There is nothing magical about fill-flash. You just have to recognise when you are in a situation that needs it. Then it is just a matter of flipping up the built-in flash and proceeding as normal. Provided you have the fill-flash setting enabled, it will come into operation automatically when you raise the pop-up flash and your DSLR will (usually) do the right thing without your needing to worry too much about it.
A situation that calls for fill-flash is one where you want to use natural light but the light is coming from behind the subject, causing the subject to come out too dark. With fill-flash operating, the background will still be lit by natural light, and the automatic exposure will be set accordingly, but the flash will also fire so that the combination of natural light and flash will result in the subject being properly exposed too.
An example from my recent cruise. Naomi was dressed up for the gala night and we went out onto our cabin’s balcony, which was facing out from the back of the ship, to see the sunset. I realised that by using fill-flash I could capture both Naomi and the sunset, with both correctly exposed. It does not always work perfectly but on this occasion I was very pleased with the result, aside from the fact that the horizon could have been straighter.
The reason fill-flash sometimes does not work properly has to do with the flash sync shutter speed. Assuming you are using Aperture Priority, as many photographers prefer to, the camera will set the shutter speed to expose the background correctly. But if the background is reasonably bright and the chosen aperture is too wide then the shutter speed needed to expose the background correctly could well be higher than the camera’s shutter sync speed. If the flash were to fire in conjunction with a high shutter speed the shutter would never be fully open and only a part of the subject (a strip) would be illuminated by the flash. Trying to use fill-flash in those circumstances would force the camera to reduce the shutter speed to the sync speed and probably overexpose the entire image.
You would think that on returning from two weeks in Sorrento, Venice and a cruise around Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia I should have been able to fire up Lightroom and pick out loads of great shots from the trip. Frustratingly, the keeper rate has been very low. Maybe I am more critical than I used to be, and my standards have increased more quickly than my proficiency as a photographer.
That is not to say that the holiday was a complete wash-out photographically. There were some successes, and not always with the most obvious subject matter. There were plenty of pretty snapshots of the well-known sights in Venice, but the most striking image was of a tug boat shot from the water bus on the way from Marco Polo airport to our hotel.
Possibly shades of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire? No dramatic sunset, but at least my tug was belching some wonderful environmentally unfriendly black smoke which helped to fill in the top right of the picture. Counterbalances the green hull and introduces a suitably industrial element to the overall composition. Well, that’s my story anyway.
Every now and again I shoot an abstract or still life. Not with any kind of premeditation; sometimes the opportunity is just there.
This still life was taken in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires. It is a popular tourist attraction because of the Bohemian atmosphere, arts and crafts, outdoor lunch with tango shows and the over-the-top brightly coloured buildings. I’m certain the distinctive look of the place started as a deliberate cultural statement by the local inhabitants, but it is now locked into that look, more as a museum to keep the tourists coming.
I’m not certain whether this counts as a great work of still life, probably not, but I do have a certain fondness for it. For a still life to be successful, it needs to keep things simple: don’t have too many shapes or colours, avoid confusing or distracting backgrounds, look for a composition which makes some kind of bold statement with a few simple shapes while creating a sense of balance. I think I managed to do that, bearing in mind that I had to take the subject matter as I found it. The bag (which belongs to my wife and was the only item we added into the scene) is neutral, everything else is red or green and the colours are reasonably well balanced. Background is half block of red, half block of green. The main shapes are either rectangles or triangles, from the spiral staircase. The foliage provides a diagonal to draw the eye towards the bag in the lower right foreground. It all seems to work and balance out. What a shame though I didn’t spot and remove that confounded empty plastic bottle!
Hard on the heels of Ollantaytambo Woman, this is another post showcasing my new-found sense of photographic liberation. Peter Krogh’s imaginative use of post-processing has left me far more open than before to the idea of letting rip with Lightroom to lift or rescue otherwise run of the mill or dull pictures. I wasn’t exactly shy with my use of Lightroom sliders before but I was previously always targeting a naturalistic looking picture. In the main I will continue to do that, but will now be that tiny bit more open minded about more creative post-processing when the opportunity arises. Certainly I will feel more at liberty to experiment, without going too mad.
This photo was taken in Ushuaia, Argentina. I haven’t changed the colours, other than dialling up the saturation slightly. Mostly, the look comes from boosting the shadows way beyond the normal limits. It is not an HDR image.
I may have to revisit my previous statement about my style of photography. Not change it much, just extend to include the occasional indulgence in the post-processing phase.
Professional photographer Peter Krogh was interviewed on the TwiT Photo video podcast a few weeks ago. He was kind enough to give the viewers a live demo of the Lightroom technique he used on a recent shoot in Africa. He was mainly taking portraits of the locals and adopted a very stylised approach to his post-processing, producing an HDR-like look (from a single exposure) which is very effective on portraits of dark-skinned people.
I fancied trying the technique out for myself but found myself short on suitable images. Still, I decided to try it with a portrait of a Peruvian woman I took in Ollantaytambo, near Cusco, while on holiday a few weeks ago.
The technique itself is based around the idea of taking the fill light and black level sliders right up to half way or beyond, to lighten up dark skin without blowing out the highlights, but preserving and even thickening up edges, cartoon style. A liberal dose of clarity slider exaggerates the effect and heavy desaturation rounds off the rather stylised look. With the right subject matter it can be very effective, but to see it at its best look at Peter Krogh’s work not mine. For me it was just a one-off experiment inspired by Peter’s creative use of Lightroom.
I took this picture a couple of weeks ago while on a cruise around South America. It was taken at dawn while we were in the Chilean fjords area.
The rosy dawn light was reflected in the zig-zag pattern made by the ship’s bow wave ripples and I spotted an opportunity for an abstract picture. It features a lot of water so I call it an aquabstract. Maybe the start of a new genre.
I’m not sure why but I really like this picture. It may be the best out of thousands I took on the trip and that is saying something given that we visited Machu Picchu, the Iguassu Falls and other spectacular places.
One benefit of the Sony Alpha system compared to say Canon or Nikon is that the image stabilisation technology (Super Steady Shot) is built into the camera body as opposed to being incorporated into just some selected lenses. That means you have stabilisation available with every lens. Canon and Nikon users only get stabilisation with a limited number of the more expensive lenses, typically the longer lenses where camera shake is more of an issue.
With a Sony DSLR you can enjoy Super Steady Shot even on wide angle lenses and this can give rise to some odd effects. Bear in mind that the wider the lens, the slower the shutter speed you can get away with, even without image stabilisation, and still avoid camera shake. Add in Super Steady Shot and you can be taking camera shake free pictures at 1/15th or 1/8th of a second. Anything in shot which is stationary will come out sharp, but anything moving could be very blurred. Remember that image stabilisation only compensates for camera movement, not subject movement.
Take this picture, for example, from the family’s Nile cruise in the summer.
Our Egyptian guide, Ayman, telling us all about the Temple of Horus at Edfu, came out sharp thanks to Super Steady Shot even in low light at 1/8th of a second because he kept reasonably still. Except his right hand – he was waving his piece of paper around so it has turned semi-transparent. And the background is sharp; but some of the tour party were moving around and have become blurred or ghostly figures.