Sunday 30 June 2013

Shooting the Mays Hounds

I was at Henriksberg's yesterday, to shoot Mays Hounds. Mays Hounds is a blues/classic rock band with a southern rock/country twist. Their own description. Me, I just enjoy the sound.

Johan Wikström: Electric and acoustic Bass
Shooting a band in a club poses some interesting challenges. First of all, it's pretty dark. This means you need to bring your own lights, unless you want blurry and grainy. (Actually, sometimes I do, but most of the time, I don't.)

Second, what light there is, is there to create mood as much as preventing people from stumbling around and bumping into things. At close range, a flash can easily overpower the lighting on stage. That means the pictures can easily get flat and ugly. Also, blasting a flash into the eyes of the people on stage is a concern, at least if you want to be friends with band members and nightclub bouncers.

The thing to do, is to take advantage of the light that is already there, and use whatever light you bring to push in the same direction. Sounds reasonable, but how, exactly, do you accomplish that?

At Henriksberg, there were several red spotlights, and one or two blue ones. While checking out the stage before the show, I decided to use a gel to color the flash. That way, the light from the flash would be close to the color of the spotlights. I didn't have a gel that matched the spotlights exactly, but my full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel was close enough to do.

Because of the CTO gel, I could not put a softbox on the flash. Instead, I used a Honl Speed Snoot as a reflector, to create a slightly large light source than a bare flash.

I also knew from my little scouting mission that it would be possible to line up one of the back spotlights, a performer, and my camera. That would, I hoped, give me a nice rim of red light framing the people. All I needed was the teensiest bit of luck.

As you can see in the photo of Johan Wikström above, the idea worked pretty well.

Maria Ekstrand: Lead vocals
Because I worked with a single hotshoe flash, I could not light the whole five person band at the same time. Especially since I had the flash on quarter power in order to not blow out the spotlights.

However, I could make the presence of a band explicit by framing shots so that one person would be visible in the foreground, and another in the background. You can see the result in the shot of Maria Ekstrand above. The blurry guy in the background is Anders Sandberg, who plays lead and rythm guitars.

Anders Sandberg: Lead & rhythm guitars
 With flash, small differences in distance makes a big difference in brightness, so I had to vary the flash power depending on how far back a band member stood on the stage.

Hasse Kosonen: Drums & percussion
In the case of Hasse Kosonen, who was very far back, I opted to increase the ISO setting to 800 instead. I got a bit more noise, but I could also preserve more of the color from the spotlights, because I could keep the flash power low.

I framed the shot with the guitar in the foreground to help create a sense of depth, and to imply the presence of the whole band.
Lotta Wästfelt: Backing vocals and percussion
Lotta Wästfeldt is very energetic on stage. The challenge was showing that off. I got several shots where she uses her tambourine, to provide a sense of motion and energy.

Magnus Stålhandske: Piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Neither Magnus Stålhandske nor Hasse Kosonen were backlit by the rear spotlights. Magnus was close enought to shoot at ISO 400 though. I shot at 1/60s, f8, so I could have opened the aperture a bit to get more ambient light. That would have reduced the depth of field though. Since focusing was difficult enough in the dark, I opted for f8.

Mays Hounds has a few songs on ReverbNation. Check them out. My favorite is Voodoo River. What's yours?

Update: Found a couple of music videos:

Voodoo River
Goodbye Sweet Security

Saturday 29 June 2013

Quick tutorial: Bringing out colors

A simple way to bring out the colors in a picture is to deliberately underexpose it. This rose was shot in aperture mode at 1/800s, f5.6, ISO 100. I deliberately underexposed the picture one full stop (-1 EV).

In Aperture, I started by clicking Autoenhance. Most of the time, this improves the picture quite a bit. I also tweaked the saturation (1.17) and the vibrancy (0.29) in Aperture. To give the picture a bit of extra pop, I also increased the definition quite a bit (0.71). I edge sharpened it a bit, and added a vignette.

Here is the original picture for comparison. As you can see, I have also removed a bit of junk from one of the petals.

Quite a lot of tweaking for one little flower, but good practice for greater things...

Sunday 23 June 2013

Fire Dance II

Sara Carlberg
I am hooked on shooting fire dancers. I was out last night for a photo session with Sara Carlberg and Anna Mattison from  the Contemporary Circus Collective Joy. We went to Delsjön, a lake near Gothenburg, to get away from city lights, and to catch reflections in the lake water.
Anna Mattison
When we arrived at the lake, we picked the best spot we could find. We immediately knew it was the best spot, for millions of gnats had made the same decision.

In order to not upset the gnats, they were there first after all, we relocated to another part of the beach.

We have a rainy period in Gothenburg, we call it summer. However, sometimes the rain does not fall. The Swedish Metrological and Hydrological Institute had promised the evening, at least the latter part of it, would be one of those occasions.

