Armed with a Nikon D3000, this is a record of my quest to rediscover photography after a 30 year gap, to put snapshots behind me, and to learn how to take great photos that other people would want to own. I have the theoretical knowledge, now I need to build the practical skills, and develop a "photographer's eye".
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Fill-in Flash and Bokeh
I was out for a walk today, and being mid-winter here in Australia, the sun was low in the sky, and yet the sky was blue and not a cloud in sight. Looking out across the harbour, the sun was reflecting off the water brightly, and I was trying various ways of shooting into the light. Then, I came across this seagull, sitting on a post, and I was able to position myself so that it was against all that sparkling water - the effect I was after is called Bokeh. You've all seen it - you probably just didn't know it has a name... it's the effect you get when a point of light is massively out of focus. What happens is that the out of focus 'blob' of light adopts the shape of the hole through which light is entering the camera. In most cases, that will be pretty much a circle, or a roughly circular something-agon (depending on the number of blades in the iris of the lens - the more blades, the closer to a true circle it will be). So, because I was focused quite tightly on the gull just three feet away from me, and those sparkles were way out in the harbour, even at f/8 they were very unfocused and I was able to see some Bokeh effect. You can see it especially to the right of the gull's head.
Bokeh can be used a little more creatively than just blurry circles of light forming a backdrop. By cutting a circle of black card that will fit inside a filter screwed to the lens, and then cutting a shape (a star for example) out of the middle of the circle - you have an instant Bokeh maker. Just slip the circle of card over the lens, and screw on the filter to keep it in place, then go out in search of some sparkles (for those of you with Point and Shoots - you may need to use some other means of mounting the card to the lens - you could try Blu-Tak, but I'd avoid taping it on - also beware of lenses that retract into the camera behind little slidey doors - don't want to accidentally gum those up with any sticky stuff when the camera unexpectedly switches itself off while your Bokeh card is still attached).
Any pinpoints of light will do - distant street lights, xmas tree lights, sparkly reflections on Sydney Harbour... As soon as you defocus them, they will adopt the shape you cut in the card. Give it a try and have some fun - try theming your Bokeh maker with the photos, like hearts for a luvvy-duvvy couple portrait ;-) Also try cutting bigger holes and small ones to see what difference it makes, or try cutting several holes in one bit of card.
Now, while I was pleased to get the Bokeh I wanted, sadly, there was just too much of it, and it was too bright over most of the photo - so much so, that on the uncropped version the seagull almost looked like it was in silhouette. I retrieved it somewhat by cropping out a lot of the very bright reflections to the left, but I was still left with a rather grey looking seagull, which in reality was brilliant white (Dulux would have been proud of it). What I should have done, was popped up the flash. You might think it strange using the flash in such bright conditions, but remember - I was shooting into the sun, so anything facing the camera was hidden in its own shadow. In these circumstances, by letting the flash go off as well, you can illuminate the shady side of your subject to lose some of that silhouette look. I wish I'd thought about it at the time, so I could have posted a with and without comparison.
My lesson learned for today? Think about flash when shooting a subject against the sun.