When life gives you lemons…

Yeah… so… I have this thing about photography wherein I tend to have something in mind which I wish to accomplish. I call it project photography.

Instead of simply picking up my camera and photographing stuff I get an idea into my head, plan it out and then go and do it. I meet with varying degrees of success as is painfully obvious when one views either this blog or my Flickr account. There are those who strongly support the shoot every day mentality, but I can’t get behind that for myself. It’s like those 365-projects you see so often on Flickr. The pictures often seem forced, if that makes any sense and I’m not into forcing myself to snap pictures if I’m not inclined. But I sure do love setting up for a photography outing and so it was I did such last month.

I had been searching for a new model when at a local art festival I ran into a young lady my daughter knows. I had thought about asking her before, but never got around to it, but here she was. And I was. And there you go. Numbers exchanged I began making plans for a project with her. And I had it all planned out… the location, time of day, what I wanted to actually shoot, etc. And so it was the day came and I arrived early to scout the location, which I had been to before, for our photographic get-together.

But there was a problem. Actually… two problems.

First, the incredible graffiti, which covered a lot of the walls around this set of buildings in downtown Dayton, was gone. Painted over. And fairly recently. So much for my cool-as-shit backdrops. Second, my model was late. By over an hour. Not really being a model she wasn’t aware of the great importance of the waning daylight I had intended to make use of. We were off to a poor start. But instead of being dejected (too dejected I mean) I opted to make do with what I had of the remaining daylight and the fact I had brought my single-light kit.

And so it was we tackled my first selected location with the now fading ambient daylight…

Sarah in Doorway I

Sarah in Doorway I

I had noticed this tiny green door surrounded by the red-painted bricks and thought it might make for a nice background. And I think I was right, but I had no small amount of difficulty figuring out how to arrange her within the space. So many of the poses looked tense or even awkward… as if she was just a bit too big for the small doorway, but we continued in hopes of finding some sort of magic.

Sarah in Doorway II

Sarah in Doorway II

While I’m not certain I was actually aware of the thought-process, I eventually came to settle upon two styles which seemed to work better. The pose in the above picture seemed to work well. I mean, if the space is vertically challenged then go horizontal, right? Seems pretty self-evident in hindsight, but at that moment in time I was having issues with seeing this. And the other style which appeared to work better was to get in close and let just a part of the doorway be the backdrop.

Sarah in Doorway III

Sarah in Doorway III

Alas… the sun was setting quickly and at this location we were already shooting in strong shade brought about from the shadow of the building. I was loath to let my model go after such a short period of time… hell… I had been there longer in advance of her than we had been shooting thus far. And so I suggested, if she didn’t mind, we try and make something of the evening with the flash, stand and umbrella I had dragged along.

Sarah being game she helped me get the equipment out of the car and we moved on to another spot I had selected. And here was where things became more complicated as I hadn’t planned to shoot with just the flash and I’m really not adept at it in any way. I mostly use the flash and umbrella for fill-light and the like and not as the sole source of illumination. Add this to the general complications which come from photographing a model when you don’t really do that sort of thing anyway and it’s more-or-less a recipe for disappointment.

Still….

Sarah on Escape Ladder

Sarah on Escape Ladder

I think the above is my fav of the entire evening. It may not be my most favorite pose, or lighting, or framing/composition, but I think it possesses the best overall qualities. Kudos to Sarah for having been so cooperative too as we spent most of the rest of the evening working on the escape ladder, which couldn’t have been particularly comfortable.

The ladder had presented a unique problem in so much that she was up fairly higher than I and my light, while on a 9-foot stand, just wasn’t tall enough to throw light on her in a more or less 90-degree angle to the plane of her face. In other words: I was often throwing light up to her at an angle, which led to some really weird and undesirable results. In the above image she had come down onto the steps and I was able to get the light thrown more directly upon her.

Eventually we wondered off to one last spot in front of a solid brick wall. Just her and I standing there with me trying to find a way to get light on her in a way which might be pleasing. I didn’t want her to be lit face-on as she was in the last image, but nor did I want anything which cast large portions of her face into too much shadow. After a great number of attempts I finally found a pose and positioning on my part which seemed to work.

Sarah at Wall

Sarah at Wall

There are still some things I could do to this image in editing which I think will make it even better (like adding some light to the dark side of her hair), but in general I’m rather pleased. Of course this sort of thing gives me just the excuse I need to dump the file into my recently purchased Adobe Photoshop CS5 and try and make the image more the way I really want it to be.

