came out far, far better than I had any right to imagine. Some are better than others, but on the whole I think the flash versions stand up in their own right and that there are other pictures not yet uploaded to Flickr whereby the flash version was definitely better.

Upon getting home and going through the pictures I was quite nervous. I was, at first, wowed by my results. They were, on the whole, far better than I had anticipated, especially considering the so many firsts that were involved on this shoot. But I was afraid that as days passed and I looked at the images more closely I would find fewer and fewer with which I was pleased. However, I’m very happy to report that as time went by I became even more pleased and proud of my results.

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In addition, after my wife had an opportunity to view them she passed along a compliment, which both warmed my heart and surprised me as she usually doesn’t make too many comments (much less compliments) about my photography endeavor. She said something to the effect that it seems to her that I have improved upon my framing and composition as the months have passed. I’ll take that, thank you very much!

Finally, there was one flaw with many of the images taken with the flash and that was of reflection in the daughter’s eyes. Granted, as the power-output was low the reflections weren’t overwhelming, but simply distracting: a little pinpoint of light on an otherwise lovely brown. To remedy this situation I took advantage of the clone stamp in my oft-used JPEG editing software, Paint.Net (freeware). Problem solved!

So there you have it. Work with a model. Flash work outside my usual comfort zone. Utilizing photo-editing software for something other than tweaking and conversion to JPEG. A grand adventure in every manner and one which I greatly enjoyed not just because I obtained results with which I am so pleased, but because it was truly a great way to spend an afternoon with the daughter.

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8 thoughts on “Gonna be a long one…..

  1. I think your portraits came out very well- (I followed your link here from flicr, btw, where I saw them first).

    Portraits are the most fun, and also the most challenging thing for me- good job, for your expanding into that area. Beautiful model too

  2. Pingback: Gonna be a short one…. « Forkboy’s Photographic Travails

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