Monday, February 6, 2012

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight

Creating photographs in winter brings its own set of challenges. Its a good thing photographers are capable problem solvers or this season could easily get the best of you.

The first obstacle, the most common one, can be overcome with desire and proper clothing. Let's face it, when its really biting cold it takes a compelling reason to get out and shoot. I see this more than anything else in winter months with shooters. They resist pulling the camera out of the bag and shooting. Its easy to stay bundled up and warm. Yet, the moment you activate your imagination and start creating, you overcome the chill and walk away with images only a handful of people are willing to capture.

The second winter hurdle?  Light.

All photographers understand that light is everything. A bright, sunny winter day can be a tough working situation with contrast and exposure. Yet, capturing good winter light can really make a photograph electric and lively. And, the quality of light in the high arctic, with its pink hues and soft texture is some of the most gorgeous light found anywhere on the planet. Seeing deep blues against a snowy scene is a marriage akin to peanut butter & jelly. It just works.

And technology has made some fancy advances to making our lives pleasant and more productive. Personally, I think the greatest innovation in the digtial age are those wonderful "blinkies" that instantly provide information about overexposed areas. I never use a histogram, but adore that flashing black light indicating I've lost data in the bright areas. What a great tool.

The flip side to sunny conditions is that limp light, dark and heavy that provides no contrast, miniscule inspiration, and its own nasty method of defiance. This really pushed the best shooters to a mode of creative options that while limited, can be very rewarding. The best way to think of this is bad light can be good light...........for some visual techniques.

I like implementing two techniques as soon as I see light go limp. That dark overcast light is actually quite good to use with panning for motion and also close-ups. The light is even, though dark, and along with a good exposure subjects come to life.

Panning is one of my favorite types of images to create. They are a nice break to the frozen still shot and offer the viewer a new way of seeing a moment in time. And, don't be afraid to break out that flash and use it with your long panning expsoures. This technique, which we used to define as "flash & slash" is a great way to add motion and sharp focus in a photograph.

Last week while dogsledding in Northern Minnesota, the weather pattern could be ID'd in the dictionary under the word GLOOMY. Holy darkness Batman, it was dark all day and did not fluctuate one f/stop the entire day until darkness set in. We missed shots like fresh wolf prints in the new snow because of the flat light to name one. But, when we broke out the Nikon SB 900's and kicked in Rear-Curtain Sync, we started having fun.

There is a secret to using the flash & slash technique that will dramatically improve your adventure
photography. This same skill set is popular in outdoor portraits as well so the technique has numerous valuable contributions to your personalized vision. Using dark conditions with digital is not something you should shy away from or put your camera away for the day. Use the darkness to experiment with new and exciting ways of shooting.

In the photo below, the light was already too dark capture action, even at very high ISO's. So, I put on the Nikon SB 900 Speedlight on my D3 and took a normal ambient exposure. My fastest reading was 1/6th of a second. Way too slow to stop action. But, I knew if I set my camera on Rear Curtain Sync (your camera by default is set to Front Curtain Sync) and flashed the dogs, I get get some movement and also some sharpness. The perfect combo in this conditions.

                                  CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE

The key here is the ambient exposure.

Here's another photo taken just moments later using a faster shutter speed with the Rear Curtain Sync still set. You can see the difference. The ambient light has gone dark, like those terrible christmas party photos you've seen thousands of times. The subjects are brightly lite by the flash and the light fall off is extreme and your subject swims in a sea of blackness.

This is the reason for using the REAR CURTAIN SYNC. The flash fires at the end of the exposure as opposed to the beginning of the exposure. This technique "pops" the flash at the end freezing the action giving you a sharp split-second at the end of a long exposure. If you were set for front-curtain sync, the flash fires at the beginning and the remaining exposures washes over flash creating a blurring result.

In this photo, as dogs are returned to the dog yard after a day of running lakes and forests, the light has usually gone. But, its important to see the dog yard. A automatic photograph flashed with blackness wrapping the scene gives your audience little or no information about what's happening. They want to see what's going on. The dogs are so strong that its easier to lift their front feet off the ground to get them safely to their doghouse. Its part of the story and capturing it is integral to understanding the dynamics of the dog yard. This technique allows you to do that!

So, on the next nasty, dark day go out and give it a go. Practice with moving subjects, and your camera set at rear-curtain sync.

In this photo, a straight pan with no flash is another effective way to capture action with movement.
Just keep that thought in the back of your head when shooting in poor light;

Bad light is good light!

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