Lighting 102: 7.1 - Flash Zoom and Stone Soup

Remembering back to our last post in Lighting 102, we talked about panning, rotating and selective diffusion as a means of altering your photo after the flash has popped but before the shutter has closed.

The fourth time-based manipulation I frequently use is zooming through the exposure. And last month we pulled that technique out of our as.. bag of tricks during the "stone soup" shoot in NYC.

Having thrown down the gauntlet for a local shooter to come up with a subject and venue, I was at first a little underwhelmed with the response. I mean, this was NYC, fer Pete's sake. There had to be something interesting going on.

Then Tim Herzog popped up, with not one but four separate ideas. His strategy: Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.

What stuck was an invite up onto the roof of one of those amazing apartment buildings on the Upper West Side overlooking central park. Not a bad location, you know, if you have to slum it... Here's the view, looking northeast, right after sunset. It is a five-shot stitch shot on a D300 and assembled in CS3. (Thanks for the easy pano tip, Ben!)

If you are not the jealous type, click on the pic to see it bigger. Michael (who granted us access to his rooftop) just stood there enjoying the view with us, with the serenity of a man who has chosen a kickass place to live.

Timothy, ever the gracious host, had also brought along puppeteer Patrick Zung as our subject. And Patrick is not one of those "sock puppet" makers, either. He builds these cool puppets used for stop-motion animation. The joints were made out if pool balls -- genius. It was cool and creepy, all at the same time. Like something out of the movie, "A.I.," if you ask me.

The view was amazing. But logistically, I knew the photo was gonna be tough. The park pretty much went to black after the sun went down. And the Midtown buildings, along with the rooftop's layout forced us to shoot in a way that was tough to get the good lights in the frame unless we crammed up against the edge.

Also, we had no way to light him from the far side. Unless you had a 300-foot light stand. Or Spiderman.

So, as our light started waning, I lit Patrick and friend with an umbrella'd SB-800, ( front camera right) secretly wishing I had invited Peter Parker along to assist. We really needed that light out on the far side for separation.

As our ambient started to drop further, I added a couple of accent lights to add some shape to our subjects.

As you can see, one came from back camera right and another from underneath the puppet. These gave a more 3-D look to our guys. Also, I gelled those flashes with a 1/2 CTO and a fluorescent green combo, which gets you a neat, sodium vapor feel without going all of the way there. Sort of the way sodium vapor looks to the eye, rather than to the camera. It is more logical. Straight white light would look weird and contrived in this environment.

Shooting handheld with a 70-200/2.8, our ambient light was dropping fast. Patrick's black top was not going to separate without some light from the left, and things were getting darker by the minute.

As my shutter speed inched toward the Hail Mary range (~1/4 sec) I started pulling the zoom as I shot. This gave me another look to the lights -- and a more abstract look to the photo. Suddenly the environment was not necessarily a New York rooftop. It was a weird, swooshy thing that really started to fit well with the creepy futuristic puppet vibe.

So we decided to let the black top go dark and just hint at the separation with the swooshed city lights. (I could vary the background light by opening up the shutter.) I really liked the effect that zooming gave the background. And the up-light on the puppet (and Patrick) added some nice form. FWIW, the form on the shirt comes from the back/right light.

It is important that the ambient light level on Patrick was lower than that in the background. Otherwise he would ghost badly during the burn-in time. We had scads of sodium vapor up there, so we knocked it down some with a piece of black foam core that is always with me in my bag. We simply "A-clamped" it to the light fixture.

I would have used Tim as a gobo, but he was already working as my voice-activated back-right light stand. There is still some ghosting on Patrick, but I think that little bit works okay within the abstract feel of the photo.

Another thing on the zoom -- start the zooming (wide-to-tele in this case) before you hit the shutter. This makes for a smoother effect without the jerky looks you'll get otherwise.

We finished it out at about the one-second at f/2.8 (ISO 400) light level. When it gets that dark, it is time to call it a night. Plus, there was to be food involved at this point.

In NYC, you are never more than a few minutes walk from some good food -- and Tim delivered there, too.

NEXT: L102 7.2 - Time in a Bottle


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Blogger Paul Baarn said...

Cool shots. Different looks to all of them. Where I live voice-activated lightstands seem to be out of stock. Are they readily available in the US? ;-)

August 28, 2008 2:07 AM  
Blogger Herson Rivera / ProPixel Photography said...

