Thursday, April 7, 2011

Midnight Poppies in Broad Daylight

California Poppies

Last month I attended the Flash Bus seminar in San Francisco, put on by David Hobby (of Strobist fame) and Joe McNally. In addition, I've been reading Syl Arena's wonderful Speedliter's Handbook.

All of these gave me some ideas about how to creatively light wildflowers (and a lot of other things as well).

So, since it is wildflower season, I headed into the field on a lightly overcast day to try it out.

To start, here's the location I was shooting, properly exposed:
Location of Poppy Shots

As you can see, light overcast with no hard shadows. The sun actually came and went during the shoot.

I brought along the following equipment (for any gearheads out there):
  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 17-40mm lens
  • Canon 580EX flash
  • Canon 430EX flash
  • 2 - PocketWizard FlexTT5s
  • PocketWizard MiniTT1
  • PocketWizard AC3 Zone controller
  • Lumiquest Softbox 3
  • Interfit Strobies softbox
  • 2 - Small light stands
I set up the two lights with PocketWizards on the light stands around a bunch of poppies and attached the softboxes.

Lighting for Poppy Shots

To get the exposure I wanted, I metered the scene in Aperture Priority mode, then switched to Manual mode and adjusted the exposure 2-3 stops below what the meter had told me was a proper exposure. This made the scene look almost like night, with just a bit of deep blue color in the sky. The resulting exposure was around 1/2000th of a second at f/7.1 at ISO 100.

I turned on the flashes and PocketWizards and set the flashes to high speed sync. That's the critical part here, since you have to use such a high shutter speed to made the scene dark enough to work. Without setting the flashes to high speed sync, you can't use a shutter speed faster than at 1/250 (Syl Arena explains all of this with perfect clarity in his book).

Then I sat down on the ground, set my 17-40mm lens at 40mm and held it down at or below the level of the flowers. Since I wasn't looking through the viewfinder, I had to take a lot of random shots to get compositions that I  liked.

All in all, an amazingly simple and effective technique to give fresh, dramatic lighting to an overdone subject.

Thanks to Syl Arena for his book and wonderfully clear explanations that made me think, 'hey, I could do that with wildflowers!'

California Poppies

California Poppies

California Poppies

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Tony. I'm inspired to try out high-speed sync on a few subjects myself now. I haven't been excited by flower photos for sometime, but these sure hit the mark. Nice work!