Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A day when the most joy came
from a longtime acquaintance

I've always had a sense that there were a lot of photographers out there who never accomplished more with their skills because they couldn't "solve" the labyrinth of artificial light. They resigned themselves to being "available light only" shooters -- or somehow convinced themselves that "resorting" to flash or strobe photography was beneath them.

I wasn't one of those. I would just plain tell anybody who would ask me that I'm simply overwhelmed by the math involved with flash -- the metering (which involves f/stop and shutter and distance); the dialing up or down of a flash's power by various mathematical increments (1/3, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, whatever); the degree of light intensity one flash would emit versus another, and how that relates to the distance the light is to the subject; or the different number of "groups" a wireless flash setup involved to control the main (key), fill, background and accent lighting (actually, that math isn't too bad -- it's just one, two or three ... or A, B and C).

And then there is the "how" of setting up a wireless flash system. You need the equipment -- a pocket wizard, for example -- to direct all the units. Then umbrellas (which come in various sizes) and light stands or other gear associated with lighting above and beyond detachable flash -- such monolights, accent lights, soft boxes, snoots, ring lights. OK, you don't have to have all of them, but your degree of ease and professionalism -- or even savvy -- is directly proportion to the gear you have to work with -- and, most important, the skills you acquire to handle it all.

Well, I decided I wanted to get past that large blockade, and start by taking things one step at a time. On Tuesday of this week, I took a day off from work and bought admission to the Indianapolis stop of the Flash Bus Tour, a daylong seminar on flash photography featuring Joe McNally and Dave "The Strobist" Hobby Flash Bus Tour 2011. Both also keep (McNally and The Strobist) blogs, although Hobby's "The Strobist" blog is by far the better known.

These two guys are among the best-known flash-savvy photographers in the country, for sure -- and perhaps even the globe. McNally has had his worked published in an array of prominent publications (including TIME, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, National Geographic, New York ... the list goes on and one). Hobby was a longtime photographer for the Baltimore Sun before leaving a few years to work freelance. He's since launched a local (Howard County, Md.) photo-news blog, HoCo360, that is in its infancy stage.

I did walk away feeling I was able to sort through a little of the confusion. If I actually owned umbrellas and light stands, for example, I would be far more comfortable today to set them up and use them for a shoot, using my Canon Speedlite 580EXII as a master/commander/key light and my Speedlite 420EX as secondary/fill/slave. If I also had sunlight, I'd have a third light source and could play off that to determine how to use the two flashes ... or even just one of them. Sometimes two, or even one, can be enough.

Saying all that, and feeling like I'd made a decent dent into better comprehending strobe lighting, would you be surprised if I said my happiest moment Tuesday was the walk back to my car from the Indiana Convention Center, when I stopped and grabbed a couple dozen shots of interesting things I was finding among the urban landscape and skyscape?

Well, it's true. With a 39% full moon high in the rich, blue, nearly cloudless, late-afternoon sky, I was juxtaposing it every which way I could maneuver -- between the spires of St. John's Cathedral, off the windows of several glass-facade structures and alongside Regions and Chase bank buildings and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Monument Circle. I also caught some amazing reflections of other things off glass facades and an interesting pattern -- cast by the Chase building -- onto the AT&T building a half-block away.

Yes, despite my ground-gaining on the strobe flash education front, good ol' available light photography of the lines and patterns and reflections Downtown is where I derived my most joy Tuesday. I start (at the top, and immediately below) with two shots of a reflection off the glass facade of the building on the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle. The one above -- where the window divider also reflected a reflection of the moon onto another pane of glass as well as the monument's spillover reflection onto the masonry -- fascinated me the most.

Enjoy the images.

Above: You may have to squint to find it, but that IS the moon between the two spires on St. John's Cathedral.

Above and below: The Hyatt Regency and its Eagle's Nest restaurant. The Hyatt is the building I like to call "the Big Honeycomb."

Above: Benches in the plaza across from the convention center. Even though it has no moon or reflection, this shot actually was high on my list of favorites from the day.

Above: A reflection of a portion of St. John's facade off the convention center windows.

Above: A strobist wannabe, doing a blind capture of his reflection in a storefront window at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Washington Street.

Above: A helicopter and the moon, objects the eye sees as the same size, yet they are some 240,000 miles apart.

Above: The federal building in one reflection ... 

... and the Indiana War Memorial in another. 
Above: The ATT&T building, catching fascinating patterns in reflection from the Chase building (below) a half-block east.
Above: The moon between the flag and Chase Bank.

Above: A very feint moon in the panel to the right of the flag -- reflected, along with Regions Bank, in this facade on the west side of Meridian Street.

Above: One more look at the moon, hovering to the left of the Regions Bank building.


  1. I am so happy you got a great opportunity to learn something new. You got some great pictures of downtown. The moon was absurdly bright during the day today I'm glad you got some pictures of it. You also got some great reflections of some buildings. I'm going to have to use "reflections" as one of my personal assignments very soon. I never noticed the remarkable patterns from the light bouncing around. =-)

  2. To add something I meant to include in the original text, but forgot ...

    As I mentioned above, my big hesitation to delve more into flash has been the math and the logistics. During his presentation Tuesday, Hobby (the Strobist) contended there was no math involved (I disagree, but that's just me). Neither he nor McNally uses a light meter to ascertain settings in any of their shots. Instead, they go by instincts -- and experience -- to pick a series of camera settings to start with, then adjust accordingly (both strongly recommended not turning to higher ISOs as a resource except in extreme desperation (i.e., never), which makes sense when you have flash or strobe lighting, since the idea is that you should always be able to add more lighting or intensity -- if you need it: Why risk tarnishing the image by introducing noise when you don't have to?).

    McNally's portion of the day was a "live demonstration" -- he took pictures of crew and attendees, demonstrating various options and adjustments. His camera was connected to a laptop that was able to immediately display his images onto large screens in the hall for all to see and assess. There were only one or two instances where he nailed the shot in as few as four tries, although I don't think he wanted to do things quickly. His point was to have more tries ... to demonstrate the thought process to solves dilemmas and issues, to improvise, which would entail multiple stabs.

    That's all and good, but I couldn't help but think how a photographer still has to attain some degree of mastery or savvy for those times when you don't have the luxury to do multiples takes or, when your subject doesn't have the time ... or patience ... to wait around. I have to believe those circumstances exist more than just occasionally.

    That's not to take anything away from the seminar. It was very worthwhile, and I'm glad I went.