Dave Johnson's Photography

Photos & Thoughts

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Experimenting with Speedlites

I wouldn’t say I’ve recently become obsessed with speedlites, or strobism, as the cool kids say, but I have been spending quite a bit of time experimenting with different setups. My experiments with flash started when I was preparing myself for the Wedding of The Year, where I knew I would need to be able to control both ambient and flash in order to get balanced exposures that don’t resemble the deer caught between the headlights kind of shot – normally associated with on-camera flash from compact cameras.

I also invested in a couple of books, one from the master of speed lighting, Syl Arena, and the other by an accomplished wedding photographer called Neil van Niekirk. If you are interested in improving your speedlite technique then I would definitely recommend these books. Out of all the information in the book the one piece that has stuck with me and allowed me to get more creative and achieve better results is that ambient light exposure is controlled by shutter speed whilst flash exposure is controlled by aperture. What this basically means is that by choosing a suitable shutter speed for the ambient light conditions you can achieve wonderfully balanced shots that don’t even look like flash has been used!

The other thing that has got me interested in maximising the use of my speedlite is that my pop-up flash on my Canon 7D can act as a wireless master and trigger external flash units. What this means is that I can now set up my speedlite (in slave mode) off-camera and use my camera to trigger the unit – with or without the pop-up flash firing.

I am going to be brave and post a few shots of some of my experiments to show what I have been up to. Some of these include off-camera flash but a couple are also about using flash to fill in harsh shadows or for taking photos against the sun. Finally, With the recent purchase of some coloured gels I can now play around with some funky effects. As I said before, this is all about experimenting but any comments or tips would be greatly appreciated. Dave

The composite image below was taken in the woods earlier today. The shot on the left was with no-flash and due to the sun coming from the right hand side you can see that the light across the image is quite variable. This made it quite tricky to get the correct exposure of Mummy and Mia without the rest of the highlights in the image completely blowing out. By adding some fill-flash it allowed the ambient light to be controlled a lot better resulting in a more balanced shot. The shot with flash was used with the camera in manual but the flash used E-TTL II to determine the flash exposure.

Woods_fill flash

This next composite is with off-camera flash being held behind Ben by my trusty assistant. As I said, this is all experimentation at this point which is why you can see said trusty assistant (and her side kick) in one of the images. It’s pretty obvious where the flash was placed but the idea would be to soften the brightness of this flash to give a nice backlit effect – as can be seen around Ben’s head. The second of the shots Lou held the flash at a 90 degree angle to the children – as can be seen by Mia waving at the flash!!

Off-camera flash

This composite is of M playing in the bath. The speedlite was gelled and placed off-camera with the Canon 7D pop-up flash firing and also triggering the speedlite. I was using my wide angle lens for these shots and Unfortunately, as can be seen in the image on the bottom, there is quite a considerable vignette being caused by the pop-up flash. In an ideal world a second speedlite would be used, again either on or off-camera which would eliminate this problem.

Coloured gels_bathtime

Final composite is again of M in the bath with the external flash being gelled red. What I am trying to achieve with the gelled shots is to get the subject (i.e. M) exposed correctly but without the colour cast from the gel. The gel is to provide some background interest to an otherwise bland white bathroom. In the final shot the speedlite was placed in the bedroom, triggered by the pop-up flash of the Canon 7D.

Coloured gels_fun



An afternoon trip to Ness Botanical Gardens

This afternoon me and the family took a trip to Ness Gardens. The website describes much better than I could so why bother trying when I can easily cut and paste the text from their website!

Set on the Wirral Peninsula, Ness offers the enthusiast many horticultural delights including a replica of an imaginative show garden designed by Chris Beardshaw which won prestigious awards at Tatton; extensive, beautiful herbaceous borders always with something to offer the eye; a Victorian style Potager with many fruit trees and vegetables and Alpine House; a waterfall and water gardens; the largest UK collection of sorbus and most of the 49 known species of birch; plus seasonal surprises such as a splendid laburnum arch, and magnificent collections of magnolias, camellias, and rhododendrons.

The gardens were designed by Arthur Bulley, a local cotton merchant in Liverpool, and When he died in 1948 he left the gardens to the University of Liverpool with an endowment of £75,000 to ensure that they remained as a botanic garden which would serve as a reminder to their creator. On the day we visited the entrance to the gardens was free for everyone as part of the heritage celebration, however, normally University of Liverpool staff and their immediate family can gain free entry on any day. Good for us since Lou works at the University!

If you are into plants and wildlife then I would definitely urge you to take a trip to the gardens and then to enjoy afternoon tea in Rose’s tearoom! On this particular visit there were lots of dragonflies buzzing around, some the apparent size of a small bird! The one photographed below was clinging to a rock a few inches above the water of a large pond. I was quite amazed I managed to get a good shot as I the only lens I had with me was a 28mm prime which meant I had to crouch down and get real close to fill the frame. Surprisingly it didn’t seem too bothered by this and stayed around long enough for me to get ‘the shot’!

The version uploaded here is a low(ish) resolution version but go to my flickr site which has the original uploaded. The detail in the fly, in particular its eyes, is amazing. http://www.flickr.com/photos/djjohnson/sets/72157631355412954/

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A Day at the Races

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going to York races with my best friend to celebrate his upcoming marriage to the wonderful Miss Frank. Now it is not normal that a camera attends stag parties due to the potential for life changing, marriage wrecking incriminating evidence that might be captured by that little CMOS sensor! However, fortunately I decided to leave my camera at home once the races had finished so there was no chance of this catastrophic event happening 😉

The Saturday races are one of the biggest in the calendar for York racecourse with the big race, both in prize money and runners, being the 4.15pm Ebor. With it being a stag party we decided to all put a £5 in to the pot and to let the Stag choose a horse. To cut a long story short if it had come in we would have had a tidy £1.2K to share between 15 of us, however, it didn’t win and we walked away empty handed! In fact the result on this race pretty much summed up how my day at the races went from a gambling point of view – lots of bets+duff horses = no wins! Always next year…

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been using Snapseed for editing some of my photos. The picture above was edited using this software but the same effect could easily be achieved using other photo-processing software. Basically, the colour was washed out, a blue tint and quite a strong vignette added. For an extra effect I tweaked the highlights and brightness of his eyes to make them stand out more. I like the end result giving an edgy, cool but hard look to the man – kinda like the man who would come round and collect the money, if you know what I mean!!

When major fail, if you can call it that, was when I left my camera in the trust hands of one of my friends whilst I went to spend a penny! When reviewing the images at the end of the day there appeared to be quite a few of the ladies who were sat in front of us for most of the day. In fact, there were so many photos taken in such a short space of time (my fault for leaving the camera on high-speed shutter) that I could have stitched them together to make a little gif of the girl in purple walking from right to left, but I can’t be bothered…

Have a look at the rest of the set on flickr