Let there be light…

Notice I said “light”. As in singular.

Very exciting, eh?

Some months ago through the generosity of my parents I was able to purchase a basic indoor, two-light studio setup. Just the basics. Lights. Stands. Umbrellas. Light boxes. It’s nice. But I haven’t had a chance to use it. It is, after all, primarily made for photographing a human subject(s) and my then subject, the daughter, decided to do a one-eighty in terms of cooperation. Typical teen, eh?

And so my lovely kit has sat rather abandoned in the upstairs closet while I pondered what the devil to do about it all. But that’s not completely true. I sort-of knew what I needed to do: find a new model. But finding a model isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless I put my mind to it and a few months later (no surprise at the time line, right?) I contacted an acquaintance who has a daughter about my daughter’s age.

I have seen her daughter a handful of times at our community’s pool and across the street at my neighbor’s, where she receives violin lessons. She’s long and lean. Pretty, but not pretentious. And so it was I thought she might make for a good model. Her mother thought Jenna, that’s the daughter, would be interested and promised to speak with her about the idea. Soon thereafter I had my answer: Yes! Saints be praised, I had a new model.

I explained how I would like to do some outdoor work as well as indoors seeing how I had these nice lights and such and she was completely fine with it. Very good thought I. And so it was I scouted a few locations out-of-doors last weekend, settling upon one particular place where I sincerely hope we will find good shooting.

But during the course of my recee I discovered that lighting was a bit of an issue. Earlier in the day it would be far too sunny, but in the mid-afternoon it might be a tad too dark. Clearly some lighting would be helpful, but I couldn’t use what I had and while a camera-mounted flash can be better than nothing… let’s just say it’s not ideal.

A down & dirty strobist kit seemed the best way to go and as I already had the flash and umbrella I only needed a better stand (something more solid for working outdoors), an umbrella attachment device and some electronics to fire the flash. And so it was I found myself heading over to see my fav camera store guy and he hooked me up. Basic, but sturdy 9-foot light stand. Cheap (i.e. plastic) umbrella adapter (which he’ll swap for the better Manfrotto one when it’s again in stock – go Alex!). RPS radio flash firing electronics (more reliable than some of the others they carried, but no where near as nice or expensive as the Pocket Wizard stuff). And what may be the real winner is that I have a second flash in the house! I had completely forgotten about the small Nikon flash I purchased with my last film camera. Another stand, umbrella holder and electronics and I will have a two light kit!

And so now I’m ready to experiment. A model. A capable, if modest portable light kit. A location. I’m hoping for great things and I don’t mind if that great thing is simply knowledge (as in what NOT to do!)

The bees saved the day!

Maybe saying the bees saved the day is too strong a title? Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “Bees rescue photo excursion from total disaster”.

No. That actually sounds more dire. It’s also far more accurate.

Being rather lost in the world of photography I find myself open to trying new things and recently was provided with some information which not coincidentally led me to explore a new opportunity. About three weeks or so ago I was seated at a friend’s house having a lovely discussion in advance of our little sojourn to the local butterfly house. During the course of this delightful conversation I noticed what might best be described as an abundance of hummingbirds flittering about her back garden. They were darting too and fro; stopping to enjoy plants and feeders placed specifically for their needs. They are quite tiny and tend to move around quite a bit, but I was intrigued by the notion of trying to photograph them. And so it was I found myself with an opportunity yesterday morning.

My friend is also my neighbor, which made the trek quite reasonable (all of 30-seconds), and this is good because hauling around my 100-400mm lens is a bit of a chore seeing how it alone weighs in at 1,380-grams (3.04 pounds). So, about noon I had set myself up in their back garden selecting a spot that I felt gave me clear line of sight to two of the feeders and afforded me a bit of protection from their seeing me. Unfortunately this position also left me a fair distance form both feeders and even at the full stretch of 400mm the hovering beauties weren’t much more than specs in the viewfinder.


Regardless, I snapped away when they came about looking for the fill of nectar and must have rattled off a good fifteen or so images before I decided to check any of them on the LCD screen. Probably a bad idea in hindsight.

This is actually a not too unreasonable image considering what the rest looked like.

Absolutely nothing went well. First, I was too far away. Second, the only feeder in which they seemed interested had this horribly bright reflection of sunlight coming off the ring of metal whereupon the feeding flower attachments rest. This particular issue was most damning as it made the camera want to underexpose absolutely everything else such that it might properly expose this hot spot. I can’t really blame the camera for when I tried to increase exposure to obtain a better metering of the hummingbirds, I wound up with a huge, blinding white spot instead coming off the feeder.

I experimented with maybe a dozen different settings, all of which failed to give me a decent image of a hummingbird. And it didn’t help in the slightest that my arch nemesis Mother Nature (cruel bitch) saw fit to suddenly bring in the occasional cloud, which, just when I thought I might have nailed the settings, would be thrown off completely by the great big shadow cast by said clouds.

Still, my shots could have been far worse.

However, for all this grief there was a bit of a silver lining. After I had become irritated with my lack of luck …..er…. skill at photographing the hummingbirds I wandered around her back garden for a moment when I came upon a large bed of late-summer blooming flowers. And I had hit a jackpot of sorts.

The flowers were teeming with bumble bees, honey bees and an assortment of tiny butterflies/moths. And I mean teeeeeeeming. This small bed of flowers easily had over 100 bugs zipping to and fro in search of a delicious meal. It was almost surreal. But surreal in a good way for a guy standing there with a camera and fairly monstrous lens!

I easily snapped over 100 images in just a matter of minutes, which sounds like an awful lot, but it really isn’t if you’re familiar with photographing insects. They’re truly difficult to get a good focus on because they’re so small and because they’re almost always moving about. Shoot one-hundred pics and you may be very, very happy with five to ten of them, which is about what I kept.

Naturally, me being me, there was one snafu to this bee-shooting spectacular: I had somehow managed to set my camera to ISO 400, which left a bit more noise than I would otherwise want in these closeups. And ISO 400 was completely unnecessary considering the incredibly bright sunshine during our 93-degree Fahrenheit day (33.8C). I don’t know how it happened, but it is par for the course, as they say, when it comes to me and damn near anything I do. Still, I’m not displeased with the results I kept.

But not all is lost here as I intend to return next week with camera in hand, settings correct, and snap some more pics of the bees, but try something different this time regarding the angle. I spent my entire time standing and snapping away last time, but this time I’m going to get down to eye-level with them and see what happens. Let’s just hope for no stinging of the ‘ol photographer.