Monday, June 20, 2011

A Photographer Gets Bored

Here´s my impress-your-friends-ten-minute-setup® for today.

You need:

- a camera
- a macro lens or any close-up arrangement, be it a close-up lens or macro rings
- a black oven tray
- a habanero chili or whatever fruit you like
- a window
- daylight
- maybe a tripod

Put the oven tray flat on a chair before the window. The black finish gives you an interesting structure whilst being reflective enough to mirror the blue daylight sky.
Arrange the fuit of your choice on the oven tray and look for a camera angle so that you see the skylight reflect from the tray. You can add a bit of fill light with a piece of paper or white cardboard, if you like.

You should use a macro set-up, because this´ll not only let you get in real close, but also keep background sharpness fading away quickly. You wouldn´t want anybody to notice that you set your shot up on a stupid oven tray, would you?

That´s it. Take your shot. The oven tray reflects the sky and that gives you the blue backdrop. Fruit usually isn´t blue (since blue is a poison color) which gives an interesting contrast for your shot. [If it is (like blueberries or prunes) there´s still a lot of potential there, since contrast isn´t everything ;-) ]

Here´s the real trick: I chose a yellow habanereo chili. It´s not only really hot to eat but also it´s YELLOW. That´s why I could force the camera into incandescent white balance without losing the natural look of the fruit. Yellow colour won´t be ruined by a yellow-ish white balance, it will still look natural. This´ll make the reflections turn real blue, because the camera then expects to see warm lightbulb light and gets filled with blueish daylight reflections. Yup, turns super-blue there.

Ususally, the direct reflections of daylight on that oven tray are sufficiently blue to look great and contrasty. But don´t stop there and play with your white balance settings. Get a good shot and change the settings. You surely will get another one.

Have Fun!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Catch some summer light

Today I´d like to show you some nice and easy way to get the look that is so up-to-date in everybody´s commercials these days. It´s some old-fashioned photographic effect that looks alot like 1970´s photography. The thing is to get some light in your lens - technically this screws your colors up a lot and degrades the overall contrast of the picture.

I was asked to shoot a friend of mine together with her siblings as a present for grandma´s birthday. We started late (we all had to work) and arrived at the set about 7.30pm. The last of sunrays entered the park. The weather was cloudy and there was not too much left, so I had to go up to ISO 400 for a decent f-stop ("decent" means "get all persons in focus while keeping background nicely diffused"). Ended up with f/6.3. I put the three on a bench so that the weak sunrays would make a smooth kicker in the hair, dialed in the cloudy white balance to warm things up. I took a GN58 flash (GN = guide number), slapped a half CTO on it for some extra warmth, tied it to the camera with a sync cable and fired it at 1/8th power, manual mode through a small white umbrella 1,5 meters away from the three. I first put it camera right, but ended up putting it camera left. It seemed helpful to illuminate all three faces from their front.
I ended up with 1/60th sec exposure time to catch some ambient light, fired the flash on second curtain and held my breath. Eighty times. Thanks, digital!

Well, this looks absolutely nice and there´s nothing wrong with that picture. In fact, I have a book about outdoor lighting that I paid money for, yet it features much less beautiful pictures. Me:book author 1:0.
 Having made eighty or so shots, we noticed that there was a sunspot coming up a few meters behind me. So I grabbed my flash tripod and directed everyone over there into the sunlight.

I got back to standard lighting where the main light comes from the direct opposite of the kicker light, so I placed the flash camera right. Dialed it up to 1/2 power, went down to 1/100th sec (reducing the ambient light) and stayed with the 6.3. There, the light comes alive! And since sunlight enters the lens, the colors go a little crazy. Although there´s a bench and a footway in the frame, the background looks much more interesting, because the leafs catch light and the sun flare livens up the otherwise dull cold-green trees. As soon as I was sure that I had made some good shots, I decided to go a little lower and actually show the sun in the frame.

´ere ya GO! Got warm look! Got a beautiful kicker light! Got crazy colors! Got nice flare! Got great skin tones! No more stupid bench and grey footway! I dialed the flash to full power and went down to 1/250th sec, nicely balancing sunlight and flash light and reducing shake (which there was in the first shot). There is cool shade in the foliage to the right, but no way anyone will notice it because the rest of the picture has such a nice summer look.
Got no sun? Get flashlight in your lens!

If you´re cool: check your lights with a digital camera and then shoot film ;-)