Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NYC skyline

I found myself in New York City on the anniversary of 9/11.  The place that I was staying was directly across the Hudson River from Ground Zero.

What was I to do?

The same thing as about 50 other photographers, capture a city nightscape incorporating the under-construction Freedom Tower and the World Trade Centre tribute.

I don't do a lot of night photography, so I took a lot of shots at many different settings.  Quite honestly, back in my film days, this outing would probably have been a bust.  Thank you histogram!  Getting New York City to stand still for a 30 second exposure isn't easy either.  Planes, ferries and other boaters all needed to step aside for a moment.

But, I am pretty happy with the results.

Nikon D3, 28-105mm lens at 60mm, ISO 200, f/16, 30s

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ethan Meleg Wildflower Workshop

If you have been following my blog for any length of time (or care to read backwards in time), you know I'll shoot just about anything.  I enjoy the outdoors, so this post should not be that big of a stretch.  Unless, of course, if you know me very well.  I know absolutely nothing about flowers.  Flower... leaf... stem... and some reproductive bits that I can't tell the difference between.  That is the limit of my botanical knowledge.  My mom is going to read this, roll her eyes and think he doesn't deserve to co-lead these workshops.  I am not there for my knowledge of wild orchids.  I am the Nikon guy.

Ethan, on the other hand, he can yell with excitement "Lance-leaved Coreopsis"!  He can also appreciate a good fern.  He knows the location and blooming cycle of many of the orchids that the Bruce Peninsula is famous for.  His career and connections have gifted him with this knowledge.  Ethan, at the same time, is becoming quite the accomplish photographer.  He has a regular column in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine, has a couple of large photographic sponsors and because of this finds himself doing many public speaking engagements.  I wouldn't pretend to understand all the places his images have been published.  He is the Canon guy.

For more information on Ethan Meleg workshops check out www. ethanmeleg.com

This past weekend, our objective was wild flowers.  Over the course of a couple days, we cover techniques that everybody can use.  We start with light weight, inexpensive light modifiers.  We introduce simple plant and background skills.  And before you know it, I have my light meter out and I am out of control with radio triggered flashes in soft boxes or umbrellas.  Something for everyone.

This year, I saw the nicest Jack in the Pulpit image that I have ever seen!

In between assisting with the participants, I did manage to get my own camera out.  I just couldn't resist.

Western Wood Lily

Canada Anemone
Wild Columbine
Canada Bluets
Yellow Lady's Slipper

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

High Speed Sync Hack

Sports photographers wanting to use flash photography have one common enemy, camera/flash sync speed.

There are times when the photographer wants to reveal the subject with flash.  The problem is the subject is moving too fast for the very limiting shutter speed that photographers are forced to use when a flash is in use.  The majority of today's dSLRs have maximum sync speeds in the neighbourhood of 1/200th or 1/250th of a second.  These are not what I would call action freezing shutter speeds.

What do you do when you want to blend ambient light and flash when your subject requires faster shutter speeds?  Flash durations can be fast enough, but the ambient light continues to spill into the frame the entire time that the shutter remains open.  The bane of sports photographers everywhere, ghosting.

Continuous light is the answer and top-of-the-line flashes can do it.  Instead of triggering the flash while the shutter is open (x-sync), FP/HSS technology begins pulsing the flash before the shutter opens and continues to do so until the second shutter recovers the sensor.  The result is a form of continuous light.  The trade off is these pulses are very weak.

It's time to introduce the high speed sync hack.  It's not new.  Google it and you'll find links that date back a few years.  What you won't find is a decent explanation on how to use it effectively.  That is why I am writing this piece.

What you need is a flash capable of FP/HSS and a method of connecting a radio trigger to send the early signal to other flashes/strobes off camera.  The FP/HSS capable flash will be in the hotshoe, so either the flash or the camera is going to need to have a PC terminal to connect your trigger to.  The key to the hack is using that early trigger signal and sending it via radio to other flashes that are set to full dump, not wimpy little pulses.  If the flash duration is longer than the shutter speed, you have continuous light!

Here is what I do.  I put my SB-800 or SB-900 in the hotshoe.  I then connect my flash, PC terminal to mini phone jack to Pocket Wizard Plus II.  The result is the flash trigger signal goes out before the shutter begins it's travel across the focal plane.
Nikon SB-900 with Pocket Wizard Plus Transmitter mounted in the 'hack' formation

Off camera I configure my radio triggers according to normal convention, with one exception, the flash must be in manual mode and set to full power.  The necessity is the long flash duration.

The magic behind all of this is that I can now use any fast shutter speed and there will be flash and ambient light for the entire shutter duration.  No ghosting!