We started off  very simply: First of all, we kept the scenes very simple. For ligthing we used two remote controlled hotshot flashes with 1/2 CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels on lightstands.
Anna posing while Sara holds the lightstand.
After a few test shots, we brought out a shoot-through umbrella. Sara held the light stand with the umbrella while I shot Anna, and vice versa.

Maybe it was bringing the umbrella out that did it: It started to rain!

We had to pack it in less than a third through the shoot. Still, we got some really good photos, and we were very happy about the shoot.

Because stopped the shoot a bit early, we had time to plan the next one. It will be awhile until we have an opportunity to shoot, but I am looking forward to it. A lot!

Friday 21 June 2013

Macro photography with handheld camera and flash

When you start out with macro photography, there are two problems that can easily get annoying.

The first problem is getting a decent depth of field. The more your lens magnifies a subject, the more narrow the depth of field will be. That means you want to shoot at the smallest aperture you can.

The other problem is motion blur. Both the camera and the subject might move. Because you are photographing small subjects, even very small movements will blur the picture noticeably. That means you will want the shortest shutter times you can get.

The combination of small aperture and short shutter time, means you need a lot of light. The easy answer to getting a lot of light is flash.

Using a flash adds its own set of problems. You can see where this is going: The chief cause of problems is solutions! However, we aren't looking for perfect solutions. If we did, we'd spiral down into solution hell. Rather, we are looking for problems we can live with.

What are the problems with flash? The ones we have to deal with. There are two. The first is that we need to direct the light to where it does some good. As long as we are shooting hand held, the easiest way to do that, is to take the flash off the camera, and hold it in your hand. You can use a cable, or a remote controller. I use a remote controller. It's handy for many things besides macro photography.

The second problem is that when we add flash, we suddenly have to deal with two, very different types of light sources. A flash unit provides a strong, very short pulse of light. We also have ambient light, the light we normally have all around us.

When we take a picture using flash, we will get two different exposures from those two sources. The flash pulse is very short, maybe 1/5000s, or even shorter. This means, if the flash was the only light source, the resulting image will have no perceptible motion blur. We might not freeze a speeding bullet with an ordinary flash, but we can eliminate camera shake and stop the motion of an insect. No problem.

Ambient light is another matter. The ambient light will not be strong enough to give us the short exposure time and small aperture we want. On the other hand, it may be strong enough to cause a blurry image. Not good.

If the ambient light is mostly a source of problems, what if we can get rid of it? We know the ambient light will affect the exposure as long as the shutter is open. We also know the wider the aperture (the smaller the f-number), the more ambient light we will get.

Thus, if we use a short exposure time, and a small aperture, we'll get rid of as much of the ambient light as possible. We can't use shorter times than the flash sync can handle, which usually is 1/250s. Small aperture means high f-number, so we'd like to shoot around f18 to f22. Great news, because this gives us the wide depth of field we also want.


By now you should not be surprised if I tell you I shot the fly above at 1/250s, f18, ISO 100. I used a Tamron 60mm 2.0 macro lens and a Canon 60D. The flash pulse is so short it is not affected at all by the shutter time, but a lot of the ambient light is cut. This eliminates camera shake and motion blur. 

Bumblebee at at 1/250s, f22, ISO 200. This is the only one of the pictures taken with the flash mounted on the camera. This means I had to work at a slightly greater distance from the subject. Afterwards, I cropped the picture a bit tighter than I usually do.

Fly at at 1/250s, f18, ISO 200.

I should mention that you will need to do some post processing, because straight out of the camera, pictures like these often look rather dark. I usually crop the pictures, increase exposure, edge sharpen, increase definition, and sometimes increase saturation. I often add a bit of vignetting to darken the corners.

Ants at at 1/250s, f18, ISO 100.

All of these pictures were taken the same day, during two walks. And, all of the pictures were taken in flower beds. All you need is a DSLR with a macro lens, a flash, and a cable or remote control unit.

Best of all, I had fun doing it!

Monday 17 June 2013

Fire Dance

Therese Larsson
I had a wonderful photo session with Nycirkuskollektivet Glädje (The Contemporary Circus Collective Joy) yesterday evening. The group does fire dancing, acrobatics, juggling, dance, clowning, and magic.
Anna Mattisson 
Photographing fire dancers is a bit of a challenge. If you want those gorgeous fire trails, you need exposure times of about 2-4 seconds.

You can't raise ISO too high, or the pictures will get very noisy. I kept ISO in the 100-200 range for the entire shoot.

I used two remote controlled flashes mounted on light stands to illuminate the fire dancers. This helped make them visible. There was too much ambient light to make the performers entirely sharp.

I did not use soft boxes or umbrellas. However, I put 1/2 CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels on the flashes to warm the light. I wanted the light from the flashes to be close in color to the light from the fire.

