Suck it, h8rs. How I took a non-sucky photo below the jump.
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Dappled late-day light in the woods is a real problem. You never have enough light to just point and click a good shot, and little chance of getting your subject in a position where he looks good or stands out from the background. If you can engineer that then bully for you, but I did not feel like taking the time. Instead I got the late-day sun through the leaves behind Max to create a sort of edge-lit outline around him and set the exposure in manual mode so that the shutter was at the GH2’s max sync speed (1/160 s), the ISO was low enough to have more or less zero noise (250) and then I dialed an aperture (6-ish) that underexposed the scene by about one and a half stops. Max and the foreground were lit with one strobe on a radio trigger in my left hand, after goofing around with the power settings until Max looked good (I worked that out by practicing on a tree). The strobe is an old Achiever 632LCD that you can get, or something like it, for about fifty bucks and the radio trigger cost $20 on eBay, so this is an example of how you can do (arguably) very nice stuff for not much money.
A couple of useful observations:
(1) Notice how much nicer it looks when I get the light source way off-axis. Max looks like a real thing in 3D space rather than a cardboard party prop.
(2) When photographing pets, kids and other short things, get the camera low and use the tilting LCD if you have one. This pic would have looked better if I had gotten even lower.
(3) I had a diffuser clipped on the strobe head. This cuts down how much light you can get to the subject, but it also helps a ton to spread out the light source as much as possible. A clip-on diffuser works much better than the little flip-out things that some strobes have, a softbox/umbrella is better than that and the my favorite portrait ever happened when I talked an aunt into holding a white bedsheet off to the side and I lit the whole thing.
(4) Having the sun provide edge light is a great way to get a two-light portrait using only one light. However, you have to do it at the end of the day or in the woods. Otherwise the ambient is too bright for you to use anything close to the camera’s sync speed, which is usually 1/200 second or slower. Some cameras such as my GH2 have an option called ‘high-speed sync’ that can get around that problem by letting you use much faster shutter speeds at the cost of some strobe power. For that reason I am thinking about buying a TTL cable and high speed sync-capable strobe to replace my poor, drowned FL-36R.