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In this installment of the Lighting with Flash series, photographer and Strobist.com publisher David Hobby employs compact flash units to light an outdoor environmental portrait of a beekeeper and his bees. For the portrait, David balances the light from two strobes with late-afternoon sunshine, using a snap-on grid to focus the light from one strobe and adjusting his camera's white balance to add warmth to shade-lit skin tones.
Next, David addresses a more challenging subject: a humming hive of honeybees. Working quickly for obvious reasons, David uses his camera's automatic, through-the-lens (TTL) flash-exposure mode along with a ring-light adaptor for the strobe. The course concludes with some insights on David's approach to lighting and his choice of subject matter.
Okay, so here is an overhead look at what I saw when I walked up, and this is we were looking from maybe 10 feet overhead. We've got bushes at camera left and we got a hive in the background, and most important looking off into the trees at the back camera, I'm looking through some late fall, not too many leaves still on the trees but little sun happening in the back there. so first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to take a picture of my own hand on daylight, white balance, and automatic exposure.
I'm shooting wide open with a, with a 35 millimeter lens because I want to throw that out of focus a little bit in the background, but the first thing I noticed here is that my hand is obviously too cool. it's being lit by open shade which is happening over my, over my back camera shoulder right. so the hand is lit okay but if, but if I drop that down a little the beehive is definitely going to get dark in the back and the, the trees are going to get a little darker. what I want to do eventually going back to the diagram is to stick our beekeeper in front of and a little to the camera right of the hive.
And then I can work with that little front back left right geometry. and I'm going to come in with a with a, a Nikon D3 and a 35 millimeter 1.8. This is a special lens. It's introduced to me by my friend Matt Roth who's a, a local shooter friend of mine. this lens is not designed for full frame camera which is what the D3 is. So, it gets a little weird as you get close to the edges. It's a, it's a very sharp lens in the middle and then it gets kind of vignettey, and soft around the edges and, and that can give a neat look to pictures. Its, it's a very cheap lens, very sharp, was not designed to cover full frame, but I use it that way. The one caveat is you can't stop this lens down on full frame because then those, coverage limitations, those little darkened corners are going to get really sharp, and it's just going to look bad.
So, let's stick a, an FP 800 zoomed out to 105, on the hive in the back. Just enough to, to bring it out and to keep it from going dark, but not enough to say sort of hitting you over, over the head with a hammer say it's light. And the other thing that I want to do here and we'll see in the next picture, my hand is to, is to change my white balance to cloudy. So that's going to give me enough warmth to in fact that may even be open shade. That's going to give me enough warmth to bring out the color in my hand. And, and the hive's going to get warmer in the back with that normal flash height going on at, even better that back lit autumn foliage in the back is going to get some color popping into it. And this is happening just because of the white balance shift. So, everything I do with Flash from here is going to be nice and warm which is how i tend to like it.
I tend to err on the side of warm when I'm shooting people. So, let's go back to our diagram and the next thing I want to do is I've got my I've got my assistant Dave Kyle, he's working as a stand in for the beekeeper because Jim is not here yet. So, we've got a handheld pocket wizarded Nikon SB 800 with a Harnell grid one eighth inch grid and that's going to restrict the light beam and that's what I'm going to use to call attention to, to the beekeeper because he's going to be underexposed in the setting where I'm going to drop him in in a minute. So, I want to use we don't want to stress the bees anymore than necessary. It's a little chilly for them to be out this day so I'm going to have Dave just stand in, and, and hold his hands out like a beekeeper, and we'll hit him with just a little bit of flash, and see how that looks. All right, that may be slightly too much flash.
this is interesting in a couple ways. And the reason I'm leaving this in, I want to explain that these small flashes can do a tremendous amount when they're used at close range. I mean clearly, if I wanted to crank my aperture down to where Dave was the correct exposure, this daylight that we're shooting in, this open shade would go almost to black. So that tells me about a lot of ability to control that environment, and that's what I want to do with these flashes. And the reason Dave's about 90 gazillion stops overexposed, is that I knew that I would need just the tiniest bit of light to him at 1.8 from a distance of three or four feet and I had my I had my flash down to about 1 64th power I think. and, and I thought, you know, maybe that's even going to be a little too bright so I dropped it down to what I thought was 128 power but I went one click past 128 power and it rolled around to full power. So what you're seeing there is a full power blast from about five feet away and a net stop of 1.8 and an ISO of 200.
So that's plenty of extra light,you know and it's probably 7 stops too high but because when we take it down to 128th power, Dave is lit appropriately up there. So we got everything roughed in ,we don't have to pull the bees out here as soon as we drop our beekeeper in. Everything's going to be pretty close and it's mostly just working with him and and making sure that we can see the bees. And we can see up under his head with with now Dave will be holding that that light and aiming at him. So, looking at this we have a we have Jim our beekeeper. Everything's kind of coming into place.
We did have a problem with the pocket wizards here and, and it was giving me a heck of a time and I couldn't figure out and when we were done it occurred to me that the camera in the pocket wizard. We, we'll just say that the camera with the transmitting pocket wizard and the pocket wizard on the flash were only about three or four feet away from each other. And what can happen when you're using radio transmitters in that close is the, the transmitting signal is literally so strong that it will overpower and confuse the receiver so, there, there's several tricks that you can use. You can orient your antennas to make them weaker receivers at that distance or if you have a pocket wizard or multimax you can dial that down.
In the end, I think we just ended up going with with I think, with, with a combination of, of optical slaves and pocket wizards. So, there's always a workaround. if you've got a couple different ways to sink your lights and, and the radio gods don't smile on you, you can usually find a way to get, to get away with it and still make a picture. But I like this picture in that our little specials calling attention to Jim's face even up under that dark hood and even though he's wearing white and we got the bees going. The bees are a tad out of focus here. In retrospect, I might have closed down to 2.8 maybe keep them a little sharper.
But I like how soft those those trees and all are in the back and I didn't want to lose that. So that's it.
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