Catseye Beach, Hamilton Island - shot on the 'Away - The Art of Photography' workshop last year.
David Oliver and I are good friends, so please don't tell him I said this: There's so much more fun with portraiture when you shoot with flash!
Okay, okay, so I'm not one hundred percent believing this statement. And like most things photographic, there's a time and a place for everything. And to be fair, David spent 10 years in a studio shooting with flash, so he is entitled to have his opinion. But look at the photograph above. If I had used available light for this, I'd be struggling!
No matter how good you are at post-production, reproducing this look and feel is either impossible or it would take you way too long. It's the type of photograph which is best created in camera with flash.
The technique is relatively simple these days and you can do it with an on-camera flash or a studio flash unit. The advantage of the studio flash unit (or an on-camera flash used off-camera) is that the angle of the light can suit your subject, rather than blasting out from the camera. On-camera flash looks so flat and boring for two reasons - it is a small, harsh light source which struggles to look good, and the angle of the flash is frontal, so there is little or no modelling produced. The trick, as all professionals will tell you, is to take the flash off the camera and introduce an angle to the light, thus giving your subject some three-dimensional modelling.
We were using a Profoto B1 unit provided by Bruce Pottinger. However, we only had a standard dish reflector, so my mental note is to ask Bruce to bring along a softbox or a beauty dish to soften the light more.
In terms of exposure, first you want to work out the ambient exposure (for the background). Switch to manual exposure mode. Importantly, your shutter speed needs to be at flash sync or slower (unless you have access to High Speed Sync), so in daylight this often means 1/250 second (or maybe 1/200 or 1/160) at f16 or f22, and ISO 50 or 100. Once the background is looking dark and moody, then you power up the flash and set it to provide the correct exposure for your subject. Often the automatic setting on the flash will do a great job, but setting it manually gives you more control.
Adjust the power output to suit.
While David takes half the group for the boring available light segment on our Hamilton Island workshop, Bruce and I enjoy the action with studio flash and a jumping model. Don't worry, the groups swap over before dark!
What's that in Paul Cincotta's hand? A flash meter! Yes, they still exist and they are still useful! Paul is Hamilton Island's resident wedding photographer and he turns up every year to lend us a hand.
A tired jumper. I love the fact you can just see the model's face through the fabric.
Monk, Paro Dzong, Bhutan
On my second trip to Bhutan, I re-visited many of the locations. I even had expectations for some of them, but in almost all cases, the experience the second time was different. Sometimes it was the time of day and the resultant quality or angle of the light. Sometimes it was the number of people, or indeed the mix of people. And sometimes, no doubt, it was how I was feeling on the day, although I have to say that this trip was every bit as exciting as the first.
This location is in Paro Dzong. A dzong is a fortified monastery built from a dangerous mix of stone, brick and wood. In most of the dzongs today, they have special rooms set aside for burning candles, an important part of their religious life. The rooms are fire proof, fire resistant or simply positioned away from everything else so if there's a problem, the whole dzong doesn't go up in flames. There are a number of burnt dzongs visible even today, and most of the dzongs you visit have been rebuilt, although not necessarily due to fire.
The monk in the photograph is walking towards a flight of stairs that drops down around 20 steps. The background is the facade of a building opposite the stairs. Knowing this may help you make more sense of the perspective, but it may also remove some of the charm and the mystery, I'm not sure.
The last time I was here, bright sunshine flooded this area and there were very few people. This time, it was in the middle of a festival and there were people walking up and down these stairs in droves. I spent around half an hour sitting on my haunches, waiting for an interesting subject without lots of other people complicating the composition.
The photograph is taken with a Nikkor 200mm f2 - yes, an f2.0 lens. Nikon Australia kindly lent me the lens and I can assure you it is incredibly sharp! And it's quite a weight too. Whether I would take the f2.0 again, or just stick with a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom, I'm not so sure. Probably the latter, although I must say it is a beautiful lens to use and the results are stunning.
And the depth-of-field at f2.0 is stunningly shallow - and this certainly helps throw the background building out-of-focus.
The photograph was processed in Capture One and then taken into Photoshop for a little more tonal control. I also extended the space out to the left, to create a different and, I feel, stronger composition.This was achieved by extending the canvas and copying the left third of the photograph (with no monk), and pasting it a couple of times on the left. The clone stamp and healing brush tools were used to cover up my handiwork.