Anna Mattisson

At one point, Anna asked me if I wanted lots of fire. I said yes, and lots of fire I got. The exposure time for the photo above is only 0.8s at f16 and ISO 200.

A flash has very short duration, much shorter than the camera shutter time. Therefore, the shutter time does not affect how much light you get from the flash. The shutter time does affect how much ambient light you get.

The aperture also affects the amount of ambient light. When you shoot at f16, the aperture, or hole through which light travels, is very small. This reduces ambient light. Thus, the ratio of light from the flash compared to light from the environment, is rather high.

This makes the flash more effective at freezing the subject in the photo.
The entire group: Paul Jönsson, Sara Carlberg, Anna Mattisson, and Therese Larsson
I must admit, after last night, I definitely want to shoot more fire dancing. I had great fun, with some great people.

Friday 14 June 2013

The abusive rose

The picture of the rose above was tagged as "abusive content" and blocked by Facebook when I tried to post it. Ridiculous, of course, but it is more than that.

Censorship on the Internet can easily turn into a big problem, a larger problem than the, sometimes nonexistent, problems the censors try to solve.

All censorship is based on rules. These rules are based on cultural standards. When we have a cultural melting pot, like the Internet, there is a strong tendency to create very tight rules of censorship, so as not to offend anyone.

The problem is that no matter what you show, say, or do, there is always someone that will take offense:

There are people who are deeply offended by: The sight of female hair (on the head), scientific methods (for example creationists), nipples, voting rights for women, people with dark skin, people with white skin, female hair (in armpits), nudity, the hijab (Islamic veil)... The list is endless.

If you create ethical standards based on the idea that you may not offend anyone, then you end up creating algorithms that ban roses.

I must admit, I am deeply offended by this.

Awhile ago I had another photo banned by Google. It was a photo of Carl Milles famous Poseidon statue. The statue is located at Götaplatsen in Gothenburg, right at the end of the Avenue, the largest, busiest street in Gothenburg. The Poseidon statue is nude. Thousands of people pass by every day, without any ill effects.

I made a censored version of the Poseidon picture and put it on a t-shirt. You can read about it here.

Google lifted the ban after a couple of days, but the problem remains: The idea that what can be shown or said, discussed, and thought, should be defined by the most narrow minded among us.

Maybe it's time for a new t-shirt, with a rose this time.

Monday 10 June 2013

Hausy Puppy - Telling stories with slideshows and collages

I was at the opening night of the Hausy Puppy nightclub in Gothenburg yesterday. Quite an enjoyable evening, and lots of pictures taken. I put together a slideshow from the evening using Aperture. I hope you enjoy it.

Just because I like to experiment, here is a slideshow automatically created from a Picasa web album:

Here is a link to the album.

Aperture gives me a lot more control over the presentation, and I can add audio. With picasa, all I can do is organize the Picasa album so the pictures appear in the order I want.

The order of the images is what this blog post is about. If you got a pile of pictures, and want to turn them into a slideshow, how do you order them? Organize them so that they tell a story!

In both slideshows, I start off by showing very dark pictures: A woman sitting on a floor with a spotlight on her, a woman backlit by a single flash. Then, I have a picture with some people in, to establish that this is a place where people meet. Bar, people dancing, talking.

In both stories, the firedancer appears about mid through, to add a bit of action and spice the slideshows up a bit.

My Josefsson and Nora Santana Parra in the VIP bed at the Hausy Puppy night club.
Two women in bed always sets the fantasy in motion.The mask and lollipop makes it even better. My and Nora's ideas, not mine. I'll certainly remember for use in the future though.

To make the fantasy more convincing, I have darkened the soles of their shoes. I also added some vignetting to darken the edges of the picture.

I bet you did not notice My and Nora have shoes until I mentioned it. I may or may not have done other things to spice the picture up a bit. If I have, I won't tell you.

I also used this picture to foreshadow another picture: The last picture in both slideshows show My and Nora on the bed, and My has taken her mask of. Her wink is priceless. Of course, to see that picture, you need to watch one of the slideshows to the end.
A collage is also a great way to tell stories. In a two picture collage, I can show you a nice backlit picture of a woman, and I use the other picture to show you who the woman is.

When I got to Hausy Puppy and had looked around a bit, I wanted to try backlighting the dance floor to get some nice silhouette pictures. I asked a young woman to pose, and lucky for me, I had asked a professional dancer. I don't know her name, but if I find out, I'll update this blog post.

Bartender Jennifer Norrhamn
A collage can tell more complex stories. This one tells a story about the bartender Jennifer Norrhamn and her friends. 

I use the top left picture to show what Jenny does. It is pretty obvious she tends the bar. The top right picture tells us her work is needed and much appreciated.

The mid row puts Jenny in the center, and shows us she has friends. The third row tells us a little bit about her character.

