photo session – Modern Gypsies – Fabric

Sometimes photo shoots are just work; sometimes photo shoots are fun.  Really fun.  And then there are photo shoots that also feel like it’s a privilege just to be a part of it.  And fun!  I had the opportunity to work with the Modern Gypsies during the past week.  They are performance artists based in New York.  I had met Michael Saab last year sometime while photographing an event, and we kept contact, with the idea of working together on some photo shoots, expanding their portfolio for their website.

Above are two of my favorite photos of the initial part of the photo session.
(Later on we went in to Times Square.)

More details about the photos and the lighting here …

over-powering the sun with flash

With this part of the photo session, we wanted to photograph Mike, the one performer, waving massive fabric banners around in the air.  We were on the rooftop of a building in Brooklyn.  The direction I had to shoot in was decided for us because of the direction that the wind was blowing.  This meant I had to shoot into the sun.

Shooting into the sun meant I had to set an exposure where I didn’t blow out most of the sky, but retained enough detail in the clouds and sky.  The fabric banners would be okay in terms of exposure since they would be backlit.  But I had to get some light onto Mike, the alien-looking performer in green & pink.  (Super-nice guy though.  Don’t be fooled by the looks.)

I did get some photos where he is silhouetted against the sky, and the photos do look stunning … but I also needed some images where the performer was well lit so you could see his costume.  This meant I had to add flash to the scenario.  I knew that the Q-flash in the softbox would simply not pump out enough light, so I disassembled the softbox we had used earlier.  I had to get direct flash on him.  I even took off the diffuser disc over the front of the Q-flash to get the exposure necessary.

details for the photos:

[ click on the photo for a larger image ]
1/250 @ f13 @ 100 ISO
Nikon D3; Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H) … at 15mm

[ click on the photo for a larger image ]
1/250 @ f14 @ 200 ISO
Nikon D3; Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H) … at 15mm

For the flash output, I decided to stay in manual.  Full power.  I needed everything the flash was capable of, and this wasn’t the time to be fooling around with TTL flash and flash exposure compensation.  I had my assistant-with-an-attitude, Jessica, stand behind me on a low wall.  Since the banners would sweep past us, I didn’t want to hamper the shoot with the light-stick constantly getting entangled.  So the flash wasn’t directional and off to the side.  The flash was from the camera’s point of view, but higher. For the pull-back shot there showing Jessica holding the light, I stepped to the side obviously, so that I could include her in the photo.

The lens that I used was the incomparable Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S. (B&H)
This lens set a new standard for how well a wide-angle lens can perform.  Check out this review to see just how great this chunk of glass is.

Back to the flash being in manual mode.  With manual flash, the flash exposure is controlled by – aperture, ISO, flash power, distance from light to subject.  Those 4 variables are locked in relation to each other with manual flash.  I set the flash to maximum power, because I knew I would have to use a small aperture (at a low ISO) to have the sky well-exposed.  Then it was just a matter of getting close enough to get correct flash exposure on my subject. More on overpowering the sun with flash.

There is also a distinct reason why I was at maximum flash sync speed.  It’s the sweet spot when shooting in bright light and needing the most efficiency from your flash.

Could I have done this with just a bare speedlight?  Absolutely.  I didn’t need my flash to spread over a wide area.  I could’ve zoomed in a speedlight to just light the performer.  So this would’ve been within the capabilities of a speedlight.

More articles on off-camera flash …

Equipment used during this photo session:
Nikon D3;  Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H);
Quantum T5D-R and Quantum FreeWire wireless system
Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24 softbox (B&H)
Manfrotto 680B monopod (B&H);
brass stud to attach softbox to monopod (B&H)

10 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1 says

    Hi Neil:

    The problem in overpowering the sun is that you can’t get shallow DoF due to the very smal apertures used, thus you have to rely on a great composition to get the shot (and of course you got it). Altough, I’ve read of a method using neutral density filters so you can use wider apertures and get the DoF shallower. I’m not absolutely shure but I think you never posted on that subject. Do you use that method? Can you post on that someday? I’ve never tried it.


    André Pereira (Portugal).

  2. 2Neil vN says

    Andre .. I have a ND filter, but I still need to properly try it out.

    In this case though, the filter wouldn’t have been of much use because of the shape of the front element of the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens.

    Neil vN

  3. 3Pasquier says

    Hi Neil, truly amazing photos – especially the opening image – spectacular – all you need is some Pink Floyd in the background (reminds me of one of their album covers – I think Division Bell). Best, P:)

  4. 4Neil vN says

    I was thinking more along the lines of a hard Trance-House tune.

    btw .. if you like Pink Floyd, you need to check out Van Der Graaf Generator. Either the ‘Godbluff’ album or ‘World Record’ would be a good start. VDGG were, for me, an untouchably great band. They were led by Peter Hammill, one of the few musicians & songwriters that I would unashamedly call a genius.

    Neil vN

  5. 5 says

    The link for the text, “Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S” (B&H) is linking to another of your blog post instead of the B&H product. (The link comes after the phrase, “The lens that I used was the incomparable.”

    From a distance, the performer’s costume reminds me of a Power Ranger. :-)

  6. 7Briand says

    Neil, have you ever tried radio poppers? i heard that they can push the flash sync speed to 1/8000th, what do you think?


  7. 8 says

    Brian .. I posted a review on the original Radio Poppers, but haven’t had time yet to do so for the new ones … although, a year later, I guess they aren’t so “new” anymore.

    The Radio Poppers aren’t devices that push the flash sync higher than max sync speed. You can do that with any camera that has High-Speed Sync / Auto FP capabilities.

    You can have off-camera wireless TTL without the Radio Poppers (or similar). As an example, this is how I shot the next photo session with the Modern Gypsies in Times Square.

    What the Radio Poppers give us, is the freedom of not having to work within line-of-sight constraints.

    Radio Poppers wouldn’t have helped me much more with this photo session on the rooftop. If I went to high-speed sync, I would’ve lost half the power from my flash. (if the Quantum had had HSS capability.) So anyone that had shot this under similar circumstances, would’ve had to stay at maximum flash sync speed anyway.

    Nothing gained by going to high-speed sync.

    Neil vN

  8. 9Martin says

    Thanks for a nice post!
    Just wondering one thing. How is it that in for example photo #3 that the people are lit up by the flash but not the roof that they are standing on. It seems like the banner gets some light also, but not the roof. Interested in how it becomes like that.

  9. 10Neil vN says

    Martin, what you’re seeing there is the light fall-off from the flash. Since I’m shooting with a super-wide-angle lens @ 14mm, the flash can’t possibly cover everything in the frame, especially when I am standing back from the flash. Hence, the areas outside the central ‘sweet spot’ of the flash’s light, will go progressively darker.

    Neil vN

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