Monday, March 18, 2013

US Flag; an idea, a photograph Project, and lessons learned.

I can't say for sure when I got the idea, it was certainly within the last 6 months, and I don't know what triggered the idea, it just seemed to be in my mind at some point.  I thought I'd like to make some images of the American Flag.  Not the iconic images of it waving majestically in the breeze or the illuminating back lit type.  But detailed shots, with a wide open aperture, and lighting that created interest shapes within the image.  Of course B&W with duotone.

That was my idea.

As with so many of my ideas it immediately gets placed in my "Photograph Ideas" file in my iPhone and onto a 3x5 notecard to pin to a pegboard next to the computer.

Next I needed to find a flag.  As I wanted this to be about textures I wanted a flag that would provide textures of it's own before the light and shadows were added.  My nylon flag would not do.  My wife's flag, given to her family after her fathers passing, is cotton with a tight weave but just too big.  I didn't want to buy a new flag just for this purpose.  I was eventually able to borrow one from a friend.

The set up.
Here's how I envisioned it;
The flag would lay horizontal on a table, with some padding underneath.  My light source would be an off camera flash shooting into a flash umbrella on a stand so I could move the light around for creative lighting.  The flash would be helpful for not only forming shadows but allow me to shoot in the range of 1/250.  For shallow depth of field I would use a 50mm f/1.7 lens wide open, and a variety of extension tubes depending on how much DOF I wanted to create for each shot.  With the setup in place I would move freely around the table shooting in all directions and distances in a similar fashion that I've used successfully when photographing flowers.

Here's how it went down;
The first problem was the 50mm lens was to tight, I needed a wider lens.  Off went the 50mm and on goes the 24mm f/2 attached to the 36mm extension tube.  Way to tight, the lighting was not quite right either but I needed to get the lens combo right first.  Switch the 36mm extension tube down to a 20mm.  A series of test shots, bad lighting and still too tight.  Switch the 20mm down to the 12mm.  More test shots, still too tight and bad lighting.  Take off the extension tube and mount the 24mm lens to the camera.  A few test shots and the field of view is good.  Now to the lighting.  Shot at f2, 1/250, 200 ISO the image was too dark.  Adjust one stop of speed 1/200 and everything but the dark blue was blown out.  A few more camera adjustments and I realize I'm running into another issue.  The LCD screen was making exposure adjustments.  This is a Live View LCD and I was shooting in Manual Mode, I should be in control of all exposure adjustments.  I spent some time going through the camera menu to try to find  a way to stop this, with no luck, a quick check of the manual, no luck.  And EA (exposure lock) won't work in Manual bizarre.
Back to a few test shots and the batteries in my flash are dying.  Since I haven't used the flash in some time I hadn't purchased extra AA batteries in some time either.  It was at this time that I thought about adjusting the output of the flash.

Fortunately there was some wonderful natural lighting coming through a window, I just had to avoid blocking the light as I moved around.  Additionally I had to adjust the speed closer to 1/60 and shot  between 200 and 400 ISO, to even get a workable dark image.

Ultimately I shot around 350 images and was able to narrow that down very quickly in Lightroom to about 100.  Because the images were generally dark I had to pull up the exposure for each image.  That is were I found out how bad noise can really be.  Don't get me wrong, I've dealt with plenty of noise before, especially shooting theater performances, but these images were up close with plenty of detail...and noise.  I spent some time trying to figure out how to fix the noise problems in LR, with little to moderate success.

Included with this post are a few of the images I can live with.  I do like the concept and will probably come back to this and try it again.  I've already bought a new pack of AA batteries.

Lessons learned, what I don't know;
Off camera flash lighting
Why the LCD has a mind of it's own
What make a good open aperture image
How to successfully adjust noise


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