Things seem to happen in waves in this job. If there's a bad car wreck in the morning, other crashes are bound to happen later that day. Sometimes it's seasonal, like when everybody and their mother is getting their gardens ready in the spring, while slow days have us trolling farmers markets and bazaars for feature photos. Other times, it's a seldom-used technique from your bag of tricks that coincidentally gets trotted out twice in one day.
Last week started with a portrait shoot of ousted Pasco School Board member Bill Leggett for a story looking at his 16 years on the board and more than 20 as an administrator. He spent 11 of those years as principal at McLoughlin Middle School in Pasco, so we did the portrait there. I wanted to create a photo that conveyed a sense of a chapter of Leggett's life closing, with decades of working in education soon to be behind him.
I opted for some slow shutter speed work like I used for previous portraits of Angie Ash and Adrienne Bousquet a few years ago. I wanted a shot of Leggett with a crowd of kids blurred with motion behind him. Since I hadn't come up with the idea until I was heading over there, I also hadn't worked out the logistics, so I frantically set up quickly after learning the next class change was in five minutes.
Not very many kids came streaming by, though, so district spokeswoman Leslie Caul and Kim Mahaffey, assistant principal at McLoughlin, rounded up a class' worth of kids to work as background for a few shots. From first test shot to finished photo was a scant 10 minutes, much of which was spent finding the right balance between the ambient and strobe light I threw on Leggett, as well as picking the right shutter speed.
Too slow (in this case, 1/2 second), and all you get are weird frozen feet:
You also can't forget to work with your subject while asking him to hold very still as you snap throughout the kids' walk:
I also didn't like how the top of the door frame intersected his head, so I repositioned for one last pass:
I should have nudged him left just a hair for his head to completely cover that door and exit sign. Also, I should have had him button up his jacket. Still, I think it does a reasonable job of accomplishing what I set out to do with this portrait.
A couple hours later, I was using a slow shutter speed again, but for a different effect — one had I used for Blithe Spirit a few years ago. Tri-Cities Prep is opening their production of A Christmas Carol this weekend, and I wanted to trot out the in-camera, double-exposure ghosting technique. Their unfinished and sparse set made for some different challenges, though.
Here's the basic setup, as approximated by the handy tool at lightingdiagrams.com:
To make this work, I settled on a two-second exposure that popped that smaller light closest to the camera first to not only light Joseph Portch as a brooding Ebenezer Scrooge, but to splash just a little bit onto the black background, which is shown as white here because that's what's available on the free diagram creator. With the black curtain as my backdrop, there wasn't much to expose before Olivia Sauceda and Eric Powers moved into place.
The two of them are starting at the "X" and moving onto their marks as soon as they see the first flash. Since they're wearing bright enough colors and the two-second exposure brings in some of the ambient light, their movements are added to the frame. Then, before the shutter closes, I pop the big light on the with a radio trigger set to a different channel to give add them in, slightly translucent because the background has been exposed some, but sharp because of the relatively short flash duration.
If I popped the second flash too soon, allowing them to move around too much after it hit them, I ended up with too much ghostliness:
With a little better timing, here's what I ended up with:
Here's a few things I would have liked to do better. First, another light to the right popping off before and after the two ghosts moved into place would have made them more translucent and filled in the hard shadows on their faces, and both effects would add to the ghost effect.
I left both these shoots feeling very happy and confident, only to find a lot of nits to pick afterward. Some of the problem is an overconfidence and a desire to work quickly that's hurting me. While I don't think either photo is a failure, they are solid reminders to scrutinize the details while at the shoot, especially when trotting out less-used techniques.
But what about overuse?
Kyle Clark of KUSA in Denver has a great on-air editorial that rants against the avalanche of snow-covered patio photos they get every time it snows in the mile-high city. It's a concept I can empathize with, after wading through countless sunset and bridge photos our readers frequently submit.
The Sun-Times news keeps coming as a contract settlement between the parent company and the union could mean four of the 29 laid-off photojournalists could be back to work soon. The others will get $2,000. Some are calling this a small victory, while many others, including Adam Griffith, scoff and argue the opposite.
Daniel Morel won big (as in $1.2-million big) in his lawsuit against Agence France Presse and Getty Images stemming from copyright infringement of Morel's photos from the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It's a big victory for photographers and a wake-up call for news organizations and wire services that think anything posted to Twitter is fair game.