Monday, January 19, 2009

Fun in the sun!

Its ski season here, and part of the fun in Colorado is that 'ski season' means snow, sunshine and 50 degree days. Not too shabby. Most of the time I am skiing with my daughter, or skiing on my own, and I don't take a camera. Today, since my wife was with me (extra set of hands), I took the battery grip off, put on an all-purpose zoom (Nikon 24-120 VR- maybe the worst lens they have ever made), and took some snapshots. 

The scenery is great, the sky is clear, the air is warm- so what's the problem? The whole world just became a great big light source. I am pretty sure that all the people shooting today with their point and shoots were mostly getting this. The computer in your camera is trying to make the snow middle gray- which it isn't. Backlit brightness and dark people. And that's if you actually remember to hit exposure compensation. Okay I guess, but not really what we want. The trick is to balance your subject with all that ambient light. We aren't talking magazine ads here, that is level of production most of us never approach. But just getting to a good snapshot would be nice. All that really takes is a little thought, and a small amount of planning. One trick is to always watch where the sun is. In the shot above, its just out of the frame. Lots of light. Tough to manage. 

A little change in angle can really change the image. Here, just a few hundred yards further down, the sun is now at a more acute angle to the lens, allowing a bit more of the skiers to come through. My exposure comp is +1, making the snow very bright, but the skiers more visible. But there is still a whole lot of light in that frame.

So a little more strategy is necessary. I start to actually think a little bit, and look for spots that won't be so tough. This is a bit better. The sun is still at a terrible angle, but I have cut the amount of snow (and therefore light) in the background by half. My daughter looks a little dark, but the colors on her outfit are starting to resemble their actual hue, and you can make out both she and my wife's face much better.

Just as a side note, the promotional posters of people like Bodie Miller and Lindsay Von that the manufacturers give away are almost always shots of the skier in the air coming off a jump and either a)against a clear blue sky, which looks fine if it is dark enough to make the skier look good, or b) shot as the skier, who is usually airborne, passes in front of a big dark stand of trees. Shots of the skier on snow are almost always taken on overcast days when the photographer didn't have to fight as much ambient light. Images of the skiers not actually racing are as produced as any other ad shot, and so fall in a different realm.

So get the heck out of the sun!! Here is Marin cruising a cat walk. The trees are doing a nice job shading us, and add a little texture to the background. There is enough light coming through to make it interesting, but the skier is the dominant element in the photo now, not the sun on the snow.

Or, get the sun at your back and make sure the whole background isn't snow. This shot is still really bright, but the sun is working for me now, I have enough trees in the background to break up the white, and the skiers are close enough that they aren't drowned in all that light. Its also nice if you can catch your subjects not looking at the camera. So many ski shots are posed. That's fine if you find the right spot, but otherwise let your vacation photos show you actually on vacation, not staring into a camera. 

And if you do need that posed photo, remember your fill flash! On most cameras these days you can let the ambient take care of itself, and the flash will deal with your close in subjects pretty well. So find a nice spot, take a moment to compose, make sure the flash is on, and 'cheese.'

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Portrait Experimentation

Sunday afternoon, I don't watch sports really, so what to do...?

Take over the kitchen of course! I spent this afternoon shooting portrait shots in the kitchen. We have this south facing window with wooden blinds on is (there is an east facing window as well, but it doesn't get the same light). The winter sun is pretty controllable right now- in summer we just pull the blinds closed late in the day (way too hot!)

I set up the camera on a tripod, put a chair right where I could dial up the 
light with the blinds, put a flash on a small stand and hung a big reflector from the light over the dining room table (my spouse is very tolerant). I shot a few of my wife, but she was pretty bored, so I did mostly self portraits. It was totally experimental- tweak this, shoot, chimp. Tweak that, shoot, chimp. Repeat. 

This is one of the better ones. The window is camera right. The reflector (42" 5-in-1 Multidisc by Photoflex) is camera left about three feet from my head with the gold side showing. It is reflecting both some of the window light and a flash at my chest height on camera right. The flash with a diffuser is pointed at the reflector and gobboed with a calendar on a justin clamp so that the light only hits the reflector and not me (working in a tight space, flash placement was challenging). There is just a hint of light coming straight at me from the on-camera flash (about 1/128, the off-camera flash is at about 1/32- exposure is f/3.3 at 1/125, using a Nikon prime  50mm 1.4). Overall, not terrible. I like how warm the gold reflector and the wooden blinds make the whole thing. It took some messing with the white balance to match that orange and not have me look like I was glowing. Once I had gotten a shot I liked out of the set-up it was time to mess around.

My daughter likes to model, but she isn't big on patience. Its shoot, chimp, compose, repeat. The white balance felt off on this one, but when I tried to correct I got this. This expression is the 'dad, you take too long to do the fun stuff" face. So what is a dad to do? Let the kid run the camera of course. She already knows the arrow in the rectangle is the chimping button. And she loves being in charge and giving me orders. So I let her. 

This was one of her favorites. Why is it that dad looking like an idiot is so pleasing to children? It probably has something to do with the overdeveloped sense of seriousness most of us grownups have. She did let me shoot a few more though. Shooting with her is positively aerobic. Take picture, jump up, chimp, arrange, get set, shoot again. 

I did get one more shot that was sort of interesting. I opened up the blinds just enough to get the pattern going on me. Something a bit different. I like the bands of light. I am also digging the pensive look on the model's face. Maybe Calvin Klein will call? Of course, I'd be just as happy with Smartwool- they are much more my speed, as you can see.

In the back of my head was Joe McNally's latest post on the D3x. I do not have a D3x (lust lust), but his shots of this wrestler were really cool. My shots- not so cool. But fun to jack around with light. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holy Cyclocross Batman!

Wow- it was really something to see all those bikers out sweating like crazy in 30 degree weather. I was freezing my butt off taking pictures, but it was a lot of fun. The 2009 Lyons cyclocross races were sponsored by Oskar Blues and Boulder Racing

I really loved shooting this gal. She had the biggest smile every time she went by. Some people make it really easy to take pictures.

Cyclocross is a bit like mountain bike racing on road bikes by people on the run from a smash up derby. It is a lot of fun to watch. The course ran in a twisting line from the high school, uphill and across the ditch trail, down through the dirt jumps in Bohn Park, and back to the high school.

I especially enjoyed the crashes (of course). and the competition.  It was also nice to be shooting people I know within walking distance of my house. And, there were some pretty arresting visual moments. I hope I captured a few of them.