Monday, April 23, 2007

Anatomy of a Photo: Fuchsia

[Over the weekend I noticed my hits increased a lot as a result of this post on Strobist... if you count going from two random hits a day to six random hits a day a lot. Apparently just mentioning Strobist gets me traffic, so Strobist, Strobist, Strobist! Look at me, Mr. Hobby, I'm pilfering your traffic! Strobist! Strobist!

In all seriousness, a little birdie (named Google Analytics) told me that my first Anatomy of a Photo was the most popular page, so I hurried and got this one up. Of course, my kind of hurry involves watching three Sopranos episodes last night instead of working on it. Needless to say, I'll try to keep them coming if people like them.]

Two years ago my parents gave us a fuchsia plant on their yearly visit to the left coast. We promptly killed it... almost. Once we realized it preferred shade and moved it out front, it recovered pretty well. Although, even on a good day, it usually looks like a bunch of sticks with a few leaves on it.

This spring, for whatever reason, it bloomed hard. Large, exquisitely shaded flowers that inspired the name of a color. So, of course, I have to get some pictures. In my mind, I envisioned a brilliant flower on a black background with a few green leaves in the picture. So I set to work making that happen.

Originally I planned on clipping some flowers and shooting them inside. Of course, my wife wasn't wild about that, but she consented. About a week ago after tutoring, I came home to a pretty perfect night for getting photos: no wind and still pretty warm for this time of year. I ended up taking the pictures with the fuchsia hanging in it's usual spot, right by the front door.

First, I set up a black blanket behind the flower and stuck a Sunpak 383 a stand, shooting through an umbrella. Two of the earlier shots were the one at the top of this entry and the one to the left. I shot in RAW because I knew I'd wanted to keep the images high resolution and I would probably need to adjust exposure, highlights, and shadows.

I chose my Canon 50mm f/1.8 because I just didn't see the need for a wide angle and I wanted the camera to have the best chance at focusing. Plus, the 50 f/1.8 prime is super sharp, possibly sharper than my new Tamron 17-50mm.

Keep in mind I was doing this just after dark, and by design, I was overpowering what little ambient there was with the flash so I didn't need a tripod. I liked how the shots looked on my tiny 350d LCD, but focusing was definitely a problem with the low light. So I grabbed a flashlight, propped it up on the ground aimed at the underside of the blooms, and used that as a focusing light.

After a few more shots I noticed the light coming from underneath the flowers made them look really cool. So, I grabbed the Nikon SB-20, stuck it on my tripod right under the blooms, and set to work balancing the two lights. The end result was the Sunpak at about 1/2 power and the SB-20 on 1/16 power. I found I also needed a snoot (taped together from a box I grabbed from the recycling bin) to keep the light underneath from brightening up the background behind the flowers too much. The setup is pictured to the right.

I can't say enough how much I use the family's scotch tape when I shoot. You can tape all your stuff up, then just take it off with no sticky residue! One of these days I need to actually make a snoot though (once I get some gaffer's tape).

I got a ton of good results from the setup like the unage to the left. It can be a bit difficult getting the balance and aim of the lower light correct, and a nasty side effect is it will show any imperfections (like pollen, which seemed to be all over everything). But the hard light can really give the blooms a little extra glow to them and make the image pop just a little.

With everything in place, I also reversed the 50 f/1.8 and shot some macros. I had a lot of trouble focusing though, even with the flashlight, since the reversed 50 f/1.8 needed to be stopped down all the time and my flashlight started running out of batteries. In addition, the wind was starting to pick up, which made it harder to keep focus once I got it. I did get a few good pictures, such as the one below. The fuchsia is still blooming, so I still might take the opportunity to clip one and then really try to get an interesting close-up or macro shot.

1 comment:

Wiedebas said...

This shot is very nice and your description of the setup is very helpful. Thanks.