Blog -- May/June 2009
Tim Keller Photography
June 20, 2009 Flashing on the Artist
I had the first successful session with my new flash skills this week. Christina and I went out to Nathan and Amanda Green's place in the countryside north of town to develop a Chronicle feature promoting Nathan's upcoming show at Studio C.
Here, at the right, Nathan's standing on his bed to show off his work behind him. With Christina pointing the flash at him from the right side, his shadow was a distraction on the wall. We solved that by having Christina point the flash up high at the white ceiling. Now the light bounced back onto Nathan but also lit the wall behind him, eliminating the shadow.
By the way, I didn't use the Cactus radio-transmitted flash triggers, instead opting for Nikon's own in-camera capabilities, which require line-of-sight between the camera and the flash, which wasn't an problem here.
For the picture at the left, I stood the flash on a low banco facing and a few inches from the white wall. When I shot closer, Nathan's red painting just looked like interior decoration, so I pulled back (these were both taken with the 50mm lens, instead of the 85mm I usually use for portraits, to accomodate his art in the background) to get the top frame of his art, making it more obvious that this is a painting of Nathan's.
Next up: I've received my Impact flash stands with umbrellas, and that will open up all new possibilities -- and skills to learn. I've just this morning ordered my second Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash. I'm guess I'm making the leap into flash! Flashing into flash, if you will.
By the way, Nathan's nom de art is Nathaniel Franklin. His show of large paintings and indoor and outdoor sculpture will be up at Studio C throughout July and August.
June 15, 2009 Consulting a Master
The strengths I've been able to bring to my photography have not extended to the use of flash! I've discussed this in earlier blogs (see December 29, 2008 below), and I've mentioned Albuquerque's Marc Gutierrez.
Marc was kind enough to meet me in a park near his home last week for a two-hour tutorial. I had my Nikon D300 a little before Marc got his, but I've copied his flash setup, so our rigs were identical.
I've felt like a classic "slow learner" when it comes to flash, but thanks to Marc I think I've finally...seen the light! (Give me ten years and I may have a couple shots as good as these shots by Mark.)
By the way, that's my flash on Marc's left side; he's holding his own flash up behind him in his right hand. My camera simultaneously triggered both light sources. It turns out I can trigger up to twelve flash units at once, in two groups of six.
I've ordered a pair of Impact flash stands with umbrellas, and I'm probably on the verge of ordering my own second Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash. Who woulda thunk it. Thanks, Marc.
June 5, 2009 Critiquing an Image
I've begun my summer project for Western Horseman, a profile of two young horsemen and the role the Des Moines summer youth rodeo series has played in their lives. I started interviewing and shot my first photos two days ago. Here, above (click to enlarge), is an image I like.
Laekyn's horse is unbound but choosing to be with Laekyn on this open landscape. The tips of Rabbit Ear Mountain are in the distance, but I like the broad sparse landscape. The strongest element of this shot is the composition, the diagonal from lower right toward upper left. A subtle path accentuates the strong diagonal by running perpendicular to the horse's line, creating an X. I like the way the horse extends into the frame from outside.
Both subjects, horse and girl, are obviously comfortable and happy together. I like how relaxed the horse is. There's only one thing I'd change if I could: Laekyn's smile looks to me like she's communing with the camera rather than the horse. Instead of conveying love, or tenderness, or intimacy, or gratitude, it conveys to me a sense of posing for the camera. It'd be better if the intimacy was with the horse, the camera an invisible presence.
Laekyn loves the camera, both sides of it, and I've already talked with her about not needing to smile for the camera all the time. I'm shooting her in the rodeo tomorrow, then we have an ambitious photoshoot lined up at her place again in two weeks. I like the way it's going.
May 31, 2009 Tom's Magical Timing
Twenty years ago, Tom Noe rode up on a big black BMW motorcycle to our remote Serafina, New Mexico, ranch house at 11 o'clock on a summer night. Only the sound of my first album blaring from his stereo put us at ease.
Since meeting Tom that night, we've been best friends. Tom's a Renaissance man with photography as just one of his many gifts.
Less than two years ago, as I had decided to buy my first digital SLR and was narrowing my choice to the Nikon D200, Tom came for a visit from his home in Wylie, Texas. To my amazement, he had a D200 with him, and he let me use it.
I learned that the D300 was around Nikon's corner, so I waited for that. Tom was here again the last couple days and I learned he got a D300 after seeing my shots on a website. On this trip, he was carrying his Canon G10 point-and-shoot, again a startling coincidence:
When Christina recently decided she needed a good point-and-shoot, I did the homework for her, then recommended the Canon G10 and she bought one. She's still learning how to use it, and Tom's the perfect teacher. She came home from Studio C Friday night and said, "Hey, why is my camera on the woodbox?" It was Tom's, and Christina got some useful tips while he was here.