As long winded as my introduction has been, this is where I tell you how to use it.  Since your shutter speed is faster than the actual flash duration you are not using all of the light emitted from the flash.  As a result of not using the entire flash pulse, light meters will not produce the proper reading.  All those fancy Guide Number calculators that are built into your flash are also no longer accurate.  You need to build your own GN tables for every shutter speed.

Here is what I did.  I placed my off camera flash at a measured 10' from my grey card.  I set my camera up so that it framed the grey card only.  At each shutter speed, I adjusted the aperture to place that histogram spike as dead centre as possible.  The result was aperture multiplied by 10' equaled the GN for that shutter speed.

At ISO 200 and my flash head zoomed to 85mm, here are my results.  You can find this chart typed into my BlackBerry, it's with me all the time.

1/320th = GN 160
1/400th = GN 140
1/500th = GN 140
1/640th = GN 140
1/800th = GN 130
1/1000th = GN 110
1/1250th = GN 110
1/1600th = GN 100
1/2000th = GN 90
1/2500th = GN 90
1/3200th = GN 80
1/4000th = GN 71
1/5000th = GN 63
1/6400th = GN 56
1/8000th = GN 50

For comparison, full power in FP mode at 1/1600th of a second has only enough output for GN40 instead of GN100 using the hack.  That's huge!

What are you going to do with all that extra power?

Monday, March 19, 2012

BTS - Unigirl Canada at the Lamplighter Inn, London

When I got the call this time from Unigirl, there wasn't a whole lot to think about.  "Ian we have the pool booked and we want to try some underwater photography."  I am in!!!

Without trying to gross anybody out, I have taken my u/w camera into pubic pools before.  They aren't so bad that I won't swim in them, but these are not pristine waters.  I had never been to the Lamplighter Inn before, but I was willing to give them a chance.  

Because I wasn't exactly sure of what I had signed up for, I threw in some portable studio gear as well.  Inspired by the efforts put forth by the likes of www.strobists.com and www. lightenupandshoot.com I have put together my own 'Backpacker's Studio".  I will save the details for a future 'What's in the Bag' installment, so let's just say that I have several speedlights, umbrellas, softboxes, lightstands and radio triggers packed into a nice portable travel arrangement.  The ultimate advantage to this set-up is it is highly portable and I am not a slave to AC outlets.

These shoots are a riot!  We get amazing images, but these girls are not professional models, they are students.  Their aesthetics are obvious.  What I get a kick out of is finding out what else these girls have going on.  These are not shallow or one dimensional girls riding through life on their good looks!  

One of the treats when shooting with Unigirl is we get these slick Behind the Scene videos.  Enjoy.  The images from this shoot are destined for 2013 calendars, so please be patient regarding any stills.

Here is a sample pic from the shoot...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Snowy Owls

This winter, or the lack there of, has been a bumper year for Snowy Owls here in Southern Ontario.  Native to North America's Arctic these beautiful birds have made their way south due to a low cycle of their primary food, lemmings.  Arctic lemming populations are on a low cycle and this forces Snowy's to expand their range in search of food.  Truly our gain.  I am going to miss these magnificent birds when the return to there home range.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Even more Speedlites for Ice Hockey

Not quite perfection, but definitely good enough.

Over the past few years I have freelanced around the Ontario Hockey League and submitted images for use by In the Game trading cards.

When I first started, I was using a Nikon D70s, soon followed by a D200.  All these images were taken at maximum ISO and at relatively slow shutter speeds.  All the images required some form of noise reduction in post processing.  Noise Ninja was my friend.  These days I am packing a Nikon D3.  This is the camera that revolutionized high ISO photography.  Yet there is something about images from under arena lights that doesn't appeal to me.  This is what fuels my desire to strobe ice hockey.

Every arena is going to have it's lighting difficulties.  For me, nirvana is off axis cross lighting with all sorts of silver insulation on the ceiling to bounce off.

In Owen Sound, at the Bayshore, that is just not the case.  After less than perfect images on Wednesday thanks to another futile attempt at direct lighting, I arrived at Saturday's game nice and early.  I was on a scouting mission.  After staring at the west side for several minutes, I had to succumb to the conclusion that there weren't any good options to bounce on that side.  The east side is normally the side I shoot from.  It is also the side that offers more opportunities for lighting placement.  The east side has private boxes that reach out over top of the normal seating.  This past Saturday I used the I-beams under the boxes to secure my flashes.  This allowed me to get closer to the silver insulation that only covers the ice surface.  I was then able to simulate a light source much larger than my flashes and a light source that is over top the rink, not back in the stands.  The result is nice soft light with less fall off.

It's not always about the gear, but sometimes a little technology can go along way.

