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Section 7: Photographing the Still Life and an Intro to Flash Photography

LECTURE Summary for the week


Were going to cover two things this week: photographing objects and an intro to flash photography. I also want to make sure you are all progressing on your midterm photo essays. First well talk about photographing objects. From small objects to things as large as bill boards, photographers are often required to photograph inanimate objects. In the era of the online slideshow still life photo in for the form of detail shots has become increasingly important. Well discuss a few techniques and some common dos and dont. The second topic is flash, sometimes called strobe. Were going to talk about flash and studio lighting in week 9, but I want introduce some essential ideas for the on-camera flash now. Flash is an essential tool for the working photographer but also one of the most technically challenge tools to master.

Objectives for this week


An introduction to shooting inanimate objects o small objects (close-ups and details) o signage and storefronts A discussion of photographic flash o flash mechanics o flash techniques Update on midterm photo essays

Information
A brief history of the still life An explanation of why the ability to shoot objects and signage is important Techniques for shooting detail shots (close-ups) is important An Introduction to flash (strobe) How a flash works Techniques for using flash effectively A update on the midterm

Photographing Objects
THE DETAIL SHOT (CLOSE-UP) A couple years ago I had to photograph Andrew DiVigal, the Multimedia Director and the New York Times. We were talking about the rapid changes in our industry and how difficult it was for many mid-career photographers to retool and learn the skills need for projects like online slideshows. I asked him what the hardest thing was for him in dealing with these photographers.

Without hesitation, he said it is to get them to shoot enough detail (close-ups) shots. There is a lot that can be learned about photographing objects, both large and small, from looking at classic still life painting and drawing: care of composition, the importance of color, the use of light and, not least, symbolism. Traditionally a still life (plural: still lifes) was a painting or drawing depicting primarily inanimate subjects, often commonplace objects -- tabletop arrangements of food, flowers, symbolic objects, books, etc. The still life has it origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Greek/Roman. editorial_S7_images_1 editorial_S7_images_2 editorial_S7_images_3 Still life work give the artist a great deal of freedom in the arrangement of design elements within a composition. Still life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. In the commercial world of photography and in the fine art world, high end-still life photography can become a skill unto itself. Here are three classic examples. editorial_S7_images_4 editorial_S7_images_5 editorial_S7_images_6 In Section three I laid out some of the categories that photographers and publications use to piece together the editorial photo essay both online and in print. One of the key categories is the detail shot or close-up. The principles of the still life clearly apply to the detail shot and can apply to many other kinds of images. Notice the number of detail shots in this audio slideshow The Lourdes of Twang. http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/travel/20080222_MARTIN_FEATURE/index.html Though it may be unethical to arrange a shot into a still life in a news or documentary photo, the photograph still has a great deal of control over composition. What you dont want are static shots of objects that do little more than document there presence. Here are few things to think about when photographing detail shots, some of these principles weve talked about in other context: Time of day can effect lighting. When possible, choose a time carefully. It can also effect the location and surroundings of the object to be photographed.. For example, if you are doing a story on a painter you might want a close-up of his palette. The artist may move the palate during the day to locations that are more (or less) advantageous to the photographer. Or, there might be times when the paint on the palette is more colorful than other times. Pick the moment that best illustrates. Detail shots often do not carry a lot of narrative weight. In other words, they dont relay a lot of literal information about your story, but they can carry a pretty hefty graphic punch depending on shapes and colors. Use these compositional elements creatively to bring something artful to your essay. editorial_S7_images_7 Include a bit of the background can both provide context and make an image more interesting to look at. editorial_S7_images_8 Depth-of-field is always important to control but with detail shots and inanimate objects it becomes an very useful creative tool. editorial_S7_images_9

Symbolism is an especially important part of shooting good details. In addition to their graphic strength the best detail shots work well to illustrate or symbolize what the story is about even if they could not stand alone as an image to tell the story more literally. Look at how beautifully the detail shots in the slideshow below illustrate the loneliness, slow physical deterioration, passages of time and memories of the main character as he talks about his understanding of death. Waiting for Death (LA Times) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/ed_shneidmanff_ss,0,3414993.htmlstory