Before he and Linda left for Taos, the Grand Canyon, and on to Washington state for the summer, I took Tom's picture for this blog entry. We took it outside in shade while Christina cooked breakfast. I brought a ladder out from the garage for this point of view, something I've done many times. I used f/2.8 (on my 85mm lens) for very shallow depth of field: not only is the lilac bush blurred behind him, but even his goatee and ears are out of focus. I focused on Tom's left eye. At f/2.8, you've got to be very specific.
The next time Christina or I buy a new camera, I'm pretty sure Tom will swing by with the one we're considering.
May 24, 2009 A Glimpse at the Process
Photographing the National Honor Society induction at Raton High School Tuesday night for my article in The Chronicle, suddenly KRTN's Billy Donati was at my right ear whispering, "Get a picture of Franko for me!"
Billy's son Franko was just then doing what the others were, blowing out a candle. Then the ceremony was over. I had only seconds to honor Billy's request. The picture on the right is what I got, and perhaps it's all Billy expected.
But it's not good enough. It became a processing challenge. I increased the exposure +.4, boosted the contrast, and sharpened. I cropped. Finally, I used a NIK Software filter in Color Efex Pro called "Darken/Lighten Center". This boosts the light where I designate, and darkens the rest, letting me control the size and degree of light and dark.
The result is on the left. That darkness down the left side is in both photos, the result of shooting next to a wall that blocked some of the flash on that side. While it interferes with the original shot, I think it works well with the added darkening effect of the filter I applied.
The two girls on the right were in the way and easy to crop out, but the girl behind Franko, who couldn't be cropped, actually adds to the image -- call it mystique, or call it sex appeal, both adding to the impression of Franko. Finally, the smoke of the just-extinguished candles adds a subtle touch of mystery and atmosphere.
I always try to get successful shots in my camera. This is an example where I didn't get that but managed to make up for it in processing. Billy and I were both pleased.
May 23, 2009 The Family Portrait
There are two photographers in my region who are in the business of taking individual and family portraits. I'm not. However, I've received two calls in the past two weeks asking me to do it.
The other two photographers, Marty Mayfield and Kim Mitchell, do school pictures, sports pictures, prom pictures, graduation pictures -- all that. And they sell print packages of the type you used to buy with your school pictures.
I've no interest in competing with Marty or Kim. Compare their online portrait galleries to mine and I think you'll agree that we're not competing. My interest remains on the fine arts side, and now on the photojournalism side -- producing frameable images that aspire to art, and/or taking photographs that tell a story.
However, I've said yes to my callers. Then I've tried to apply what I do to what they want. Hopefully we're finding a happy medium that makes us all happy.
By the way, that's the Vincent family above, of Springhill Ranch outside Des Moines, New Mexico. When I arrived for the photoshoot last Sunday, they showed me their last family photos, from 8 years ago: the kids are in a book of photos by Santa Fe's Gene Peach called Making a Hand: Growing Up Cowboy in New Mexico with text by Max Evans. It's a stunner.
To follow Gene's work is daunting, especially in his mastery of flash, which remains my weakest skill. I'm redoubling my efforts: between these portraits and my photojournalism, lacking mastery with flash is becoming too serious a detriment.
May 9, 2009 An Invitation
For a brief visit to my show at The Mitchell, simply click on the sign and enter. Thanks...enjoy.
May 3, 2009 Trying to Keep the Fine Arts in Photojournalism
In taking a photograph to accompany one of my newspaper articles, my first goal is to tell a story. The photo should tell its own story, all by itself. Then my written story should directly relate to the photo. I process my photos before I write, and often the photo I select influences the focus of the written story.
I've been so immersed in writing and photographing for The Chronicle-News that sometimes I feel like a fine arts photographer on extended leave. So, once I determine a way to get a photo that tells a story, I turn my attention to how I might accomplish that as artfully as possible.
Working with my friend Martin Montoya, as pure an artist as I know and a friend from Tecolote, New Mexico, it was easy to be creative: just being around Martin inspires creativity. He was here for a three-day stint as artist-in-residence in the elementary school and I was writing a feature on it.
The photos I take to illustrate my articles rarely qualify for a place in the galleries here on TimKellerPhotography.com, but I hope they often exceed expectations for a daily newspaper. Martin and I are both pleased with the one I got of him, called "Brush".
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