Saturday, October 10, 2009

Taking Halloween pictures - part 1: the plan

Last year our toddler's Halloween pictures came out mediocre (like in the shot above) because I didn't understand how to control the flash properly.  This year, with better understanding of flash controls, I'm looking forward to the many photographic opportunities available at Halloween.

Here's my plan for this year. We're spending Halloween at Disneyland again, so it will be a good test of whether and how much I can improve my shots over last year's pictures:

1. Balance ambient and flash
a. in TTL, ambient can be controlled not just by shutter but also by ISO and aperture. Last year I controlled ambient only by slowing the shutter, which sometimes led to unintended flash blur like this:

b. I will watch flash exposure carefully and decrease FEC as necessary. TTL may be fooled with predominantly black costumes.

2. Gel the flash with CTO to simulate firelight and candlelight.
Last year I didn't use a gel at all, which made the light from the flash obvious and artificial:

This year, I will be putting two layers of 1/4 CTO (so that I can remove one and get 1/4 CTO if necessary).

3. Use handheld reflective (not shoot through) umbrella:
My plan is to use soft but restricted light, kind of like this photo that I saw on flickr:
I don't know for sure how the shot above was taken, but I believe that look can be achieved with a gridded softbox, which makes the softbox much more directional.  (Either that or maybe a softbox was moved in very close to the subject to make the light fall off faster.)
Anyhow, a shoot-through umbrella results in more spill.  I want more directionality to add more drama.  I don't have a gridded softbox (or a softbox for that matter), but I do have a reflective umbrella, which is more directional.  Reflective umbrellas (especially the silver ones) can be more specular, but the one I'll be using is a softbox-umbrella hybrid I bought from ebay (like this one).
As an added bonus, Halloween is probably one of the few days in the year when no one will give a second look to an umbrella.

4. Use noise reduction software
Until recently, I never bothered to use noise reduction software.  Now that I understand that I can use ISO to increase ambient exposure (instead of just using a slower shutter speed), I see the need for noise reduction software so I can be more daring with higher ISOs.

The stuff I plan to bring are:
  • Nikon D80
  • Tamron 28-75 2.8 (I would prefer a 17-50 2.8 if I had one so I could capture more scenery as "establishing shots")
  • SB800 w/ two 1/4 CTO gels
  • tripod - for long exposures and as a boom for rim light

I have other more ambitious ideas like using the D80's multiple exposure mode to make ghost-like images and composite shots with a "larger" moon, but these are what I plan to do at a minimum.

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