SIGNAGE AND STOREFRONTS Related to shooting the detail shot is shooting signage or storefronts. In a funny sort of way it doesnt matter if the object is no larger than a flowerpot or as big as a building. Many of the fundamentals of good composition related to inanimate objects is the same -- thinking about the object as a graphic, with an eye toward light and color. editorial_S7_images_10 editorial_S7_images_11 editorial_S7_images_12 As a news photographer I frequently had to shoot storefronts on tight deadlines. It might be a business story about a new and successful business or one that was failing. Early each December I was asked to photograph the exteriors of flagship stores of large retail outlets in Times Square just before the holiday season. Publications were sure to want the images to accompany financial stories about holiday sales. The challenges was to find ways to photograph the building that were not static like a snapshot or like bad architectural photo. editorial_S7_images_13 editorial_S7_images_14 editorial_S7_images_15 In a photo essay there is often a need for this kind of photo. It might be a establishing shot. It might be signage important to your story or simple funny to read. They are very hard to do creatively. Here are a few tips: Lighting - Its always about lighting. I would intentionally shoot these assignments at dusk (when possible) to take advantage of the setting sun and the warm glow of the interior lights. Context - I would try and provide a bit of the surround street to offer a bit of context and make the shot graphically a bit more interesting People - To make the images more interesting I liked to include people in the image. Id often choose a shutter speed that made the person blurry to give the image a sense of movement. Angle of View (text) - Often ttext is important in a photo of signage. If possible choose an angle that make the text easier to read, keeping in mind that people (in the West) read left to right.

STROBE (FLASH) There are few things more vexing about camera technology to beginning photographers than the flash. Even veterans avoid flash except as a last resort. There are also those photographers who opt never to use flash because they think it in authentic or believe that it can only overwhelm the

mood of the ambient light (I suspect many of these photographers just dont know how to use a flash). A camera is a very limited light-gathering device compared to the human eye. Even at higher ISOs, especially if there is movement, it can be hard to get a solid exposure without a flash even if there is sufficient light for your naked eye. Images can appear blown out and white where the burst is strongest and then quickly fall off to appear darker than the loction actually is. Or, there are looming shadows, unwanted reflections and distracting glare. Yet another problem: red eye, which is caused by the light reflecting of the back of the eye through the subjects dilated pupil. Here is the good news: Flash technology has improved dramatically in the last five years. Newer flash units sync electronically with cameras for more accurate exposure. They also allow you to reduce output to a sliver of full power, often just enough to get a solid exposure without overwhelming the tone of the ambient light. Flashes can also be bounced to soften the fall of the light, set remotely from an off-camera position and placed in shoe-mount softboxes. The biggest challenge to good flash photography today is the photographer. The essential elements of better flash are these: reduce flash output to maximize ambient light and control the fall or spread of the light from the flash. Below are few things to know about flash and tips for using flash successfully. In the end, there is no substitute for practice and knowing how best to use your individual unit. NOTE: I suggest you read the manual (yes, thats right READ THE MANUAL) to figure out how your individual flash works. THE MECHANICS OF A FLASH Flash Modes - Most newer shoe-mount flashes (flash heads that fit onto the your camera) have several different modes or setting that define how the flash decides output. Below are the basic three. Some cameras will have more modes or variations on what appears here. o TTL - TTL stands for through the lens. In TTL mode the flash is talking to the camera and using the exposure information collected by the camera to set the flash output. Arguably the most sophisticated way to meter flash output. It requires that the flash and and camera be dedicatedIt made by the same manufacturer (or a after market manufacturer for that brand) so they can talk to each other. In TTL the Flash will compensate for how you have the ISO, shutter and aperture set up on your camera. Good for fast-moving situations, especially when used with flash exposure compensation (discussed below) o Auto - In Auto the flash is metering the exposure itself independent of the camera. The photographer inputs information like ISO and distance to subject and the flash sets the output. Good if you are not using a flash that is dedicated to the camera or older equipment o Manual - In manual you are selecting the output. If the camera is in manual mode, you will be shown output as a fraction of a whole, ranging from 1/1 to 1/128th power. I use manual most often -- unless the subject is moving in a way that is dramatically changing the distance. In that case I use TTL. Flash Exposure Compensation - Most flash units allow you control the output to some degree even in TTL and auto modes. This is called flash exposure compensation. The universal symbol for this feature is : By using the slider you can increase or decrease (the latter being far more common) flash output by up to three stops. editorial_S7_images_16 The built-in flash - Most built-in flash units are problematic because you can not bounce the light, they cannot be set to manual and because they are so close to the lens red eye is frequent issue. They are also only good for up to about 9 feet and have a very narrow

