Mini Still Life

Side-lit, the decoration on a bobby pin takes on lots of shine

Side-lit, the decoration on a bobby pin takes on lots of shine

Here I am on a Tuesday night.  It’s Chinese take out night.  We’ve gotten our food, returned home, eaten (sans fortune cookies because I forgot to grab some on the way out and they never put them in the bag at this place), and it’s theoretically time to unwind and relax for the rest of the evening.

This, of course, translates to “time to write my blog” for me.  And, the realization that I have no pictures from the weekend causes me to scratch my head.  I ponder what I can possibly do for a photographic experiment tonight.  I decide to try something I’ve never tried before:  macro with flash.

But now, I need something to shoot.  Something small.  Really small.

The snoot produces less sparkle

The snoot produces less sparkle

My eyes fall on the fluffy area rug in the living room.  It has lots of great texture, but I want something shiny with the flash.

I end up digging a couple of bobby pins out of my jewelry box and positioning them with some black glass beads on the carpet.  I find a hand-shaped hair-dryer diffuser and decide it will add some background color.

Laid back view of the flower--not as sharp at this angle

Laid back view of the flower–not as sharp at this angle

I start with a snoot on the flash to see what happens when I use it to direct the light onto the subject (a snoot is like a narrow tube around the flash).  After shooting with a snoot for a while, I decide the light looks flat and I should try bouncing the flash off of something instead. The trouble is, what to bounce it off of?  I’m in the middle of a large room shooting something that’s about a half an inch wide.

Straight on with the snoot has the least sparkle

Straight on with the snoot has the least sparkle

I pull out my mini reflector and position my tripod in such a way that I can get it to stand up.  I’m so proud of myself, I have to take a picture of my setup.  This gives me the opportunity to practice iPhone photography in the same shoot!

I’m over-the-top-excited now.  I use the new app I downloaded yesterday, Camera+, and try to make use of the levels on the screen to get something reasonably straight.  I don’t know how to tell if I succeeded or not from all the angles in the image, however.

My setup for the side-lit image at the top

My setup for the side-lit image at the top

As you may be able to tell, my DSLR has 3 extension tubes on it in addition to the 100mm macro lens.  I’ve got the flash swiveled to the right to bounce off the reflector hanging on the tripod.  For those of you who don’t care about the setup, can you find the subject of the other images? Pretty small, huh?

I had a lot of fun with this.  I don’t know exactly why I find this fun, but I do.  However, Tisen wasn’t so amused by my shenanigans.  At one point, I had my tripod with the legs stretched out flat on the floor, he came over and laid on top of one of the legs.  Maybe he was just trying to help?

A blurry Tisen with a stuck lip--a sure sign he jerked his head up from a cat nap

A blurry Tisen with a stuck lip–a sure sign he jerked his head up from a cat nap


Up Close and Personal

I have decided I need to use my flash a lot.  Nothing fancy.  Just put it on the camera and use it so I can get used to what it looks like on camera.  Then, maybe I’ll be better able to see the differences when I take it off camera.

But what to shoot now that I’ve decided to undertake this learning process?  Tisen looks mighty relaxed laying on a comforter on the couch.  And he did just get a brand new hat from Twiggy’s mom.  Plus, he’s a little bored now that Twiggy has gone home.

I wrap a snoot around the flash and decide to start with capturing him in his hat.  I like the head-on image the best even though the flash catches the haze of blue in his eyes, probably indicating cataracts.

Then, I see my down jacket next to him on the sofa and decide to see what happens when I take a macro shot with my flash.  The snoot projects the light to the background, leaving the jacket in the foreground unlit.  When I look at the shot on the big screen, I’m surprised to discover the fabric has a distinct pattern.  I’d always thought it was perfectly smooth.

Then I decide to go macro on Tisen.  Poor guy.  I would feel sorry for him, but he barely moved once I took his hat off, seeming perfectly content to model for his crazy mom with the big black camera that kept flashing at him.

It’s interesting to see the parts of a dog up close.  For one thing, he’s dirty than I thought he was!  His little pig ears always makes me laugh.  When he walks, the tip bounces up and down, flopped over at about the halfway point.

I try to shoot his tail, another source of a smile.  He wags enthusiastically when we go for walks.  People pass us on the street and say, “Now that’s a happy dog!” as he goes by with a toy in his mouth and his tail keeping a steady beat.  But tonight no shot of his tail is to be had.  It’s the one part he keeps tucked underneath and I don’t want to risk annoying him to the point where he gets up and lies on his bed under the desk.

