Tag Archives: Depth of field

Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

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Posted in commercial photography, editing, equipment, photography, Shooting Food, studio, technique, training, video Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Using your small flash in broad daylight

A flashcube fitted to a Kodak Instamatic camera.
Image via Wikipedia

Shooting flash in the broad daylight always seems to bother people for some reason. I think that people are afraid that it’s complicated or some black art that is impossible to master. Listen, flash is just a self contained light that is run by batteries. Nothing magically about it or really hard to understand. The light from a flash works exactly the same way sunlight works or any other light. It has color, it will drop off in intensity over distance (square inverse law) and you can shape it. Probably the biggest reason people are suspect of flash in the daytime is that most camera can not do it well so you get blown out images or the traditional “hot spot” in the face or it’s still dark even though the flash fired.

To really use flash in the daytime, get manual. Forget that you spent a large sum of money on a camera that can virtually think for it’s self, put the dial on M for manual and learn how to set things up the way YOU want it. When I learned to shoot film, there was a rule pounded in to our collective heads. It’s been somewhat forgotten now by the users of digital but it is called the “Sunny Rule of 16”. For a bright sunny day, set the camera to ISO (ASA) 100, shutter to 1/125 (1/100) and F16 on the lens. That will get you 95% there for a properly lit exposure in bright sunlight. Once you have that, you can adjust each parameter and work out the others pretty easily.

What we need to know is that when shooting flash on a sunny day (or any other time) is that your shutter speed controls the ambient light and that the aperture controls the flash exposure. Why? Because the flash duration can be something like 1/42,000 (1/128 power) of a second which is way faster than your camera’s shutter at it’s best. Even at full power, the typical small flash is about 1/2000 of a second flash duration. And when you are shoot at 1/250-1/320 sync speeds, the flash is still way faster than your shutter speed.  Since aperture controls how MUCH  light comes in, you can adjust the intensity of the flash by either opening or closing the blades. Wide open is more light in and stopped down means alot less light is coming in.

The shutter on the other hand controls how LONG the light will hit the sensor or film. Short shutter speed means less exposure and longer shutter means more exposure. So if the flash is 1/32,000 of second long, when your shutter is at 1/200 second, you will get how ever much flash light there will be in that 1/32,000 of a second. What you CAN adjust with the shutter is the AMBIENT light. Or in this case, how bright the daylight will be. Slow shutter means lots of exposure and a short shutter means less ambient light. In the two images below, I shot both with exactly the same shutter and ISO but I added a Neutral Density Filter X2 which works just like pushing the aperture to F22 ( 1 stop) which my 50mm can not do.

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

This shows how the aperture adjusts the ambient light while the shutter and ISO stayed the same. What does that mean for us with a flash? Well, all things being equal, you can dial in your exposure with the flash by tweaking on the F stop. Of course, you need to have some range to do this, about F5.6 to start would be nice and thats tough in broad daylight. But not impossible. Lets do some math 🙂

If I start at ISO 100 and 1/125 shutter with F16 and I want to go lower on my F stop, how can I do that? I can drop ISO which I can not right now and I can UP the shutter speed controls my ambient light. So I raise my shutter 1/250, thats one F stop and I can cheat a bit and go to 1/320 shutter, thats two full F stops. So now I’m at ISO 100, 1/320 shutter and F8. With a neutral desity filter X2, I can go down one more F stop to F 5.6 which is right where I want to be. My exposure has not changed from the first set at ISO 100, 1/125 and F16. So now I have less depth of field, I have about 3 stops to work the ambient light to darken skies etc.

So this means that I have the ability to dial down the sky and use my flash to light up my subject even though it’s high noon or if I want a bit more drama at sunset. OK.. ok.. so enough about this ambient light stuff, how do we use a flash?  Pretty easy when you think about it. When you have the ISO at 100, the shutter at 1/125 and F16 for your aperture, the typical small flash like the SB800 needs to be eight feet away and full power to give the proper exposure.