But boy… CS5 sure is a complicated bit of programming.

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And so it sweats…

My last post discusses the beginning salvo of my SoBoFoMo project revolving around the feral and homeless cats I watch over and feed. Since then I have encountered two bits of ‘fun’ I thought I’d share.

Here’s fun number one:

The weather...

Yeah. It says “90” right now (and ‘right now’ is almost 9:30p.m.), but it was 96 at the peak today with a heat index of around 110. You know… I left Florida to escape this sort of thing.

(sigh)

It has been like this all week and will remain like this through tomorrow, as you can see in the above picture. While things will cool-off over the weekend and into the week it’s still scheduled to be warmer than average. Just not stupid-hot. Needless to say working with a dSLR in this heat, with this humidity, in a small wood which only serves to trap the humidity under the leafy canopy (and between the two humidity is far worse than direct sunlight) I’ve been reluctant to shoot pictures.

The cats look and act distressed (lethargic) and I don’t blame them. It’s nasty. I myself looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower as I returned to my car to come back home. And into a real shower.

(heavenly sigh)

So this first week of photography has yielded precisely three-days of photographs when I had planned at least six. Kid you not… the camera actually slipped out of my hand the other day as both it and my hand were so covered in sweat.

Gross… I know!

But I did learn something yesterday while out with the camera and I apologize for not having the pictures to prove it as I’m entering this blog post from a different computer. What I “discovered” is when trying to photograph cats in a small wood with a flash attached to the camera there is a very good chance the flash will highlight… even over-expose… the leaves and branches that lay between the cat and me; the humble photographer.

This does not lead to the sort of results one had hoped for. It also begs the question: does forkboy have the slightest clue what he’s doing?

It’s probably best we don’t answer that…

And so it begins…

Solo Photo Book Month.

31-consecutive days to create a PDF book for upload to the SoFoBoMo site. Said book containing at least 35-newly taken pictures.

Text? If you’d like.

Fancy or plain? Doesn’t matter.

It’s something to do. Something to try. A new way to express myself centered around photography, but creating something more than a finished JPEG for upload to Flickr.

And so it was I began photographing on Thursday.

As these books typically revolve around a theme of some sort I opted to go with one close to my heart: the feral and homeless cats. It’s a shame I cannot use the plethora of pictures I already have, but that isn’t the purpose of the project. Not that I have any objection regarding taking more photographs of the cats, but there is a difference between just snapping pics because I want to versus needing to.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get some nice shots anyway.

I have already noticed a difference in my temperament regarding shooting as a need: I’m not real patient.

I suppose part of the issue is that I feel I will need to spend more time on the book creation part than the principal photography so there is an impetus to get the photography out of the way, so to speak. However, like most any creative process (and undoubtedly photography is a creative process) there will be great days and not-so-great days. These first two days have provided some good pictures, but not as many as I had hoped for.

Granted, part of the problem is lighting. Specifically: the lack thereof.

As the homeless and feral cats live in a small wood and as this time of the year the wood is in full-leaf there is not a whole lot in the way of light on the forest floor, where the cats reside. Certainly shooting at higher ISO’s is possible, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind for quality photos for this project. Still.. not all has been lost.

It occurred to me I should submit the idea to SoFoBoMo for having these projects sprinkled through at least three portions of the year. This way those who elect to participate are not trapped into one season and one season only, such as we are currently. For my purposes mid- to late-Autumn would be a far more ideal time as sunlight reaches the forest floor quite readily with the disappearance of the leaves. There is also the problem of it being particularly warm to hot at this time of the year meaning we photographers who elect to work outside find ourselves sweating for our work.

Blech. (oh… and not to mention the issue with mosquitos, which are a major issue at this time of the year)

So I snapped almost 200-pictures in two days and of that I felt maybe 5 were real keepers for the project. Granted…I kept more than that: 63. But I kept those additional 58 only because I may find myself in need of them to make this project work as principal photography time winds down and book creation gears up.

However, while I was becoming rather frustrated with the natural light situation in the wood, it occurred to me that I could try to rectify the situation by introducing some of my own lighting. While this may require fiddling about and experimenting a bit, and thus costing me valuable shooting time, it may be a solution to my lighting problem.

