Sunday, August 14, 2016

Water Drops

I like doing water drop photos for four reasons: 1) it looks deceptively simple, 2) the challenge in capturing the moment of impact, 3) the surprising images you can capture, and 4) the fact there is no right way to do it.  For my most recent attempt at water drop photography, I light the drop from below, so the light would come up through the water.  This is different compared to other water drop photos where they light from the side or from above.  I feel lighting the drops from below give them more of a liquid glass appearance and an inner glow.

Surprisingly, the set up for these photos was relatively simple.  I used the following items:
  •         large edged baking sheet (to catch any overflow),
  •         a bowl (to protect the flash equipment),
  •         a flash with radio trigger,
  •         an upside down aquarium (water drop platform),
  •         backdrop stand (to hang water bag from),
  •         Ziploc sandwich bag,
  •     paper towels,
  •         tape (to attach the bag to the stand),
  •         food coloring,
  •     tinfoil backdrop (reflects light),
  •         a pin (to puncture the water bag), 
  •         tripod,
  •         camera with a 60mm macro lens,
  •         remote trigger, and
  •         water.   

I placed the flash equipment inside a bowl on the baking sheet, and covered it with an upside down aquarium.  I then dropped water onto the what was the bottom of the aquarium as the flash lit the surface from below (see photo of set up).  

Set up
Set up

To make this work I used radio-triggered flashes, in high-speed sync mode, so I could go over the native flash speed sync of 1/250s.  For most of these photos, I was using a shutter speed between at 1/800s and 1/1200s with an aperture of F8 to F16 at ISO 400 with a flash power of 1/32 to 1/64. I found if I went to high in the flash power it would blow out areas of the water drop.  I used the smaller aperture to increase my depth of field, so more of the image would be in focus and allow for variation of drop placement.  I pre-focused the camera using a pinhead, and then locked the focus so it would be consist throughout the photos, since it is difficult to focus on a falling water drop.  I had my camera set to high-speed mode and used a remote trigger. I used high-speed so I could get the maximum frame rate, thus increasing my chances of capturing the drop.  However, this technique also increased my number of blank photos.  Now I did this twice, the first time I took around 512 photos and kept 44, which is an 8-percent success rate, and the second time I took 623 photos and kept 30, which is about a 5-percent success rate.  It should be noted while I kept 44 photos from the first session, I think about 10 are presentable, because I did not uses a remote trigger and you can see camera shake and the glass was not clean so there were speckles in the photos.  Thus, the success rate of the firs try is closer to 2-percent.

As you can see in the examples of the first attempt, the water drops are not perfectly crisp and there are some dust specks on the water surface.  

ISO 800, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s
ISO 800, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s
ISO 400, Aperture F8, Shutter Speed 1/320s

For the second attempt, I did several photos with just the flash lighting from below, but added a diffuser to the flash to reduce blown out areas in the water drop.  I also decided to add a second hand held flash with a radio trigger to light the drops from the side; however, this removed the nice dark surface I was getting and exposed the flash underneath the drop.  

ISO 400, Aperture F16, Shutter Speed 1/1250s
ISO 400, Aperture F16, Shutter Speed 1/1250s
ISO 400, Aperture F9, Shutter Speed 1/1000s, also side lit
ISO 400, Aperture F9, Shutter Speed 1/1000s, also side lit
Overall, I like how the lighting worked, but am happier with the second set of images as compared to the first.  You can see all my variation on the water drop photo here. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cosplay at the Kennedy Center

Last week I went to the DC Cosplay Photoshoots meetup at the Kennedy Center.  There was no theme for this meetup, so cosplayers could dress as whatever character they wished, which is, both a good and bad thing for photographers. It is good because provides diverse characters, however it is bad because makes it harder to plan for since the characters could widely vary across genres thus affecting photographic style.  Thus, a general meet up is  slightly harder to prepare for, compared to a themed shoot where you know the types of  characters and the tone the shoot.  However, the general meet-up is good practice for a convention where you must be able to switch gears quickly to accommodate your shoot schedule, and be able to shoot on the fly to capture hall shots and do mini shoots.

