Friends, food, hiking in God’s beautiful creation, relaxation, card games — good times! I recently spent a 4-day weekend in Nye, MT with my wife and friends. What a great time. One afternoon we hiked up the trail along the Stillwater River toward Sioux Charley Lake and took the group portrait above. Located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, this little hike is a tiny portion of a 700-mile network of trails — amazing.
We did this hike together a couple years ago and got the standard mid-day, harsh facial shadows group photo. I didn’t plan to take many photos in the mid-day light so I decided not to lug the tripod up the trail just for the group shot. However, knowing ahead of time that the one shot we did want was a group photo from this hike, I’d brought my flash along (a friend was kind enough to keep it in his pack). Without flash, I had the choice between blowing out half of the scenery in order to properly expose the group or underexpose the group in order to properly expose the scenery. I didn’t ever consider HDR for this. Maybe I should have clicked off some brackets and just tried it, but I didn’t want any hint of that “HDR look” for our shot. I found some rocks to prop the camera on and framed the shot in such a way to maximize the amount of scenery captured while not making the group so small as to be unrecognizable.
I put the camera in manual mode and chose an exposure which didn’t blow out the sky. I may have blown out a tiny section here and there but I also wanted some detail in the portions of the mountains which were in shadow. I used the on-camera flash (Canon 580 EXii) in E-TTL mode with -1/2 stop flash compensation…seemed about right based on a test shot. Post processing was a series of curves to selectively adjust portions of the image.
I’m pretty happy with it. I wasn’t trying to make the *best* shot (wouldn’t have used on-camera flash of course) but I was trying to get a shot in which people and scenery were reasonably balanced with a minimum amount of gear and I think I accomplished that.
I had the privilege — and challenge — of taking some photos for my son and his friends this past weekend. I’ll let them tell they’re own story (link at the end of the post) but the short version is that they are going “on tour” for a month to sing as a quartet, do various service projects, and promote the International ALERT Academy (where they have received various types of emergency response training — paramedic and other misc certifications in my son’s case).
Our only options for shooting were a short bit early Sunday morning and then in the afternoon from about 1-3pm. We did what we could in the morning and left the rest for later. The afternoon sun was as intense as it ever gets in Texas — which makes for lousy natural light in many locations. If I was shooting only one person, had a set of great lights and diffusers, etc. I would have felt better about all this. However, I worked on making do with my single speedlight and whatever shade we could find.
The guys wanted to do some shots on the railroad tracks — no shade there. One of the favorite spots required them to be looking toward the sun, which was *mostly* overhead but off its peak just enough to create extremely harsh shadows when they faced that direction. Nonetheless, we took a bunch of shots and attempted to overcome the sun on five guys with a single speedlight…not quite successful. I told them not to tell anyone I took those pictures 🙂
In the shot with the locomotive you can see how turning them out of the sun (and using the single speedlight) doesn’t turn out too bad. While shooting the previous into-the-sun images I broke my sync cord and could no longer use my Elinchrom skyports to control the flash. So for this shot I used a 3′-ish cord attached to my hot shoe and use E-TTL with -2/3 flash exp compensation if I remember correctly. I held the flash above-camera-left as high as I could reach (I was slightly crouched to take the shot). It turned out OK — and the guys seemed happy with this one.
Of course we did the obligatory look-cool-standing-against-some-grungy-wall-album-cover-type shots. We found a random wall with just enough shade to make it work. The sidewalk in front of the wall had a slight slope which made things a bit tricky. If I lined up the frame with the brick, I ended up with a bit of grass where the sidewalk was higher…stuff like that. I think I should have worked my angles more and come up with something better. However, we had already spent a lot of time doing individual shots and various group poses and with it being nearly 100 degrees, all of us were ready to get on with it and finish up.
I had fun taking the photos. I learned a lot. I learned most of all that I have a lot left to learn. It was also fun for the guys (who are not nearly as serious as some of their pictures would imply) to be able to goof around while posing. Most importantly, they got some shots they were happy with.
Their website (still a bit under construction): http://www.servantscall.com
On facebook: Servant’s Call
A friend who’s running for a state-level office had made arrangements to take photos with Texas Governor Rick Perry at an event and asked me to take the pictures for him. While milling around I was shooting candids using my flash for some fill. I got wildly mixed results — some shots looked great, sometimes faces were blown out.
I noticed some pro photogs also shooting with flash so when one of them was taking a break I asked him how he was using his flash — What modes, settings, etc. He was more than happy to discuss it and pulled me off to the side so he could explain the way he worked. I thought I’d pass on his tips to you. On a side note, after he pulled me aside he commented “I really like the way you carry your camera”, referring to my recently acquired Black Rapid RS-4 strap (which I completely love — check one out sometime).
First, some description of the shooting conditions: Mix of complete shade, mottled shade from trees, and some completely sunny areas. It was about 8:30am, sun still relatively low which caused a half-moon effect depending on your shooting angle (full sun on half the face, shaded on the other). It was very easy to get blown-out highlights on the sunny side.
The way both of these pros typically shoot in conditions like this is as follows (probably obvious to you experienced photogs). Flash in E-TTL (both were Canon shooters). Camera set to shutter priority mode with a shutter speed of 1/250 (max sync speed). One used a sync cord to move the flash off-camera, the other had his on-camera. Both dialed in -2/3 flash exposure compensation and only changed that if they weren’t getting good results. One of them explained that he would try to catch 6-7 frames of a situation (for example taking a shot of the Governor shaking a hand) in relatively rapid succession in order to bracket his flash exposure. Basically the first shot gets full flash and subsequent shots get varied flash power depending on how much the flash had recharged. He picks the best exposures in post. Not very scientific but he’s been shooting 50-ish years…must be effective and certainly is easy when shooting digitally (I didn’t ask him what he did in his film days). The other photog that I talked to said he pretty much shoots this way also. I was already finished shooting and about to head out so I didn’t get a chance to try this out myself.
For anyone who wants to check out this guy’s work, check out harrycabluck.com. Here are some of the very cool pics you’ll find on his website: Carlton Fisk celebrating his winning home run in the 1975 World Series (most of us old folks have seen that picture many times), Franco Harris with the “immaculate reception”, Terry Bradshaw in the Steeler’s locker room. Amazing stuff.
I found an article about him and it said that he was in JFK’s motorcade when he was assassinated and has taken photographs of every president since then. He’s covered “more Superbowls, World Series, and national championships games than he could remember”. What an interesting (and very pleasant) guy. He gave me his card and I think I’m going to call on him one of these days and see if he’ll trade a lunch for some stories.
One parting piece of advice Harry gave me: Keep your non-photography job so you can afford to keep taking pictures 🙂