I do manage to shoot both sides of his face, but the white side keeps blowing out with the flash.  The black side makes for a creepy close up of his eye.  He stares at me, blinking from the flash.  I wonder what he thinks I’m doing to him.

The poor guy is still struggling with allergies and hot spots.  We’ve changed his diet again; it seems he’s allergic to the turkey we’ve been feeding him.  I’m about to give up and put him on antibiotics again.  It’s hard to wait to see if he will heal on his own when it’s obvious he’s uncomfortable.

Event Shooting

I am gaining a greater and greater appreciation for event photographers.  Think about it.  You show up, you’re supposed to get great photos in what may be the most difficult of circumstances to shoot in and you’re supposed to do it without distracting from the event.

We went to a wedding reception Friday night and I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that I am not a wedding photographer.  I’m not sure I could take the pressure of shooting that kind of once (or twice or thrice) in a lifetime event.  I watched the two photographers at the event and they seemed so calm and collected.  They were both young.  They shot for a while, took a break to eat cake, and then started shooting again.  They seemed to feel no stress at all.  I admire that.

I got to play event photographer Saturday night in the lowest stress situation possible when it comes to event photography.  First, it was a volunteer job, so I didn’t have to worry about people feeling like they didn’t get what they paid for.  Second, the group is fun and appreciative, so I felt like they would be patient.  And finally, this is a recurring event, so it will happen again next year and there will be more opportunities to get better shots.

However, what did create stress is that it was a Halloween Haunt.  And that means it was dark.  Very dark.  And I am not exactly an expert with a flash.  In fact, I had kind of given up on learning how to use my flash a few months back when I broke a hot shoe adapter that allowed me to put it on an umbrella stand.

I seem to take little interest in flash photography until the moment of panic when I realize I’m going to need to shoot with a flash.  Then I suddenly wish I’d spent a lot of time becoming an expert with the thing.

Saturday night, I decide to warm up in the family area.  This area is well lit by comparison.  It still requires a flash, but people are sitting at tables for pumpkin decorating and face painting, so I have the opportunity to shoot and reshoot without having to worry about missing the action.

With my flash unit attached to my camera directly, I couldn’t shoot vertically.  It was like having a hand tied behind my back.  Having a manual flash turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than I expected.  For one thing, it has no auto focus assist feature so I had to pull out my iPhone and use the flashlight app to find focus in the dark.  It was also hard to see to adjust the settings.

I found myself creating a shopping list:  flash bracket, speedlite, portable battery pack.  I guess I’d better decide if I like event shooting or not before I start buying more equipment!

Portraits without Flash

Having spent several hours on post-processing more images from my latest attempt at portraiture, I thought I would do a second post from this shoot.

I mentioned some of the challenges I was unprepared for in my previous post on this topic, but what I didn’t talk about was the flash.  Several month ago, I had the realization that I needed portable lighting while shooting the same couple.

At the time, I had recently invested in some studio lights.  When, however, the couple who volunteered to model for me wanted to shoot outdoors, I was stuck with nothing but the built-in flash on my Canon 40D.  In other words, no lighting at all.

So, I invested in an off-brand, all manual flash and started learning how to use it on a flash stand.  But, when I subsequently upgraded my camera, I got distracted relearning the things I thought I already knew how to do and the flash sat in a corner, unused.

I had started taking an online course on flash photography and learned that maybe my off-brand manual flash wasn’t the best equipment to start with.  That led to me delaying purchasing radio controllers for the flash, thinking I might end up buying the latest, built-in radio flash unit if I figured out what I was doing and decided it made sense.

All of this led to me continuing to use a long cord from the flash stand to the camera when I wanted to us my flash.  And, in case you thought I was never going to get to the point, led to an accident involving knocking over my light stand with the cord when I was attempting to light a mimosa tree a couple months ago.  What I didn’t know was that the adapter broke when the stand fell over.

Having put off scheduling this follow up shoot for so long, I hadn’t had my flash unit out for many weeks.  And, of course, we had a last minute invitation to have dinner with friends before they left to go out of town.  So, in a nutshell, I was rushing to get ready for the shoot before racing off for an early dinner with our friends and then racing back to meet my models for the shoot.