Cosplay: Fox McCloud
Cosplayer: Dragon the Keyblade Maker
There were several great cosplays at the general meetup, so I’m not going to discuss them all.  I will discuss my approach, gear used, general settings, and one modified photo.  This shoot was at the Kennedy Center was similar to shooting at a convention site just not as crowded.  Since we had two hours, and I wanted to work with as many cosplayers as possible I limited my to no more than 15 minutes with each cosplayer.  When doing a general shoot the first thing I’ll do is ask the cosplayer I’m working with about their character, especially if I don’t know it. I’ll also ask about the character's personality, and if there is anything special about the character such as poses, moves, magic, powers, etc.  Asking about the personality is important because I don’t want to do happy cheery pictures if the character is sad and morose. I will also ask them if they have any objections with going outside, I was asking this because it was in the upper 90s that  day and some people and outfits just aren’t built for the heat.

Cosplay based off of "Once Upon a Time"
Cosplayer: Jennifer Glinzak
For this shoot I used my standard Canon 70D, with the 18-200mm lens, yongnuo radio triggers, 430 EXII flash, light stand, and shoot through umbrella. I kept my ISO at 100, and my aperture varied between F5 and F8, with a shutter speed between 1/13s to 1/640s to accommodate going outside to inside and vice verse.  My flash power varied from 1/1 to ⅛  power depending on whether I was inside or outside.  I edited all photos in Lightroom and did a few special effects in Photoshop. I double process in Lightroom, meaning I do base edits to every photo then go back and do special edits to my top photos from the shoot.  When editing in Lightroom i have begun using the side-by-side before/after comparison view more to see how the adjustments affect the photos. During the base edits,  I adjust the white balance slightly, up the clarity and saturation, increase the contrast, improve sharpness, increase the luminance, and finally get rid of any lens aberration.  I will then go through all the base edited photos, and select my favorite or top photos and adjust to make the subject pop and try to capture a mood in the photo to match the character being portrayed.  In some cases I will then run the photos through Photoshop to get rid of distracting elements or to add special effects.  

Cosplay: Scarlet Witch
Cosplayer: Julie Milillo
I had the pleasure of working with a cosplayer, cosplaying the Scarlet Witch from the Avengers. She cosplay matched up well to what was shown in the movie. I placed her in one of the long hallways with the big window wall behind her. The window wall while letting in significant light did not light the hallway completely and basically back light my model.  To light my model up and separate her from my background, I placed the flash on light stand with an umbrella about 45 degrees from my models center. I was directly in front of my model and kneeling, thus looking up slightly but still looking down the long hallway behind her to give the photo depth.  However, the photo was not finished, it needed to be post processed with effects to truly capture the essence of the Scarlet Witch. The Scarlet Witch has powers and they are represented by red smoke effect in the movie, thus I had to create the same effect in my photo. To do the effect I looked at screenshots from the movie to best determine how to make the effect.  I decided it was best to use an fractal light picture from DIY photography’s fractals package. To make the affect I changed the color of the light picture I was going to use from blue to red then layered it over my photo of the Scarlet Witch.  I changed the blend mode of the light picture from standard to brighten, which allows only the brightest parts of the photo show up.  I then adjusted the size and warped the light image slightly to match the size of the cosplayer’s hand.  I then repeated the process for the cosplayer’s other hand.  Once I had the effect how I wanted it, I flattened and finalized the image.  Resulting in the image to the left.  I only added effects to the photos of the Scarlet Witch because doing effects are time consuming. It took me about an hour to do the first photo, because it is mostly trial and error sometimes to get the effect to look right.  But once the effect is finalized it can be used over and over again, thus processing time for other photos with that effect go down. Overall, I’m happy with how the final photo turned.   

You can see all the photos from the meetup here. The next meetup I will be writing about will be an anime themed, which should be fun.

Headshots and Tulips

Since all of Ohio is on a stay at home order currently,   I thought I would update my headshot and take some photos of the potted tulips m...