May 3, 2012 

Conventional wisdom says that you use flash when making photos in dark places. Conversely, people often wonder why I'm setting up my lights for an outdoors portrait in bright sunlight. Usually it's to avoid unflattering shadows or add some more dramatic lighting, but I tried introducing a little light last Friday in a new situation.

I needed to illustrate a story about Washington grape growers looking forward to this year's crop. I remembered seeing some pretty flowering fields out in West Richland and stopped by before checking out the mammoth dig site.

After realizing I'm stupid and apparently don't know apple blossoms when I see them, I tried to figure out a way to make bud breaking look interesting.

The noon light wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be,

but I wanted to really highlight the buds, so I set up a light and feathered it from the other direction:

That let me keep the sky a deeper blue and give those little leaves a little more Magnitude without looking too unnatural:

I should have worked a little harder to avoid that bit of lens flare. For some reason, the light orange blob bugged me a lot more in this frame,

but as I look at it now, I kind of like it better. I love playing with lens flare, but it always irks me when it's unintentional. It's too minimal to look cool, so I think of it as a sloppy flub. Feel free to chime in on this almost meaningless debate in the comments.

On Monday, sports reporter Katie Dorsey and I visited Gold's Gym in Kennewick for her story about the Pasco softball team working out there to build team chemistry. They were checking out a Zumba class that day and I looked forward to some fun dancing photos.

Unfortunately, they turn the lights off for Zumba. Since I had gotten an OK photo of players on the treadmills before that illustrated the story fine,

I decided to push the high ISO capability of my new staff Canon 7D. This allowed me to keep from turning the workout into a crazy strobe light party — a nice bonus since nobody else in the class knew that photos were going to be taken.

Hardly anybody likes to have their photo made and almost nobody likes getting photographed during a workout.

Blinding intermittent flashes would only make matters worse, so I tried my luck with some super slow shutters, clocking in at an often blurry 1/40th sec. at ISO 6400. That only worked because the girls clustered in the back, near the windows that allowed a little light in from the main gym.

Many of the acceptably sharp photos were boring or awkward,

or they didn't capture any sense of team building:

It was really hard to focus in the dark,

and reacting instead of anticipating had more severe consequences than usual:

The fact that the window light was coming from behind them didn't help, as I had to wait for spinning or sideways movement.

Just when I was starting to get discouraged and considering whether I should mob them with my flash, instructor Gail Todd switched up the format, allowing me to capture this fun moment:

The matching purple shirts and laughter help convey that sense of team, while clearly showing a softball squad out of its usual habitat. Would the photo be better with less noise and motion blur? In this frame, probably. The blur isn't communicating any meaningful motion and is more a technical symptom of the difficult shooting condition.

It was a good lesson on the job, though, as I get more comfortable with my new camera. Understanding your gear's quirks and limitations is vital in higher pressure situations. But when I have time and a safety net to make some minor mistakes, I try to take that opportunity.

Especially if it defies conventional wisdom. I'm weird like that.

For a much cooler strobed landscape shot...

Check out Royce Bair's dramatic image of the Delicate Arch in Grand County, Utah over at Strobist. Read through to figure out what David Hobby is talking about when he writes, "(Swish, swish, swish, POP [YouBrieflyHaveTheBrightestGenitalsInTheWorld] and then … pain.)"

College student Andy Duann won his copyright dispute with the University of Colorado Boulder for his viral photo of a falling bear.

Blackberry's new "Timeline Lens" gives you some chronological leeway in capturing that "decisive" moment. I'm not putting that in quotes for Henri Cartier-Bresson. I'm putting it there because of how indecisive this lets you be.

And finally, I'm holding a reception on May 12 at 8 p.m. at Cheese Louise in Richland for my gallery show, Art on Assignment. Longtime BtF readers will recognize almost all the photos, but there's something more engaging about viewing large framed prints. Even the smallest one is bigger than 99.9 percent of my photos that have run in the paper.


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