And Now for Something Completely Different!
My friend, Einar Erlendsson, who invited me to Iceland in the first place, assured me that it’s a place where the mad Vikings roam. He wasn’t kidding.
Out there in the hot springs, he introduced me to Ingo, who was going to be our character model for the day—with the emphasis on “character.” He was a fun-loving, decent guy, and a non-stop talker. I remember him just peppering me with conversation, and not understanding a word he said. Einar said he was a “real Viking,” which, at the end of the day, I just took to mean “flat-out wild man.” He was also a photographer. Of course.
No matter. He had a couple of outfits. Instead of the helmet and the broadsword, we opted for the biker jacket and the shotgun. As I recall, he didn’t have a leotard and a tutu. Too bad, as it would have been an interesting entry to my dance archive.
I wanted to shoot him with the Northern moon, which was full and bright. Seemed appropriate. To do so, I had to get him to high ground, and far enough away from me to use a big lens. Ever try to shoot the moon? (I mean, photographically?) It’s easy to be moon-struck as a photog. This near neighbor of ours in the solar system has oozed enchantment, mystery, and romance throughout human history. We look up at this big, beautiful moon, and then try to shoot it in reference to something earthbound, and it more than likely ends up as a tiny, annoying, bright white bullet hole through our pixels. So annoying and attention-getting that I imagine some shooters—after going all out for a moon shot of a photo—then just blot it out in post-production. That sucker’s bright, hard to manage, and small, even through a decent-sized telephoto lens.
So, I knew I had to get my subject up and away, far away. In fact, this was shot with a 1,000mm lens, or the equivalent thereof. (It was a 600mm f/4, plus a TC-17E II 1.7 teleconverter, which makes the overall lens almost an f/8, effectively.)
Given the raw, rough-around-the-edges quality of my subject, I figured a raw flash would do quite nicely. Actually, I’m just saying that. When we finally hit on the fact that doing this pic was going to be possible, a simple, VAL (voice-activated light stand, i.e., an assistant) hard flash treatment was all that we could manage to throw together in time. The Norseman went up the rocks, next to the moon. Drew grabbed a flash and scrambled up there with him.
Ever go to a lecture where an utterly insufferable photog of note is showing work and waxing eloquently about the nature of the light or the camera-work, and how their wizardly, knowing touch at the moment of exposure imparted magic to the image? Thus, it possesses a certain je ne sais quoi, an undeniable power that one can’t touch or define, but is truly there, somewhere? That they are actually not wielding a camera, but instead an instrument more akin to a Harry Potter–like wand and the resultant exposure is really more of a spell than a photo?
It’s hogwash. Practical concerns, falling light levels, rapidly rising moons, and desperation drive most field asolutions. Mysticism comes later.
The one fancy fillip I did add here was to figure this as a perfect testing ground for the relatively newly arrived Flex/Minis, the radio TTL Pocket-Wizards. These promise to take the arcane language of TTL and translate it into radio waves, thus freeing the photog from the shackles of line-of-sight transmission. Great situation to try this out. Clear field from transmitter to receiver, in a remote area, pretty much devoid of competing RF. Fresh batteries, aerial exposed, good to go.
It didn’t work. Tried every which way I could right then and there, but got no transmission. In their defense, the units were still in the beta stage of things, and thus shy of the myriad firmware updates still to come. We might have easily done smoething wrong, like miss a step in the powering sequence of the Flex/Minis, which is roughly akin to a shuttle launch. Or we didn’t do the secret flash radio handshake properly. Or we used the wrong incense for the burnt offerings we made to the gods of radio TTL. Or Drew didn’t rub the receiver for luck. I don’t know.
What I do know is I went line-of-sight, SU-4 optical slave mode, something that has been with us shooters for a long time. Drew just put the unit in manual, full power, and I triggered it with a flash pop at camera. Easy, and antediluvian.
It worked. Because of the distance from my camera to my subject, the flash at the camera did not affect him at all. It didn’t alter or influence my exposure. All the light on him is from the remote flash, handheld, up there on the rocks, to the right of camera. The light sensor panels on the SB-900 are quite sensitive, and very much so when in SU-4 mode. When in TTL mode, they are seeking a specific frequency of light emanating from the commander, and are thus constrained to only fire in response to that frequency. Think of it as a partially open door. When you go to SU-4 optical slave mode, you throw the door wide open. The thing will fire in response to any sudden increase of light, coming from anywhere. I’ve been on location in the big city where a passing ambulance with the gumball machine on will trigger an 800 or 900 from a couple hundred feet away. Hence, my pop from shouting distance at the camera was more than enough to ignite this flash for my subject.
The final was 1,000mm lens, D3X, ISO 500, 1/30th at f/16, tripod. I went for as much depth as I could find, as I wanted some sharpness to the moon. As you can see, even at f/16, the lunar surface is not detailed; it is more like shadows and textures.
My foreground subject is not texture, however. He’s a full-blown, hard-flashed, shotgun-toting, moon-howling man of the north, out there on the rocks.