Friday, December 19, 2008

This Vari-N-Duo image -- shot with flash fill -- is not as shocking as it might have been

"Every time I see water, I imagine how it would look photographed at 15 seconds or longer." says Colorado photographer Tom Bol. "But a lot of our outdoor stock photography includes the use of models to create eye-catching images for a variety of clients. I had a scene in my mind that would involve using the Vari-N-Duo filter for its long exposure abilities and introducing flash to create the right mood and sun-lit effect on my model fisherman. The real trick would be finding a model to sit in a freezing river while I triggered an 1100-watt flash head* placed about a foot above the surface of the water. If the flash fell into the river, things would be exciting!

"The other challenge was finding the right location. Ideally I needed a large rock or spot near the bank where I could set up the flash pack, and a stable place for my tripod. The final exposure would be around 15 seconds. After scouting the Poudre river near my house I found a large boulder in the river that would work, and just below it a small rapid that would look great with a fisherman tying a fly in the middle of it. I called another photographer, Randy, who was intrigued with this idea, and he volunteered to 'model.' Better yet, he likes to fly fish and has all the gear for it!

"The day was a mix of sun and clouds, and even with my aperture at f22 and ISO at 100, my exposure was still faster than 1 second. I put on the Vari-N-Duo filter and instantly two things happened. First, I was able to get my exposure down to 15 seconds. And second, the polarizing effect of the filter reduced the glare and saturated the water. Perfect! But then new challenges arose. Even with the flash set to full power it couldn't produce enough power to overcome the dark effect of the filter. We were reducing the light by almost 7 stops, and at f22, the flash didn't show up. We tried triggering the flash multiple times during the long exposure, but the flash still didn't register.

"Our solution was to make a double exposure in the camera. Our first exposure was set for 15 seconds to bring in the silky effect in the water using the filter. Then I took off the Vari-N-Duo filter, changed the shutter speed to 1/250 so only the flash would register, and took the second shot. Only the flash came through on the second image due to the fast shutter speed. But then another technical challenge came up. Anywhere the flash hit the water it 'froze' the motion, eliminating the silky effect created in the first part of the double exposure. I started with a small soft box on the flash, but changed this to a 20 degree grid spot to narrow the angle of coverage of the flash. This focused the flash on the model, with limited spill onto the moving water. Finally things were coming together. I underexposed the background by about 1 1/2 stops to create some mood in the image. This looked nice, but I decided to set my white balance to tungsten and 'counter filtrate' the flash with an orange gell. Anything the gelled flash hit would render a normal daylight balance, while the surrounding water would go deep blue due to the tungsten white balance. Randy was practically frozen by the time we figured all this out. Randy's hat and hand showed a little motion in the final image, it is hard to stay perfectly still for 15 seconds shivering in an icy river!

"Shooting near water with high voltage flash is always tricky. The last thing you want to have happen is for a flash head or pack to fall in the river. As we were breaking the gear down we accidentally dropped a flash head into the river -- just after disconnecting the power. When I got home I used a hairdryer to dry things out, and the flash worked just fine. And Randy was never shocked! I definitely plan to try this setup again, perhaps with a waterfall in the background, I'm just not sure if the waterfall is frozen or not at this point. All in all, we learned a lot from this flash-fill with Vari-N-Duo experience that we thought would be worth sharing."

To follow Tom's many outdoor workshops and other photos adventures, be sure to visit his website often.

*NOTE: Singh-Ray urges all photographers and readers to use proper safety precautions when using any sort of potentially dangerous equipment. Refer to your equipment owner's manual or manufacturer for complete safety information.

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