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

You can see that we can easily light up the subject with an SB800 from about 8 feet away. But what if we wanted to use less than full power? Or get depth of field? Easily done by juggling the parameters. Lets bring the flash in to about 4 feet and cut the power to 1/2. Nothing else has changed. ISO, Shutter  and F stop are still the same. I did zoom in a bit tighter so you can see the lighting closely.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

Now what if I wanted to darken the background a bit more. Remember, ambient light is controlled by my shutter so I will raise my shutter one stop to 1/320 which is about the max I can go with my wireless triggers before I start cutting off the image with the shutter shadow.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16

You can see the exposure of the subject is the same but the background went a bit darker. So now what happens if I use one of those plastic diffusers? The kind that comes with the SB800 and snaps onto the front? Well, it means I can move my flash way in close and get softer light since the size of the light source relative to the subject has gotten alot bigger than when it was 8 feet away. I’m still at 1/2 power, broad daylight with the same shutter and ISO settings. Just closer and with the diffuser.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

You can easily see that the diffuser eats a fair amount of light. But the tradeoff is that you can get much better quality of light when you are so close like this that it’s a pretty good trade off.

I hope you can see from the images that understanding daylight use of the flash is not that hard once you keep some basic rules in your head. It’s not very magically but it is very useful. These images are just simple demonstrations of the ideas but I will be putting up some real portrait work later using these same ideas. So get out there with your flash and light something up.

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Recharging your creative juice

It happens to everyone and not just photographers. You just can not get the creative juices flowing, nothing jells, nothing looks fun, you just feel blah. Sometimes it comes from shooting the same thing over and over, other times it comes just from the endless days of trying to make a living. But everyone gets there now and then.

I was in a bit of a funk several days ago when I was invited to a local car show here in Orange County at the proverbial crack of dawn. “Maybe” was my response to the invite from my friend when he sent me the email telling me about the show. About the same time,  I read a blog post by Scott Borne who is a photographer who I have only recently heard of but have really “connected” to via his blog, photofocus,  and other articles.  This particular post was called “12 tips for car show photographers and a second post was about why fast glass matters was about shooting cars with wide apertures and why you needed to use something other than a wide angle lens.. He talked about  using cropping and strong lines to make art instead of snap shots. This kinda of clicked with me on several levels since I have been a car enthusiast for years. Car show? blog? hmm.. a way to get out of a creative funk? Possibly.

So I found myself getting up at 5AM to meet my friend at the Irvine Cars and Coffee meet and greet along with my Nikon D300 and my 17-55mm F2.8. It did not start off in a  very promising way or so I thought, the light sucked, the coffee was weak, I had more excuses than carter has pills. But, I stuck with it and starting to shoot. And it was hard, harder than I thought it would be. But as the morning wore on, I really started to get into a nice rhythm and feeling like I starting to get traction for some nice “keeper” shots.

Here are some of my results from breaking out of a creative funk with some help from a blog entry.

Like I said, getting this pictures was harder than I thought it would be. I really had to look at the subject very differently and shoot a bit differently that what I am used to shooting for the majority of the time. With the shallow DOF, I had to nail the focus on the money so I was using my spot focus mode. I paid very close attention to my histogram to make sure I was not blowing out the highlights at all, I needed all the information I could get since I wanted to have a very saturated look. Angles were everything and I made a point of getting all the way down on my butt, stomach or standing on something to get up then down. Anything to get away from the normal 5 foot high shooting position. I also went in very tight alot both in camera and in post on a couple of images. A tight crop can work wonders on art like this.

My lighting was very overcast which at first I was cursing under my breath, ok, maybe out loud some too, till I understood that the very flat light would help a lot in keeping the image’s contrast flat till I brought it up in post to exactly where I wanted it. It did mean I had to shoot with a relatively high ISO even with a F2.8 aperture. So noise reduction software was a much to clean up the images. High pass filtering was used to really get the images to “snap” and show off nice sharp lines. I used LR3 for the majority of my post work and CS4 for the final touch up and finishing.

In the end, I had alot of fun at the car show, I got some cool images and made a few new friends and managed to get out of my funk. I meet a couple of car owners who I gave a few images to to thank them for letting really get up close to shoot their cars. In both cases, the owners were intrigued by what they saw as very weird angles until I showed them the images on the camera. So not only was I able to get out of my funk, I managed to make a few business contacts too. This was a win -win day for me all the way around, I just had to embrace it.

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