Bringing my own lighting could help immensely in getting the shots I both want and need for the project. Sure… things aren’t so bad without the addition of lighting…

But instead of shooting a bunch of pictures and having to dump 95% of them simply because there is blur (thanks to camera shake and/or moving subject), I could salvage a lot of those shots and then find myself in the enviable position of having to select the best composed and framed instead. Not such a bad deal after all.

Of course it does mean making some decisions about what is both useful and practical in regard to bringing in some lighting. I could go with the most basic and simple solution: on-camera flash. Let the camera make all the decisions and hope for the best. Or I could shoot as I typically do (aperture-priority) and shoot the flash manually, just adding fill. Or so I hope.

Or I could take it a step further and bring my portable light kit with me and drag around a light stand, umbrella and electronics in hopes of getting the most effective use of my flash. While this route sounds very appetizing for what it could bring to the picture quality it also has the horrible down-side of meaning dragging a bunch of equipment through a wood rife with shrubs, trees, thorny-things, etc.

I confess it sounds like more work than it may be worth.

I suppose the solution is to try the on-camera options and see what results I can obtain. Ultimately I want great photos, but I must temper this desire with expediency as well.

Such is the life of a photographer, eh?

Presenting the Canon 580EX II Flash

Yesterday the daughter had over her best friend and the two of them took to Nintendo’s version of Guitar Hero. It was the same old thing……standing there, rather inert, staring at the t.v. screen, while their fingers furiously work the various controls on the ‘guitars’. Boring.

I thought to myself “Let’s liven this up a bit, why don’t we?” and went to the east wing of the mansion and grabbed some of my camera kit: the 40D, the 17-85mm lens and my Canon 580EX II flash/strobe. I tried shooting without the flash unit, but there was simply too much in the way of bright background (being the sliding glass doors and windows) and the girls were all dark. Even bumping up to a higher ISO only resulted in slightly better images, but with too much noise for my taste. So onto the camera goes the flash unit. I’ve mentioned this before, in a prior post, but I really don’t know how to use this thing to its fullest advantage. I mount it to the camera, turn it on and set the camera to full auto mode. Yuch! How boring. But for now it will simply have to do. Instead I continue to practice with bouncing the flash to obtain better results than the typical deer in the headlights look that besets so many flash pictures.

Guitar Heroes0024

Overall I’m pleased with the results. Granted, I did have some pics with shadows cast upon the walls or ceiling and they were too harsh (the shadows, not the ceiling or walls) so I deleted them right away. No sense in posting total and complete rubbish on Flickr when I can post semi-rubbish pictures instead, right? 😉

I also found the girls to be less than enthusiastic models. They don’t seem to realize that rock-n-roll is just as much attitude and stage presence as it is music. So can you believe I actually had to show them how to act and then tell them to do so? Really? So hopeless, eh?

Guitar Heroes0003

Can you feel how posed is the picture? Clearly neither is going to grow up to either act or play rock-n-roll onstage! But look at Ashley work her axe!

Guitar Heroes0013

A rush and a push and this land is ours..

There is truly so much to learn, know and understand about photography. Thousands of books are dedicated to the endeavor. Thousands of web sites too. It is truly overwhelming by any standard and I won’t lie to you. I don’t roll that way. I have only scratched the surface regarding the information available to me. Then again, I’m not looking to turn this into a major hobby. At least not at this time and maybe not ever. I’m simply looking to enjoy myself and where I find that I want to do better I will scour the available sources for information to help me.

To that end I have read just a modicum of information regarding the use of a flash unit (strobe…whatever you prefer to call it) in photography. One of the first things I purchased, besides the camera and a lens, was a flash unit. I don’t know why as I really had no idea how to use it appropriately. All of my prior uses of flash with my 35mm SLR film cameras led to the typical flash photograph: washed out in a burst of white light. But I didn’t wish this to be the case again. So I did some reading; just a very little. But that bit of reading has helped me immeasurably. Or so I think.

FlashWork2008-07-040005

My latest upload of pics to Flickr are all flash pics I took today or yesterday. I utilized the principle of bouncing the flash off a nearby wall or ceiling to soften the light and to add depth to the subject matter. I must say that I’m very pleased with the results. Not perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but so far superior to ANYTHING I have previously done with a flash in my lifetime.

Granted, the camera was in full auto mode as I really don’t have enough information to use the flash in conjunction with any other setting. At least not yet. And as such the depth-of-field is more shallow than I would like, but the experience left me feeling very satisfied and that is such a pleasant and unusual feeling when it comes to trying something new with the camera.