The photography class yesterday was amazing. I can't believe I missed last week!
First we worked with portrait photography, using umbrellas to either reflect or diffuse the light. Then she brought in 2 soft boxes. Which I had never heard of before, but apparently they are like a pup tent made of fabric that's black on the outside and reflective silver on the inside. The bottom is translucent white. Except that hers is actually more of a light pink-orange on the bottom. Anyway you set up this little tent, and there's a hole in the top that fits over the strobe light. Leaving you with a giant rectangle of pink light. Point this thing at the subject, as close to their face as possible, and they are suffused with a soft, rosy light that makes them look positively beatific. I mean it, they glowed.
Even better was when she connected a camera to a power pack that controlled the strobe, so it would flash when a photo was taken. Unfortunately only two guys could do this, because the powerpack has a different voltage from typical digital cameras. One guy had bought an adaptor, and one other guy uses the same exact camera. I only got to see the photos on the camera's little screen, but I can't even describe how beautiful they looked. This is apparently the technique Sonia used to get the Carrboro Farmer's Market photos on her website. I hope those guys bring in prints next week.
After playing around with this in the classroom, we took the bigger soft box outside. It was octagonal so setting it up was a bit of a challenge (Easy for me though, since I wasn't one of the ones who did it! At least I helped break it down). Also it didn't fit Sonia's strobe, so three students had to hold it in place during the shoot. Luckily we were only out there for about a half hour and the soft box was very light! I offered to take a turn on one side, but Su said he was fine.
Sonia had a photo of the Dalai Lama clipped from the newspaper that she said we were going to duplicate. She made Marc*, the guy who works the front desk at the Durham Arts Council, come outside and pose as our Dalai Lama. It was really interesting to hear her instruct him on how to stand: "hands on your hips please ... not comfortable like that? ok, thumbs in your belt loops then ... move about a foot to your left ... now turn your whole body so it's pointing towards the soft box ... yes, including your feet ... now look at the camera ... no, don't smile ... tilt your head down a little ...." She was dissatisfied the first time through and made Marc come back out and do it again. I guess I knew that portrait photographers didn't just let people move around however they wanted and hope for the best, but I'd never witnessed one in action before.
I never realized that you might ever need to use a flash in broad daylight. But she used a really high f-stop to darken the sky, and then the flash from the soft box made Marc almost seem to glow with his own light. Just like the Dalai Lama!
The only downside of the class was when I revealed in front of everyone that I didn't know the difference between metering and focus. Well actually, of course I know the difference, but I thought the same button in my camera controlled them both and I had been using the terms interchangeably. So all this time, the years I've had this camera, every time I thought I was manually focusing, I really wasn't. Well I sort of was: when I would spot meter on something specific and lock in the exposure settings, it was probably auto-focusing on that subject too. So I was blundering into proper focus, but never doing it intentionally. Oh well, I'm there to learn!
Saturday night was more photography: for homework Sonia had assigned us to find a theatrical performance that would let us take photos. I asked her if a rock concert in a nightclub would work, and she said probably yes. So I took some photos at the Chicks Rock benefit show last night.
I had read up on how to deal with stage lighting but unfortunately, the light at Ooh la Latte was so low, there was no way to do anything without the flash. There were a couple of spotlights on the stage, but the musicians diligently avoided them throughout their performances. (is this some kind of indie rocker aesthetic, to remain poorly lit at all times?)
So I had to use the flash. Which created a couple of problems. First, that horrible hard shadow which I hate. But the stage was so small, there was no way to avoid it. Second, my typical method of taking photos, especially photos of people, most especially photos of moving people, is to snap as many shots as I possibly can and hope that some turn out. But I didn't feel like I could pop my flash in these guys' faces over and over. So I had to measure out my photos, trying to wait for good moments. Which was probably good practice for me, but meant that I only got a handful of shots that didn't totally suck.
The last band, Roxotica, were the most photogenic. I don't mean their looks but their costumes and their stage movements. Alas, their fans were also the most enthusiastic, and rushed the stage as soon as they started. Which left me little room to scurry back and forth with my tripod. (and by the way, did I ever feel like a dork, crouching on the floor with a tripod at a rock show. Chess club, here I come!) My crowd-phobia kicked in after two or three songs, I decided that I had enough material and fled.
If I have to do something like this again -- which I may well, if Sonia decides that these shots weren't enough or weren't what she was looking for -- I'll take my computer so I can download the photos immediately and see what's working and what isn't. A couple of shots that I thought would look great actually turned out terrible because I could only see that tiny preview and couldn't spot the problems.
*Correction: In the original version of this post, Marc was misidentified as Mac. Funnystrange.com regrets the error.