throw (angle of light fall). However, they can sometime be good for fill light (discussed below) and most cameras will allow you to reduce output of the built-in flash with flash exposure compensation. On the rare occasions I use a built-in flash I almost always reduce the output by two or three f/stops. Rotating Flash Head - Full-size, shoe-mounted flash units have heads that both tilt and rotate. This allows the photographer a great deal of control over the fall of light. More on this below. Other Flash settings - Below are some additional flash features and setting that it are helpful to understand o Rear curtain sync - one of the most pleasing flash effects can be light trials. Well talk about this more in class 9, but the effect is created by using a flash in combination with a slow shutter speed. Here is an example of French fans celebrating a goal during the 2006 World Cup. editorial_S7_images_17 If the subject is moving from right to frame left (or the other way around), you likely want the light trails behind the subject. To do this you need to set the camera so the flash fires at the end of the exposure cycle rather than the beginning. This is called rear curtain sync and most flash units have a rear curtain sync setting. o focus light - many flash units have a built-in focus light that shoots an infrared pattern onto a subject to allow the flash to gauge the distance to the subject. This can also help the camera to focus in low light situations than can cause a camera to hunt -- rack in and out without being able to find a focal point. o wide-angle screen/built-in bounce cards. Many flash units have a built-in bounce card, which is a small piece of white plastic that can help control the throw of light. They also have a built-in wide angle adapter that works to give the light from the flash a wider through when using wide-angle lenses. editorial_S7_images_18

BASIC FLASH TECHNIQUES Manual - As mentioned above I almost always set the flash to manual. I typically use it at anywhere from to 1/34 it output -- just enough to get the exposure I need and no more. The exception is in a fast-moving news situation where I do not have the time monitor the flash and do not care so much about artful lighting. Bounce - I always bounce the flash. By this I mean I tilt the flash head at an angle so it is not pointing directly at my subject. Ideally I am in a place with a ceiling off of which the light will bounce. Light behaves much like water and by bouncing the flash I get a much softer, wider throw of light with a much more natural effect and fewer stark shadows. In some cases I will also use a bound card. NOTE: You need to experiment. The angle of the flash head, objects in the lights path and even color of the surface you are bouncing off of can all lead to weird shadows and color cast in your shots. Well revisit this in week 9. editorial_S7_images_19 Open the Aperture - One of the key elements of using flash well is balancing it with the ambient light. Assuming you are in a low light situation or you would not need the flash, be sure the aperture is open and the shutter is as slow as you can make it to let in the most amount of ambient. In the example below on the left the flash is pointed directly at the subject and set to auto with an aperture of F/22. In the image on the right, the flash output is reduced, bounced and the aperture is set to F/5.6. editorial_S7_images_20 editorial_S7_images_21 Diffusers - There is a huge variety of diffusers, domes and even small softboxes for flashes to further soften flash output. Most are odd looking and not very effective. Here is what turned up with a quick Google search:

http://www.google.com/search?q=photo+flash+diffuser&hl=en&client=firefoxa&hs=p84&rls=org.mozilla:enUS:official&prmd=ivns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&ei=bipNToy0Jcrs0gHu7KDrBg&sa=X&oi =mode_link&ct=mode&cd=2&ved=0CDoQ_AUoAQ&biw=1744&bih=1174 However, I often use the simple diffuser dome that came with my flash unit. After-market manufactures make diffusers like this one for almost every flash unit. editorial_S7_images_22 Fill flash - In the image below, taken in an asylum for the mentally ill in the Republic of Georgia, I used a flash to balance the light of the woman standing in a hallway with the light of the other figures in a large room with a window. At a very low level of output flash can very helpful in dealing with bright, contrasty light. This is called fill flash. editorial_S7_images_23 Slow shutter speeds - Another benefit of using flash is that the burst of light from the flash has the effect of freezing motion. The image of the French World Cup fans was shot at 1/8th of second. I suspect that had I used a flash at 1/30th of second the woman would have been almost perfectly frozen despite her jumping around. Without a flash she would have been blurry at anything less than 1/125th sec. Color temperature - The light from a flash is balanced roughly to daylight (5500k). You need to keep that mind when lighting scenes with different color temperatures or different lighting all together -- red stage light for example. Some photographers carry gels that fit over the flash head to adjust it to the color temperature of the ambient light. In my experience more often the native color temperature of the flash can help balance weird or mixed lighting conditions.

MIDTERM PHOTO ESSAY You should all be rounding out your essays for next week.

Demonstration
Harvey Stein Part I http://www.screencast.com/t/MmQ4NzcyYzIt Harvey Stein Part II http://www.screencast.com/t/MjE2MDEyNTA

Discussion Resources
Here are some tips on using flash from National Georgraphic: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-tips/flash-photo-tips/ Several of the examples in this section that are not my own work are by Irving Penn. Here is a link to more of his amazing legacy of work http://www.pacemacgill.com/irvingpenn.html http://www.npg.org.uk:8080/irvingpenn/list7.htm

Assignment
Readings for next week Barret do in two weeks): Kobre - Chapter 15: Ethics, P. 352

Barrett: Chapter Seven: Photo Theory: Is it art? Is it true? Is it moral? P. 153

Shooting assignment Continued work on the midterm photo essay