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using flash in an incandescent / tungsten environment

I have used this photograph several times in the past to illustrate various aspects of flash photography in low light, so it might be time to discuss this image more thoroughly.

We’ll also pull together a few other topics and see how it all comes together at this one point:
- dragging the shutter,
gelling your flash,
- bounce flash technique,
- direction of light,
the advantage of using TTL flash,
- working alongside a videographer

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eliminate & simplify – the first steps in photography composition

These two images were taken from more or less the same spot.
All that changed was my vantage point, and my choice of lens.

This vibrant park in Manhattan seemed like an interesting place to photograph, but when photographing a couple, I really want the accent to be on them. The best way to do this is to frame them so that the background is as simple as possible, but still complements the final photograph. I had the couple sit on top of this grassy mound, and I lay down on the grass, and framed them tightly against the trees in the background.

Even though I was working with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens, I was shooting around 90mm in focal length. But this was enough, coupled with my low viewpoint, to eliminate any distracting elements from the frame. It is essential to look at the edges of the frame when you compose. And that is the key here in the composition – simplicity.

Working with a telephoto zoom such as the 70-200mm f2.8 makes this much easier of course.

Now, people also naturally have the tendency to stand with their backs against a wall or against something when they pose for a photograph. As photographers, there is the temptation when posing a couple to always pose them directly against a background of some kind.

A neat and effective trick is to have your subjects stand well clear of the background. This can allow you to move your own position, and get a varied background. For example, with these two photographs from a sequence, we used some artwork by painters as a background. But we stood well away from it on the edge of the sidewalk. (I was cautiously in the middle of the road!) This allowed me to move to either side, and get images which look quite different, even though the couple didn’t move much between the two images chosen out of this sequence.

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photography exposure metering – expose for your subject

In preparation for my upcoming review of the Fuji X-100 camera, I met up with Anelisa to see how this little camera performed during an actual photo shoot. The image above was one of the photographs we ended up with. Now, there is something specific about it that I wanted to explain in a separate article, instead of it being glossed over deeper inside a camera review.

The composition is simple – I do like my compositions fairly central, it seems. Similarly, the lighting is simplicity itself – all available light. There were two main sources of light – the light inside the shopping mall entrance; and some very strong back-lighting flooding the place.

While the technique here hinged on specific exposure for the available light, there are a few crucial ideas here that I’d like to underline:

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the next step – going beyond just posing people

With the recent post on a few guidelines on posing people, I wanted to add the reminder that when photographing people, our final destination isn’t just the posed photograph, but that we should try and capture something about our subject. Something about their personality, or showing some facet of who they are and their lives.

When photographing couples in particular, my accent is on photographing their relationship as well. In addition to the portraits of the couple, I want to show how they interact with each other – playfulness and intimacy. We need to create images which have emotional impact – images that have some resonance with their friends and family when they view them.

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how to pose normal, everyday people for portraits

When you work with models, or subjects who are used to presenting themselves to the camera or an audience, it is much easier for the photographer to pose them. The challenge though is how to pose people who aren’t used to pose in front of the camera. Then it is up to the photographer to guide them, and give clear instruction how they should pose for the camera. The question just came up in the Tangents forum - how to pose everyday normal people.

The photograph above is of me as I was showing a model at the After Dark photography workshops how I wanted her to pose. Now you may well say that I was showing a model how to pose, and not an inexperienced subject … and some may even say that I am hardly ‘everyday’ or ‘normal’. However that may be, this image neatly underlines my advice on posing.

You need to be able to show your subjects how you want them to pose.

If you’re working with subjects who aren’t used to the camera, then you absolutely need to be able to show them what you want them to do – how to position their feet, their hands, their body and head. Just vaguely pointing, with vague verbal instructions just won’t get you as far as physically showing them.

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photography – create emotional impact!

While in Cincinnati recently, attending the After Dark photography convention, I walked past Tiffany’s on the way to the restaurants. I was immediately drawn to their window displays. Now, I am usually drawn to displays of high-tech toys and cameras and stuff … not displays of jewelry stores. But these window displays were eye-catching and effective. It made me stop to take a closer look.

The photograph above is of one of the six display windows. And it should be immediately obvious why these simple displays have such impact – there is a very clear appeal to your emotions.

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wedding photography – a photo-journalistic style … or more posed?

A photographer who attended the recent flash photography workshop here in New York, asked me an interesting question regarding my wedding photography style. His observation was about how I seemed to consistently get such well-timed un-posed and natural looking images with my wedding photography. Since my explanation seemed to surprise him, and even bordered on being a real aha! moment for him, I thought it could serve as an article here which might interest other wedding photographers.

When asked by photographers about my style of wedding photography, I like to reply that I don’t quite subscribe to the purist photojournalism, nor the traditionalist style. I think my approach is more along the lines of get-the-job-done-alism.

Instead of subscribing rigidly to a defined style, I’m there to give the bride and groom the best photographs I can on the day. And for this, my approach has to be flexible …

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random found available light as portrait lighting

With the recent trip to California for the workshops, I was also keen to meet up with another favorite model, Bethany. We were allowed to shoot in a night-club on a Sunday afternoon when it was all quiet with no one there. It’s an interesting place to work with a beautiful model, finding interesting spots and then figuring out how I might adapt my flash setup. I had 4 speedlights with me and 2 softboxes and a slew of the new PocketWizards.

The first series of photos of Bethany however, was shot with just the available light there. But first I had to recognize the light as being interesting light for a portrait. I had to “see” it first. As it happened, I only saw that this might be useful light for a portrait when I did a few test shots while Bethany was having her hair and make-up done.

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mimicking window light with off-camera bounce flash  (model: Ulorin Vex)

Continuing the photo session with Ulorin, we worked inside the hotel room for the next part. The photo above is a candid shot of Ulorin fixing her hair between changes in clothing. Ulorin’s next outfit shown in this article, was more revealing than the previous outfits during the photo session. (Just a heads-up for the Tangents readers who are surfing from their workplace.)

Photographing inside the room, I initially tried to work with just the window-light, but hit a small snag. The indirect light through the window kept changing on me as clouds moved in and out. Instead of changing my settings continually to match the light, I decided to revert to using flash to mimic the window light. This would give me consistent light.

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off-camera flash – change the light by changing your own position

Ulorin Vex was one of the two models that we used in the recent workshops in San Francisco. Having seen Ulorin Vex’s personal site and portfolio on Model Mayhem, I jumped at the chance of working with her again with a photo session the day after the workshops. Working with a model as professional and striking-looking as Ulorin, was an experience.

The photographs shown in this article was from a sequence we did in the passage outside my hotel room. The lighting was surprisingly simple, but I had to improvise with the limited space we had.

Interestingly enough, the two photos shown above had exactly the same lighting. And this brings us to a key concept with light. This idea is true whether you use available light or off-camera flash … or even when you control the direction of your bounce flash.

With those two photos, Ulorin remained in the same spot. But she did change her pose towards the camera as I moved. Why the light is so dramatically different, is that *I* changed my position … and that in turn, changed the direction of light entirely.

It seems obvious stated like that, but I think this idea is something that really is brought home again when two images can look so different. And all that changed was the photographer’s position.

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