Reflection, Hamersley Gorge, Pilbara
I try not to compliment Christian Fletcher too often. However, when I first went to Karijini, I 'noticed' a book in the Resort's reception that Christian none too subtly slipped under my nose. It was his book, of course, and it's a great book. All shot on film, which means there was a greater degree of difficulty required, and it's still for sale, not because it's a slow seller, rather I think he just printed thousands of them. I haven't looked in his garage lately to see if there are more there...
What I remember from this book are the photographs of reflections taken in the amazing Karijini gorges. While there are many other great locations and subjects in the book (there's heaps of variety up in Karijini), I wondered how he got such vibrant reds and oranges, often contrasted against rich blues and greens. The colour palette was simply exquisite.
I'm not talking about mirror reflections, although there are plenty of these as well, rather splashes and accents of colour within the frame. When we walked down into Weano and Dales gorges that first trip, I still didn't quite see how he had achieved his results, but with a little practice, suddenly I could see reflections everywhere. The rich reds of the Pilbara reflect in water at all times of the day, but you get that great colour contrast by shooting the gorge in shadow when the water is reflecting the sunlit escarpments.
The image above was taken in Hamersley Gorge. Hamersley is a bit of a drive from where we stay at the Karijini Eco Resort, but with weather and road conditions allowing, it's a location we'll visit again this year. I think we'll try to get there even earlier in the afternoon so everyone has time to find lots of reflections.
And I realise I'm not fooling anyone by running a photograph of Karijini given Tony Hewitt and I are taking a group of photographers there this April. We still have plenty of places available, but if you are thinking of it, drop me an email so we can put your name on the list. It helps us plan things, including how many helpers we may need, how many eco-tents and so on. And if you need to fly in from Newman, then booking flights sooner rather than later is a good idea as well.
You can read all about the workshop in a great little publication we've produced - visit the www.betterphotography.com website and go to the Workshops section in the online shop, or you can just click here!
The photograph below is the raw image processed out of Capture One software with very little adjustment. The colour is all there in the original file. The image above has a small number of layer adjusments which could have been happily made in either Capture One or Photoshop.
When travelling these days, I take a Wacom Companion. It's a combination laptop computer, screen, tablet and stylus and it runs everything I need on the road, from internet and emails to Capture One raw processing and Photoshop. It is blindingly quick for my Canon, Nikon and Fujifilm files, and acceptable for my 80-megapixel Phase One files (it does slow down a tad when I am stitching or focus stacking at full resolution).
So I am very interested to hear Wacom has announced an upgraded Cintiq Companion 2 - the extra RAM is likely to solve all my problems!
The most sensible design change from Wacom's point of view is that instead of two types or models of Companion (the one I use is a stand alone computer, but the other model works as a hybrid pointing device for another computer with some limited software of its own), now the one unit serves both purposes. So, Apple users can attach the Companion 2 as a pen and screen pointing system, or turn off their Mac and use the Companion 2 as a Windows computer if they want to.
Of course, unless you're wedded to Apple-only software, there's really no reason to have a separate computer. The Companion 2 does it all as long as you can handle the Windows 8 interface.
The new unit is thinner and more powerful and is expected to be available in five different configurations. Good news for power users is that one of the configurations includes 16 GB DDR memory and the 512 GB solid state drive will keep most mobile workers more than happy. The unit measures 374x248x15 mm, weighs 1.7 kg and is expected to be available in March or April. For more information, visit www.wacom.com/en-au.
I'm trying to expand my reach with the website and all the experts have suggested offering a free email service - which you may already be subscribing to, thanks if you are! However, they suggested I do something more, so I have searched through old issues of Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera magazines and put together 50 photo 'essentials' that are an integral part of my photographic process.
For many readers, some of the articles will be very simple. Others, however, may be of great interest, so if you'd like to sign up (it's completely free), here's how you do it!
If you're not already registered, click on the Join button and fill in the details.
Visit the home page and click on the Login button on the top right.
When the page refreshes, you'll see Your Account Details on the right. Click on 'Edit Your Account Details'.
When your account appears, down the bottom, click the box for the Photo Atelier and press 'Submit' or press Enter. The screen will refresh and tell you that you have successfully subscribed and you'll receive a couple of emails in the next few minutes.
After that, it's one email every week for 50 weeks at roughly the same time! You can unsubscribe at any time, of course, but I hope you enjoy them.
And if you happen to be involved in a camera club or organisation, please feel free to encourage them all to sign up!