Enter the new generation of Pocket Wizards.  The TT1 Mini and the TT5 Flex.  Together they offer off-camera flash with iTTL/eTTL capability.  But, that is not the feature that caused me to purchase a TT1 Mini. For me, it's the Hypersync technology that has me so excited.  Hypersync is a timing feature that allows cameras to sync to flashes at speeds higher than traditional x-sync speeds.

On the Nikon D3 the native x-sync speed is 1/250th of a second.  Try shooting any sporting event at 1/250th and brace yourself for some motion blur.  What Hypersync has allowed me to do is sync my flashes at 1/400th, sometimes 1/500th in certain conditions. At first glance, one would say that is not that big of a deal, but what that does is it allows me to overpower that ambient arena lighting with less lights and forces my exposure more on to the flash duration.  With my Nikon flashes set to 1/2 power the flash duration is 1/1100th.  That is a big deal!

Hypersync is a whole other post on it's own.  I will say slower flashes and smaller chips have allowed others to achieve much faster sync speeds.

The set-up:
Camera - Nikon D3, ISO 500, f/5, 1/400th
Lens - AF-S 300mm mkII f/2.8
Radios - Pocket Wizard TT1 + (2) Plus II,
Flash - (2) SB-900, (2) SB-800, (4) SB-26 zoomed to 85mm, 1/2 power

The results... (click on each image to see a larger version)

Seth Griffith - London Knights

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack
Greg McKegg - London Knights
Daniel Catenacci - Owen Sound Attack

Sunday, December 4, 2011

More Ice Hockey with Speedlights

I must tip my hat and acknowledge that Dave Black (www.daveblackphotography.com) has been a large inspiration to my current foray into capturing the perfect ice hockey image.

Don't you dare click his link yet!

You see, when I first found Dave's site, I was blown away with the wealth of knowledge that he was sharing regarding arena strobes.  I was soon hooked on his monthly updates.

Don't you dare click his link yet!

My problem was I didn't have several thousand dollars worth of arena strobes.  Also, I didn't want to lug around the many pounds of gear that is several thousand dollars worth of arena strobes.  But, he did plant a seed in my head.  "Why not several speedlights"?

With the advent of digital and iTTL and eTTL technology there are a whole bunch of flashes out there that don't provide Auto exposure with today's cameras.  They still put out great light, you just need to be able to and want to deal with manual exposure.  Soon eBay became my friend.  I picked up 4 Nikon SB-26s for less than I payed for my single SB-900.  That is the fun part.

My early efforts were very low cost.  A pair of SB26s and a SB800 clamped in the rafters with plastic wood clamps.  Not enough light, back to eBay.  I now own four SB26s, a pair of SB800s and a SB900 and I still keep looking for that 8th flash.

Dave's site then got even more interesting to me when he went speedlight, when he started producing amazing images with these awesome little lights.  Dave is backed by some pretty major sponsors, so he has all the latest in technology.  My approach is slightly different.  But, it was nice to see that I wasn't crazy and that this is doable.  Or I am getting closer anyway.

Don't you dare click his link yet!

In my previous post regarding hockey you can see long shadows falling off the players and the background is slightly underexposed.  This is the result of trying to light from just one side of the rink.  Physics dictates that light intensity will diminish with distance.  The Inverse Square Law.  Also, as hard as I tried by getting the lights up high and separated from each other and the camera, I still ended up with that criss cross shadow.  There are no catwalks at our local rink.

So, I took my problem to the Flickr Strobist group.  Surely, somebody else has tried this and will help me out.  Welcome to the land of the Flickr Pro.  What a joke!  Anyway, after fending off a couple real jerks, plus a rather questionable forum moderator, a fine gentleman from Quebec joins into the dialogue and offers some of his experience with small rinks. Even goes so far as to send my a private email.  What  impressed me was this guy weighs into a somewhat hostile thread with limited English skills.  All hope in humanity has not been lost, there still are good people out there.

Anyway, after discussing my approach, he convinced me to try bouncing my flash off the silver insulation covering the ceiling.  Then, after taking another look around the rink with a different mindset, I found that this offered me a chance to do some cross lighting and hopefully get rid of those ugly shadows.  I may loose a bit of overall light intensity, but the quality of light should be better.

And here are the results of Week 1 of light bouncing...

Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200mm, ISO 400, 1/250th, f/6.3, WB 5250ºK

Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200mm, ISO 800, 1/250th, f/7.1, WB 5550ºK

Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200mm, ISO 400, 1/250th, f/6.3, WB 5600ºK

Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200mm, ISO 800, 1/250th, f/7.1, WB 5300ºK

Now, I am not going to pretend that all is perfect.  That last shot has some soft spots that I would attribute to ghosting.  

The quest continues...

Go take a look at Dave Black's website now.