Thursday, October 23, 2008

Family Events (updated)

Sitting Down

Note: I had clicked the "Publish Post" button a couple of times instead of the "Save Post" button. Just in case you saw the post before I had finished writing it.

I was under the weather last weekend and didn't get out of the house for any photography outings. However, my son did have a couple of things early in the week where I managed to capture a few photographs.

First was his Cub Scout meeting. His den has been learning how to handle, raise, lower and fold the American Flag. This week they walked to Connor's elementary school which is just a block away from where the den meets and practiced raising the flag and lowering the flag on the school's flag pole. Since I take my camera most places I go, I decided to practice some nighttime flash photography. There was really only one shot from that evening that I liked, and it could be better. However, it does capture the moment of these boys learning something that many of us take for granted because other people do it for us. Here is the shot:

Folding the Flag

More after the jump.

For this photograph, I did several things that are kind of different from what most people would do. First, I held my flash unit off to the side with my left hand. I tried to hold it a bit above the boys' heads, but not pointed directly at them. Basically, I was trying to "feather" the light so that they wouldn't be too over exposed compared to the background. I used my Stofen diffuser on the flash to try to soften it as much as possible, and I triggered it with the camera's built-in flash set to "Commander mode". The built-in flash was only providing the light signals to the external flash. It didn't supply enough light to add to the exposure.

The trick in this kind of setting is having a slow enough shutter speed to get the background light to expose so that the subjects aren't in a sea of black while keeping the shutter speed fast enough so the subjects won't be blurred. The flash will freeze the subjects, but there could still be some motion blur due to the background, street lights. I also used the wide angle lens for these shots so that I would have a smaller focal length to minimize camera shake blurring. The longer the focal length of the lens, the more magnified camera shake becomes. Thus, for this shot I used a combination of several things: ISO 800 to increase the camera's sensitivity in order to allow the exterior lights to expose the background while keeping reasonable shutter speeds, external off-camera flash held at arms length to the left and above the camera, slow (1/20 second) shutter speed for background exposure, slow synch/rear curtain flash to aid the background exposure, and a wide angle lens i.e. a very short focal length of 17mm to minimize camera shake as I was holding the camera with one hand and the flash with the other. The wide angle lens is also why the vertical lines are going all over the place. If you look closely, the verticals in the wall behind the den leader are vertical. However, if you look at the flag pole it is tilted at an angle. This is due to perspective distortion of pointing the camera down with a wide angle lens. Actually, I suppose that it will happen with most lenses. The wider angle focal lengths just magnify the effect more.

Looking at the photograph and thinking about it, I could have done some things better. I could have use an umbrella or a soft-box on a light stand. This would have softened the flash better and given better light coverage. However, I don't have stands, umbrellas or soft-boxes yet. Plus, I'm not sure if I could have used them very well here as I was constantly moving around to get different angles as the boys' practiced with the flag.

I could have also used some colored gel filters on the flash and set my camera's white balance for the exterior lighting. Again, I don't have any gel filters yet so I had to make due with what I had without them. The reason the gel filters and white balancing would be important here is because of the color cast you see from the exterior lights. If you look back at the photograph, notice how the background is sort of an orange to reddish color but the boys' and the flag seem to be "normal" colored. That is because the flash and exterior lights are not the same "color balance" and since the camera was set to "see" the flash's light as being white the camera "saw" the exterior lights as a different color.

Our eyes can compensate for these sorts of color difference remarkably well. Cameras, however, record the actual colors of the lights and unfortunately all types of lights emit different colors of the spectrum to a greater or lesser degree. When photographers talk about white balance, what they are discussing is the variation of the color of the light from a "white" light, i.e. a colorless light. The process of color balancing lights is to determine what you have in the environment, what light is going to be dominate and filtering the other lights to get them into the same color range so you don't end up with odd color casts in different parts of the photograph. This is something that all photographers and videographers deal with to great or lesser degrees. It can be as simple as putting a colored gel filter over your only flash, or as complex as geling windows and multiple light types for a movie set. Color balancing is one of the reasons professional photographers charge what they do. It is part of the technical knowledge they have learned and can apply to situations that an untrained photographer wouldn't consider. In other words, it is why Joe McNally shoots for National Geographic and I shoot for myself and this blog. ;)

Anyway, I suppose that is enough about that photograph. Connor is also in his school's Fitness Club. Earlier this week there was a Red Ribbon Fun Run that several of the area elementary schools participated in. The Red Ribbon events are part of the local police and sheriff's departments' anti-drug and alcohol awareness programs. This event was sponsored by the local YMCA chapter and was held at the track facility of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind here in Spartanburg.

The kids were divided into groups based on grade levels as well as boys and girls. Connor's group ran a 400m which was one lap around the track, a 100 yard/meter dash, and a long jump. All of the kids got red ribbons for participating in the event. There were no awards for the winners of the events since it was a "Fun Run" and a track meet.

The event was scheduled for after school. So, I was shooting with contrasty mid-afternoon sunlight. To compound this, I was normally on the shadow side of the kids due to the arrangement of the track and the events. In the end, Connor had fun and I got some nice memento photographs. My favorite of them is the lead photograph at the top of this post. Here are a couple more of them:

Connor Finishing the 400m

Special Athlete

This runner was one of the students at the SC School for the Deaf and Blind. He was being cheered for as he crossed the finish line for the 400m.

3rd Grade Girls' 100 yd/m Dash
This shot was when the 3rd grade girls were running the first of their 100 yd/m dashes. They were on the other side of the field from me so I had to use my telephoto zoom lens.

There are a few more shots from the Fun Run over on the Zenfolio site.

Thank you for reading all of the way down to here.

Keep shooting.

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