Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Another Flash Tutorial

I do not own a flash. It is one of the items on my wishlist for this year and I do intend to get one sooner or later. For the moment though, when I need to use one, I need to borrow it. Thankfully, my boss is also a fan of photography, and has one on hand that she has lent to me before (for the last wedding that I had to shoot). With another wedding around the corner, I needed to borrow it again and needed to get used to using it again.

The flash in question is a very very nice one, but the exact specifications are not actually all that important for this blog. What is important to know is that the flash fits into the hotshoe of the camera and has the ability to tilt upwards by 90 degrees and 45 degrees to either side. It is something that I absolutely love about the flash and something that I am definitely going to try to find in whichever flash I end up buying.

Why is this so important then? First of all, having a flash that fits into your hotshoe is very useful when doing photo shoots outside of a studio. When you are in a studio, you can arrange the lighting in any way that you like through the use of umbrellas, reflectors and more powerful lights than a flash can provide. When you are out and shooting, however, you do not always have these available to you. The on-camera flash is too harsh for most situations and, since you cannot adjust where it points, it often ends up only illuminating what is in front of you and not providing sufficient ambient light. This can, of course, be made up for by adjusting the shutter speed and exposure, but when the images are being taken with a hand-held camera rather than a tripod, it can be difficult to perfect. This is why having a flash that fits onto your hotshoe can be useful. Of course, being able to use it off-camera (which this one can do) would also be useful, I imagine, but I have yet to experiment with that, and for the moment will only be talking about using it on a hotshoe. Having a stronger flash on your hotshoe, which can be adjusted in terms of brightness, can have diffusers attached to it and can tilt gives you a lot more flexibility in the images that you can take and make.

The tilt is the other big advantage to having a hotshoe flash. This flexibility is less important when using a flash off-camera, since you can point the flash in any direction that you choose. But, when the flash is attached to your camera, you cannot point the flash in a different direction to the one that the camera is facing unless it has a tilt function. And the tilt function makes a huge difference. By tilting the flash, you can bounce the light that the flash provides to illuminate your subject in the best possible way. I have taken some images to illustrate the point.

In the above image, the first two shots were taken with the flash, a shutter speed of 1/50, an aperture of f/8 and had an ISO of 400. The final image was taken without flash. It was taken with a shutter speed of 1/25, a fairly low one and good for handheld photography, the lowest aperture that my lens would allow for (f/4.5) and an ISO of 3200. All shots are directly from the camera and have not been edited except to put them together in this "collage".

The first image was taken with the flash pointing directly at the guitar. You will notice that the shadows in the centre are dark, the light in the centre is very stark compared to the shadows, the light reflecting off the string and the left side of the guitar is very bright, and you can see the shadows underneath the strings because of the angle that the photo was taken at. If you look to the upper right corner, you will also notice that it is completely in shadow.

In the second image, I had tilted the flash 45 degrees to the left. You will notice that the shadows in the centre are a lot more muted. There are still shadows, but they are less obtrusive and the light in the centre is less bright and less stark because of it. The strings are brighter, but not as reflective and there are no longer any shadows underneath them. The light itself is better distributed throughout the image and if you look at the upper right hand corner of this image, you will notice that it is white (as it should be).

In the third image, you will notice that the photo is not well lit in general, even at a fairly low aperture and shutter speed. However, there are noticable details. The colouring is a lot yellower in the image and the shadows are also distinct, especially when compared to the second image. There are no stark contrasts, however, and everything is fairly muted. 

The third image clearly needs more or better lighting, which the flash provided in both of the photos to the left of it. The second image might be a little too well lit. Shadows do provide interest to images, and there are hardly any in this image. Adding a little contrast would take it a long way. The first image is better in terms of the interest that the shadows provide, but may be a bit too stark and is far from ideal for most situations. I would likely end up brightening it to some extent in post-editing.

The same can be seen in the next images.