Slideshows and collages are quick and effective ways of presenting stories. The difficult thing is crafting the story itself. Sometimes you craft the story first, and then, all you need to do is shoot the things you need, and piece it together. 

At an event like a nightclub opening, a wedding, or a convention, it's the other way around. You shoot first, then figure out what the stories you can tell with the material you have. Of course, some events are pretty much scripted beforehand, like weddings, and then you do have a main story to cover. Still, there are always unexpected things that happen, and that might be worth covering.

Friday 7 June 2013


Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines fighting moves with dance, music, and acrobatics. The moves are very smooth. The most common attacks are various circular kicks.

Because most kicks are circular, there is a lot of body rotation around the center of gravity. This makes Capoeira practitioners appear a bit slow, for martial artists. They are not. If you look at how fast the feet move, well, let's just say these pictures are all shot at 1/1600s. If there had been more light, I would have shot at an even shorter shutter time.

The high jumps are impressive. To capture them, I set the camera to shoot high speed bursts.

I also switched from RAW to JPEG format. The drawback is that I loose a bit of information, so I can't bring out details in shadows, nor reduce highlights as well as I could with a RAW picture.

The advantage is that the pictures are much smaller, so I can shoot long bursts without the camera's memory buffer filling up.

Another advantage is that the pictures require less storage space. I shot about 600 pictures in 20 minutes.

It helps if you start young, of course.

If you want to look at more Capoeira pictures, have a look at my Capoeira Picasa album.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Practicing with mannequins and statues

Most mornings, I walk around and take a few practice shots before work. Sometimes I get a good shot. At other times I just erase the memory card after the walk.

Yesterday was one of the good shot days. I walked by a shop window and saw these realistic, but very pale mannequins with white clothes. I decided to see if I could get a good shot.

By zooming in close, focusing on the closest mannequin, and using f5.6, I could blur the background to the point where the two other mannequins in the picture are only hinted at.

To avoid reflections from the shop window, I pressed the lens as close to the shop window glass as I could. This is a useful tip. I got it from one of Scott Kelby's Digital Photography books. I have forgotten which one though.

Shooting mannequins and statues are great practice when you do not have a model to work with, or when you are experimenting in ways that would bore a normal human being to tears. Also, if I shoot  a model, I feel an obligation to take pictures she is happy with. This means I cannot take big risks, and shoot in ways that might work out. So, practicing on a mannequin first, is a good way to take those first, fumbling steps, before you have worked the kinks out of the process.

Monday 3 June 2013

Setting up the scene for a macro shot

I found this snail slithering along on some dirt in a flower bed. I tried taking a few pictures right there, but there were two problems: The background was too close in color to the snail, and it was too dark. I could not shoot with a large enough aperture to get the entire snail sharp.

The fix was easy, I put the snail on an old leaf, and moved it to a lawn where it was a bit brighter.
 When I put the leaf with the snail down on the lawn, I placed the leaf so that the grass held it up from the ground a few centimeters. This allowed me to place the camera as low as the snail, which gave me a great angle for the shot.

Perk yourself up!

Sometimes, when you go on a photo walk, the environment refuses to cooperate. You just won't find anything interesting to shoot.

It's no use being sulky about it. If you get funky, you'll just miss the opportunity when it does arrive.

A better approach: Perk yourself up by creating something to shoot. Just a few pebbles on top of each other will do.

Just a few minutes after taking this shot, I got the ones I published in my A stroll through the woods post. If I hadn't deliberately perked myself up, I might have missed them.

Saturday 1 June 2013

A stroll through the woods

I shot this woodlouse as close to crustacean eye level as possible. Normally, you want depth-of-field to be as deep as possible, but I shot this one at f2.0. This enabled me to shoot at 1/200s and ISO 125. As it turned out, the narrow depth of field turned out to be a good thing
I took a stroll through the woods and fields of Jonsered today. I brought my camera of course, and my Tamron 60 mm macro. On a sunny day, that's all you need to get some pretty good macro shots.

Here is a simple recipe for shooting insects woodlice, and other small creatures: Get down really low! Be prepared to crawl on the ground.

The reason is that we normally see these creatures from above. If we shoot them from above with a camera, we'll get the same, view we have seen so many times before, and that is boring.

The same advice holds for flowers: Get down low, and in close.

Flower shots are so common that they have lost a little bit of their attraction. It is quite easy to step up the attraction though:

Add something you do not see in most other flower shots. Something that can catch the interest of the viewer.

While looking about for a flower to shoot, there was one that drew my attention. Its shape was a little bit different from the others. It turned out it was just a flower and a bud touching each other, but it was enough to set them apart from the other flowers i saw.

Walking for about an hour gave me about a dozen good shots, but I'll show only these two. One or two of the others might make it into future blog posts.

See you.