speedlight

The Many Faces of Ian Williams

Ian is a poet. And a novelist. And a professor at Fitchburg State. That's how I got to know him. Ian's one of those strange individuals that enjoys writing. For his 3rd or 4th book he needed an author photo. Since his book will be sold in the US he needs a picture of himself on the back cover to show American readers that he isn't weird or perverted.

You see, Ian is Canadian. Despite this handicap he really isn't all that terrible. So, I agreed to shoot some photos of him.

Our first trip out for photos was simple and easy. A speedlight, an umbrella and a gel made things quick to set up and move. We traveled around Fitchburg looking for interesting locations free of vagrants and we made a pretty good go of it.

But Ian's a picky person. Maybe it's because of all the time he spends twisting words around into poems. Or maybe it's because he spends all of his spare time poring over Ikea catalogs memorizing the inane names of cheap Scandinavian furniture. In either case, he wanted a reshoot. And he wanted it done quickly because he waited until the last minute to tell me he wanted a different photo.

So, we changed pace a little bit and spent a morning in Ed Collier's Fitchburg studio shooting portraits. As the morning progressed Ian began to notice that every single piece of furniture or decorative device inside Ed's studio was from Ikea. If that's not shocking enough, Ian knew the names of all the furniture pieces.

"Ooh! A Bjursta bench. I own three of those."

While most of the morning was spent admiring Ed's vast Ikea collection, we did end up getting some pretty decent photos. You can't even tell he's Canadian.

Lighting Cyclocross Pt. 2

I had another go at my speedlight/High Speed Sync experimentation at this past weekend's Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross. I spent about an hour shooting at the barriers after I raced in the morning. The sun was out and there was no shade to be found in that area so it was a chore to get the ambient light knocked down. I used the same lights as my last post, 2 430EXII's and a 580EXII as an on-camera master. I had my trusty 5D mkII shooting at around 1/4000th, f4.0, ISO 200 which lowered the ambient light about 1-1.5 stops. With my first shots I had my slaves set up close to the barrier which made for some high contrast side-lighting. In camera it looked like shit so I moved the lights after a few frames but after blowing it up I liked the look. I think in the future I'll raise the strobes up a bit to move the nose shadow. Helmets and those goofy hats that roadies tend to wear (don't ask me why) can cause problems with shadows. My biggest problems this past weekend came from focusing. No blasting off a few frames to hope to get the focus right and I couldn't close the aperture because the strobes aren't quite powerful to handle big f-numbers and high shutter speeds. High speed sync is great but it sucks away from the light's available power. Next time I may put the strobes on manual at full power and chimp a few frames to see exactly what kind of f-stop I can shoot at.

For the next shot I moved the lights a little farther back and had decent results.

I also pulled out my wide angle lens to get some very close shots next to barriers. Most of the people that crashed at the barriers did so at the first one. By lying down next to the second barrier I hoped to avoid having someone put a chainring into my head or step on my camera. I had my master pointed up and back at my two slaves which were positioned behind and over me. Again, the biggest problem I had was with focusing. I had to prefocus and hope that the racers ran through the right spot.

All in all, I'd say this attempt went better than the last and I'm learning to work around my equipment limitations. I can't wait to get some big strobes (I'm currently thinking Elinchrom Ranger AS Speed) and play around with those at the races.

Lighting Cyclocross

Cyclocross is a wonderful sport to photograph. No sidelines, no referees getting in your shot, it is truly a spectator's sport. You can get right next to the riders whizzing past you. You can cross over the course to get to where the action is because the course is only a bunch of caution tape strung between stakes. You get plenty of opportunities for a great shot because you know the riders will be coming back around. A cyclocross race is a great place to experiment. I raced the Orchard Cross race near Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a Cat 4 two weeks ago. Afterwards I went out with my gear and spent a short time playing around with my speedlites and high speed sync. This is my firt time trying this kind of lighting. I was using two 430EXII's as my main lights and a 580EXII on camera as my master and on camera fill. This setup was pretty nice because it was light weight and easy to set up. However, I quickly found the need to keep everything in view of my on camera flash quite limiting. It forced me to re-adjust lights almost everytime I moved my camera's postion, and prevented me from putting my lights behind me. I also didn't like the extra weight of the strobe on top of my camera.

The flashes were kept on ETTL to automatically compensate for the different lines the riders were taking. Here and there I would change the flash exposure compensation on the individual strobes to have them act more as key and fill lights when I wanted to. Pocket Wizard FlexTT5's would have been nice to have especially with their new ST4 adapter to control Elinchrom RX systems remotely.

Another issue I ran into was focusing. I was generally shooting at ISO 200-400 and f/3.2 on my 70-200mm lens to keep the strobes from working too hard. So I couldn't just blast off four frames each time a rider would go by because the strobes couldn't recycle fast enough. I had to prefocus and then hope I tripped the shutter at the right moment. With the shallow depth of field brought by the large apertures I was using I got a lot of out of focus photos. Some external power packs would have been welcome to speed up recycle times but the rechargable NIMH batteries that I use are actually quite good and I can't see the value in external packs at this point.

The first place I photographed was in the shade underneath a bunch of apple trees. I was able to underexpose the ambient light quite a bit here. The other I also went right out into the middle of a field where the sunlight was quite bright and shot some photos. It was here that I kept the ambient only slightly underexposed and helped shape the light with my strobes. I think I had my most successful photos from this setup.

This was a quick and dirty shoot that I did after my race when I was pretty cold and tired. It was interesting to see what I could do with the equipment I have on hand. I did get a couple of decent photos but nothing like I was hoping for. Overall it was a great learning experience and I'm planning to use what I learned to get some better photos at my next race.