daisy_07.JPG It’s been pretty sunny in London recently, although not so much the last few days. Yesterday, however, the sun was threatening to come out from lunchtime and at around 3pm it finally did. I was sitting around indoors finding all sorts of ways to do not very much at all and finally realised going outside and maybe taking some photos would actually be pretty cool instead.

I walked over to Wandsworth Park and found a tiny patch of daisies – I was looking for something I could light with my new softbox (the LumiQuest Softbox III I posted about a while back). At first I just took photos of the daisies in natural light, playing with the wide angle lens I’d taken with me, the Sigma 10-20mm. I don’t often use it as it’s pretty stylised and only useful for particular things as opposed to general use so I don’t often walk around with it unless I’m specifically out on a ‘photo walk’ like this. It’s great fun every so often though, and worth remembering if you need a quick change of style.

In the rest of this post I’ll talk through the shots I took, including a few mistakes and learning points for myself.

Here’s a couple of the first shots I took while I was setting up. The difference in colour is interesting and I didn’t notice it till I got back (it was impossible to really look at the photos outside – the sun was too bright to judge the LCD properly even in the shade under the hood of my top). They were taken around 4 minutes apart, both on the Sunny white balance. In the first shot the sun had just gone behind the clouds. Both f/4 at ISO 400, the first shot is 1/400th and the second 1/2000th shutter speeds.

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The sunlit one is nice but I wanted to try lighting them against the clouds so I changed my angle and set the flash up. Actually, the first thing I did was take another few shots for angles, and also I took a bunch of bracketed shots to try and make a nice HDR later. Haven’t done that yet.

daisy_11.JPGThis is the scene in natural light – I actually like the washed out tones and the direct sunlight, but the plan was to overpower the sun with a fast shutter. It would have been better to close the aperture too to get more focus on the foreground and also darken the ambient further but it affected the flash too much.

The shutter was already so fast that the flash was right on the edge of registering, and everything got a bit dark. Mostly I tried to keep the flash on 1/2 power maximum or else the recycle time got too long as I’d not changed the batteries since the last job I used it on.

I wanted to play with gels and white balance as well, so I could get the basics in my head. I’ve seen it used to great effect and plan to nick the idea for future use! In the first shot below, I’d switched to Tungsten white balance and put the equivalent of 3/4 CTO on. Don’t ask why I didn’t use full, it was just the first to hand! On the right you can see the localised effect of the flash on a patch of grass. Finally, there’s a shot with the flash zoomed out wider, held over the lens just as I get a helpful passer-by to give the shot some background interest.

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So it’s pretty stylised, that’s for sure – but I don’t like the effect. The sky is too blown for the look I want in that last shot, it’s too blue and the foreground is too yellow. The light is also too hard and falls off at the edges too quickly (ie – the edge of the circle of light that the flash is illuminating is too obvious).

First problem easily solved – the hardness of the light; put some sort of diffuser between the subject and the light. As it so happened I’d got the Lumiquest Softbox in my bag. It’s flat, it can go everywhere. It’s very cool like that. I also switched to Fluorescent white balance and popped a green Fluorescent gel on the flash.

The first shots weren’t what I expected, as the background was nice but the flash light was much colder. Here’s a couple of test shots – technically total crap, the overall exposure too bright, no effort to hide the light and it’s evidently too powerful – but you get an idea of the temperature of the light.

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On the Nikons (and I’m sure on the Canons too) you can make gradual tweaks within each WB setting. By setting Fluorescent and ‘warming up’ the setting using a -3 adjustment, the colour of the light fell much more in line with the pictures in my head.

Here’s the first decent result I got, followed by a pair that nicely show the effect of softbox out and softbox in.

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I should point out that this whole set-up is far from consistent, with varying shutter speeds and f-stops, a wildly ranging distance of the flash, shooting one handed. As for notes, I’ve got the EXIF but haven’t really noted it for this post. Practically, it was opportunity to test how things work, and find something that does work. That way I’ll have done it once already should the moment arise where I need to do it on the spot somewhere, and I’ll know at least one thing that works.

These first few shots have already taught me that this white balance combination (bright sunlight, Fluorescent white balance on the camera and gel) makes for a sky colour I like, and a nicely toned ambient background. If I’m remembering the Photoshop Colour Balance tool correctly, adjusting for green introduces more magenta. Make a note in the mental crib-sheet.

The next thing I did was try to regulate the distance of the flash, and also solve the blasted CLS-in-sunlight problem. Strong direct sunlight hitting the sensor on the SB-800 can interfere with its ability to see the commander flash coming from the D200’s pop-up. I had an absolute nightmare with this issue on a portrait shoot the other day, where I was trying to put some fill on some faces but there was nowhere on that side of them to put the flash where it wasn’t in direct sunlight, hence lots of failed pops. Anyway, that’s another day, when I get permission to use the images in a post (they’re for a documentary that hasn’t aired yet).

I perched the flash and softbox on the side of my bag in such a way that the sensor was shaded and the flash was directed at my willing models. Here’s another few in a portrait orientation. Even though the flash is pretty much fixed now you can still see a variation in exposure as I kept adjusting shutter speeds and aperture trying to get the clouds the way I wanted them. I really need to sort out captions for my images so I can put the EXIF in there.

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L: 1/1250 sec, f/5.6
M: 1/1250 sec, f/4
R: 1/1600 sec, f/5.6

If nothing else, this demonstrates how changing the aperture changes the ambient and the flash (shutter speed generally only affecting the ambient, non-Strobists amongst you). The final shot is much darker because both the shutter speed and the aperture got cranked up. It’s also interesting how the colour of the last shot appears to change.

I’ve just worked out while writing that paragraph that it’s because the ambient (magenta-ish) light has been far more effectively cut out of the frame, meaning the lit area is more ‘regular’ because of the correctly gelled flash. Looking at them now I prefer the first one for the subtle tint, but possibly a bit brighter. Och, details, I’m sure I’m the only one that even noticed it.

I grabbed a whole bunch more but they really aren’t all that interesting to view, being mostly variations in framing. In the end I came up with a couple that I really liked, both of them pretty similar but one off to a slant. The straight one is in fact the first image in this post, back at the top. My fave, though, is this next one, because I like how the slant pulls the Y-shaped daisy formation into the corner and gives it a bit of energy, and I like how the trees tail off in a curve at the top. And I like the light!

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And finally, there’s a shot of me holding the flash in frame so you can see how it’s set up. Really complicated high budget stuff.

Lessons learned:

1) As if I didn’t already know, waiting for a change in the light will change the whole tone of a photo.

2) In sunlight a change to Fluorescent WB with a green gel on the flash can give a subtle surreal warm tone to ambient light and backgrounds. Could be useful for giving an outdoor portrait a little something extra, in-camera.

3) The green fluorescent gel needs warming up a little in the white balance settings.

4) Working out some sort of stable and ideally adjustable stand or support for the flash and softbox would be really useful, allowing for an extra level of control I very much lacked this time out.

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

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