None of these are perfect photos, none of them were meant to be perfect. But they do show the usefulness of tilting your flash and bouncing light on a subject. It can have great results if you know how to use it, and it is something that I am still learning how to use. But I can already see a big difference in the photographs that have been taken while I used it. It is something that I look forward to learning more about!

What area of photography do you want to learn more about?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How To Act

I was reading a post yesterday from one of the blogs that I follow, and it was talking about people who don't want to have their photos taken. Now, I can understand that to a point. I really can. I am sometimes really not in the mood to have my photo taken at all. But there are times and places where it should be acceptable, and there are ways to handle it without offending the photographer or making them angry.

I commented on Kimberly Gauthier's post yesterday with one of the experiences that I'd had with a person who did not want to have their photo taken who I thought had reacted very very badly. But I experienced worse today, and I thought that I would share the experience.

I tend to take photos of anything I see. I understand that people don't particularly like to have their photographs taken, and I tend not to take too many of other people unless they are at events or doing something exceptional. I am not a big street photographer, because I understand that people don't like to have their photos taken, and I am shy and tend to avoid confrontation.

Tonight I was at a game of bowls. I was playing this week, so I did not have much time to find a subject for a photo. Not wanting to take of the people playing, I saw a drink lying in the grass. So I lay down in the grass and took a photo of it. Next thing I know, the owner of the drink has approached me and starts shouting at me for taking a photo of his drink. Now, I would understand perfectly if this was a photo of  him that he was concerned about. That would make perfect sense to me. I can equally understand if I was in the way of his game or was somehow distracting him. I ensured that I was not on the pitch, not in the way and, aside from taking a quick snap, was not being a nuisance. And yet he was so rude about it, that I almost burst into tears. I was horrified. I hate confrontation, but particularly so when I feel it is undeserved.

Now, had the guy approached me and spoken to me nicely, told me that I was distracting or that I was in the way somehow, I would have understood slightly better. Not much, because I don't think taking a photograph of a bottle in the grass when  you are 100m away on the other side of the green is cause for panic. It was not like I touched the drink or anything. I just saw it, saw that the light was good and decided to go for it. But I still would not have walked away feeling angry and hurt.

There are ways to react to not wanting a photograph taken and there are ways not to. Being rude is not going to get you anywhere. Shouting is only going to cause anger and resentment. Understanding and explaining, those help a lot. If you are kind about it and ask nicely, you are more likely to get a positive response from the photographer rather than a defensive one.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Alexia Geldenhuys van Zyl

I do not have any children, and at this stage of my life that is a very good thing. I am not even 24 years old and the closest thing that I have to a child is my cat, Puddims. But I do have a goddaughter, and there is little that I love more in the world than spoiling her rotten.

Yesterday was Alexia's third birthday, so Grant and I headed over to the Geldenhuys/Van Zyl house with our hands filled with the presents that we had found (and made) for her. The look on her face when we walked in was priceless as she saw the giant frog that could not be wrapped surrounded by Hello Kitty covered gifts. Not being old enough to open them herself, I had to help her by making the first tear and then watching her pull it and exclaim "BABY!" as she unwrapped each individually wrapped fluffy toy, followed by her other gifts which she was less excited about naming, but more excited about playing with. Grant and I always get Alexia fluffy toys, possibly because I want to get them but cannot possibly justify keeping them for myself, so end up giving them to someone who I know will appreciate them as much as I do. But this birthday, we decided that she was getting old enough to start learning as well. So we got building blocks with the alphabet and numbers and pictures on them so that she can start getting some learning in while she plays. We also got her bath gel that we know will cause her hours of joy and her parents hours of cleaning up - a toy that no parent would get their own child, but that others feel no guilt in buying.

Watching Alexia play with her toys always makes me feel young. She plays with such abandon, with such vigour as though this is the best thing in the whole wide world. I miss being that age, when every new toy is the best thing in the world and disappointments are short lived. It's certainly a good mindset to have, but one that we, as adults, have some trouble getting to grips with. But for now, I am more than happy to watch from the sidelines as Alexia grows and hope that I will be there for her when the frivolities of life start to fade and seriousness starts taking over.