Which means, I didn’t discover the broken adapter until I got to the location and was trying to figure out how to make it work.  After fiddling around with it enough to get it to mount sideways with the flash twisted back to the front, I realized I wasn’t going to have enough power to light both of my subjects from far enough away to shoot wide enough to capture the setting, which my models wanted in their images.  So, after waiting months to shoot them outdoors with a flash, I was stuck with natural light after all.

This is a really long way of saying being prepared might be a good idea.  🙂


I haven’t used the flash in many weeks.

I actually bought the flash because I needed it when trying to shoot a couple for their “Save the Date” announcements.  The plan was to do a follow up shoot to get something they can use for a decorative idea the bride had for their wedding reception.  However, it took weeks for me to get the flash unit and figure out how to use it.  Then, I had the new camera I was trying to learn to use and they were busy.  Finally, we scheduled a date but then it rained.  I would love to shoot in the rain, but I don’t think that’s what they’re looking for.

At long last, this Sunday I pulled out my flash stand and flash again and we went off to the Nature Center and Arboretum.  Assignment:  Get a shot of the happy couple in a natural setting that reflects how much they enjoy the outdoors.

Fortunately, they are members of the Nature Center so we were able to shoot up until dusk.  This was very helpful.


When we arrived, the first problem was the weather.  It was so incredibly hot and humid.  It hurt to breathe.  I felt a little sorry for myself lugging around so much equipment in the heat, but the bride-to-be was wearing what looked to be the most uncomfortable dress, so I stopped feeling sorry for myself and was grateful I didn’t have to wear anything hot.

The second problem was the insects.  I know my precious birds wouldn’t survive long if there weren’t a gazillion insects for them to eat, but I really resent that insects find me so tasty.  I guess better me than the bride.

The third problem was the sun.  It was far too bright when we arrived, leading to many squinty pictures.  We moved into a shady area to shoot until the sun started to drop, but this led to the fourth problem:  the place was completely surrounded by trees.  The sun went from too high and bright to too dark in a matter of minutes.

But the final, and most difficult problem to solve was me.  I find myself having no interest in thinking of interesting poses (or looking for poses on the internet).  I’m so focused on the subjects faces that I have to force myself to notice anything else.  I’m looking for a moment of expression when the muscles relax and just do what they really do.  Sometimes it’s very subtle.  I don’t really care if the hair is perfect or if the clothes are smooth or anything else because all I want to see is that split second when the muscles of the face sink into an unforced expression.

I find I do care about the out-of-place clothes and hair after the fact, unfortunately.  They make a difference when they distract, I find.  I just wish they would distract me a bit before I shot the photo.

First Flash

I finally got caught up on post processing photos from my whirlwind trip to Columbus.  These photos are from the baby shower I attended.  Rule one:  decide if I want to shoot or attend a party.  When I’m trying to do both, I don’t do either well.

There’s a certain geek factor about walking around a baby shower with a big lens and a flash on a stand with a funny looking box over it.  Now, imagine if I would have added my loupe hanging around my neck.  Would that really have pushed me over the line between overly enthusiastic and completely socially inept?

I’m thinking I crossed that line the moment I decided to put my flash on a stand.  And as one guest pointed out, people will put up with my flash because they want the pictures.  This only holds true if you do a really good job on the pictures.

In any case, I discovered several things my first time out with my new flash.

First, I understand why event photographers often put the flash on the camera even though the lighting options are limited.  Having the flash on a stand in a relatively small space with a lot of people was a bit awkward.  It was often difficult to find a position for the flash stand without asking someone to step out of the way.  There were many times I didn’t bother to use the flash at all because I didn’t want to disrupt the whole room by setting it up in the middle.

Another thing I learned was that since I was working without a tripod (not something I do too often these days), I needed to have a fast enough speed to not get blur from movement but also slow enough not to exceed sync speed with the flash.  I ended up with a shot where the shutter speed was too slow for my hand-holding ability when I was using flash. Seems like it defeats the purpose of using a flash.

I was pleased with the effect of using the flash to light the shot of the gifts.  Although there is a bright reflection in the piano, it’s not actually from the flash–it’s just brighter because of the flash.  There seems to be a pretty even light.  Of course, the ambient light from the windows helped with the fall off.

While an umbrella might have been even better light, we decided it was too crowded to have a big umbrella sticking out of the stand.  That was definitely a good decision!

Another thing I learned was the challenge of lighting multiple people.  Especially when the people don’t know each other that well enough to get into each other’s personal space.  Or, when there is a huge height difference between the subjects.  Shadows get exponentially harder to control.

All in all, given it was my first time using a flash, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself.