Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Tricks

Parent: "Did you enjoy your first day at school?"
Child: "First day? You mean I have to go back again tomorrow?"

I have a memory from childhood of assuming that once I left school I wouldn’t have to worry about learning anything ever again. In fact sometimes I studied hard in the desperate hope I might even be able to finish school completely by the time I was 12. I was really looking forward to it, until one day a teacher said, "Real learning starts once you leave..."

I was horrified. Would it never end?

He was the only teacher to ever say that, and for a while I managed to convince myself he was just winding us up. Certainly if he’d said that by the time I reached the ancient age of 46 I’d still be learning, I would probably have lost all hope.

Of course learning new things is what keeps the mind agile, even if it is sometimes accompanied by the lurching fear we will never get the hang of it and end up feeling useless and humiliated.

Next week I’m doing a photo shoot that requires 2 new skills to learn. The first is creating a flaming handheld torch, like you see in films when the character is heading down into a dungeon or tomb. Over the weekend I was emailing friends, reading articles and watching YouTube videos. Yesterday I tore an old t-shirt in two. The first half I dipped in melted wax, then wrapped it around a stick and bound it with thin wire. The second was also bound to a stick, but I drizzled it with lamp oil instead.

So now I know wax helps it burn longer, but oil burns quicker and fiercer and is easier to light, though more likely to remove your eyebrows if you’re not careful.

The second thing to learn is something that’s been on my things-to-do list for quite some time: off-camera flash.

Most cameras come with a built in flash to produce more light in low light conditions. However, there are distinct disadvantages. As well as red-eye effects, the light produced is harsh and comes from the same direction as the camera, which is limiting and often uninteresting. Usually for portraits, light either needs to be soft and ambient (more flattering), or from the side (more characterful).

On a bright day, a place in the shade or near a window gives you plenty of options to play with. On a dull day, studio lights can be manoeuvred into many different positions. But if you’re outdoors, away from a power supply, and light is low, then flash units are necessary. However, to create interesting lighting effects you need to be able to position them in other places than on top of the camera, and then find a way to trigger them to go off in sync with the camera.

The first of 2 I’ve ordered arrived this morning.



Because I regularly visit various photography sites, read lots of articles on photography and watch countless YouTube videos on the subject, I know the potential of having what is effectively a portable lighting system I can use anywhere.

And on one level it’s very exciting as a whole new world opens up to explore.

But I’m also aware of just how much I have to learn before I can a) use them, and b) use them effectively.

So far I’ve unwrapped the box, taken it out of the box, stared at it, opened the manual, closed the manual, stared at it, photographed it, gone and found some batteries for it, stared at it, and now written a blog post about it.

At some point I’m going to have to switch it on…

8 comments:

hope said...

I'm impressed that you even opened the manual. :)

Can't wait to see what happens once you figure it all out!

allencapoferri said...

That's what I'd do with something new like that. That's the funny thing about learning.

Theanne said...

I'm with Hope...you OPENED the manual...I have 4 point and shoot cameras (2 I dropped on cement and cracked the cases)and I've yet to read a manual. and you've written a blog about your new flash...you're committed now you know...you'll have to read the manual. I, however, can't wait to see the photographic art you achieve with portable flashes and torches!!

Guyana-Gyal said...

Be careful, that manual might think you're afraid of it :-D

Maybe if you were to sleep with it under your pillow...? Osmosis!

In my book, most manuals are badly written. I wonder who writes them, sheesh.

I had some of the most boring teachers in this universe! Only the English teachers, the music teacher and the art teachers were really great.

savannah said...

i'm with sister hope, sugar! you opened the manual! i'm still carrying around the little one that came with my new mobile HOPING that it will somehow make my phone do what i want... xoxoxo

JoAnn Falgout said...

How exciting -- new toys!! I know you will figure it out, and probably learn some cool things that aren't in the manual, too. Happy lighting! :)

Pat said...

Don't you always find it easier to do a 'hands on' feel with new stuff rather than RTFM.
I know I do.
BTW is it true that if you get the model to look into a strong light before the photo it stops red eye?
I know you are going to have great fun with your new whatsit. Enjoy:)

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - I may have opened the manual, but I didn't say I'd read anything in it before I closed it again...

Allen - I think if felt everything was going to be completely straight forward, I wouldn't worry. But experience has shown these things very rarely ever are, and vast amounts of time get wasted trying to figure out why it isn't working even though you did everything you were supposed to. And it's that part that causes the dread of getting started

Theanne - as I said above, I didn't confess to actually reading it...

Guyana-Gyal - some teachers are passionate about their subject and want to communicate that enthusiasm to anyone in their class. These are the best ones. Unfortunately there are some teachers who are there because of a lack of imagination - basically they couldn't figure out what to do when they left school, so never did

Savannah - but I didn't say I'd read it. Actually I quite like Guyana-Gyal's suggestion of putting it under the pillow and hoping the information might seep into me while I sleep :)

JoAnn - thank you :)

Pat - red eye is caused by the light from the flash bouncing off the back of the retina. So the reason for getting someone to look into a strong light is so their pupils contract, and there's less room for the light to pass through the pupil and bounce back. :)