That's amazing for a 70-200 handheld shot @ 1/4th.
Maybe an SB-800 on the edge behind his back for separation?

August 28, 2008 2:51 AM  
Anonymous Geoff said...

Very cool.

What exactly is the pano tip from Ben that you mentioned?

August 28, 2008 3:44 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

I love most of your photos, but I think that zoomed photo looks very nasty and gimmicky.

August 28, 2008 5:27 AM  
Blogger Rishi said...

Does this mean the end of lightning 102?! :( Sob..sob...what's next?

August 28, 2008 5:42 AM  
Blogger Gordon Saunders said...

In one of your previous posts you stuck a strobe on a monopod to shoot a sportsman in a crowded area. Could you have stuck one of those over the edge to give rim light (and a spectacular crash if it fell)?


August 28, 2008 6:12 AM  
Anonymous ewoud said...

Nice post again David, I was just wandering. What pan technique by Ben are you refering to?

August 28, 2008 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Hurtubise said...

That stitch would make a great Zoomify, how about that :-)

August 28, 2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger Marcin Retecki said...

Last pic turned out really nice, i have to say that surreal effect looks good and will have to try it on my own :)

August 28, 2008 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Dave Polaschek said...

Seems to me if you really wanted the lighting from behind for separation, that would be a perfect time for a strobe on a pole.

One of the local guys here in Minneapolis has some kind of graphite sea-water fishing pole that assembles into a 40 foot pole. He sticks his camera on it (when he's not flying a kite), but a strobe would be even easier to reach out.

August 28, 2008 9:22 AM  
OpenID cmh said...

I clicked through to Ben's site and got intrigued by the light in the first photo of this entry (NSFW-Artistic nudes). I would be really interested in knowing how the X-Ray look of that picture came to be.

Can you shed any light on this (groan) in a future post?

August 28, 2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will second the importance of having a backlit or limited light on a subject when doing the panning/zoom techniques.

Here is a photograph I did of nature photographer Freeman Patterson in the woods behind his home. He is well know for using panning, zooming, etc, for his nature photography, so I decided to photography Freeman the way he photographs things. Adding the flash at the end of course to get a sharp image of him.

i made sure he was backlit to avoid ghosting, but you can see a slight amount at the top of his head where the light shone through his hair
you can see some other variations here:

August 28, 2008 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DIY Voice Activated Light Stand (for the first commenter):
First, find the tallest attractive single member of the opposite sex you can find....

August 28, 2008 12:48 PM  
Blogger Stephen White Photography said...

I just saw the "Xray" photo on Ben's site. That is pretty cool. How'd he do it? Neg image & layer masks? Hmm?

August 28, 2008 1:36 PM  
Blogger Pat Morrissey said...

Hi David, I thought I had this zoom, rear curtain flash thing under control until you said wide to tele.
Joe Mcnally says the opposite on p32 of TMIC.
Is it just a matter of choice?

August 28, 2008 1:50 PM  
Blogger Andy M said...

The zoom burst + flash make a really nice effect.

Looks like you could have used a "Strobist Jet Pack" for the rim light:

August 28, 2008 2:12 PM  
Blogger David said...


Yup, matter of preference depending on the kind of photo you are doing. In this photo, I did wide to tele so the background tracking would not encroach into the area of the frame occupied by Patrick.


August 28, 2008 2:21 PM  
Anonymous tpuerzer said...


Great post & photo! Many thanks!

Here's a high-key version of the flash and zoom technique:

Thanks again!


August 28, 2008 5:05 PM  
Blogger Pat Morrissey said...

@ David
Aha! Now that clicked:-)

August 28, 2008 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is too strange. I was doing the same shot just minutes before I went to this article.

August 28, 2008 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

That surreal looking puppet lends itself well to the zooming technique. If I shoot in a nightclub I will often use this technique. The variety of coloured lights adds to the picture. Also it makes a great cropping tool for cluttered backgrounds.

Cool post and love the panoramic view.

many regards Rich

August 28, 2008 9:11 PM  
Blogger Pat Morrissey said...

David, me again. Trying to get my head round this image.
Was this front curtain shutter?

August 29, 2008 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really wanted lighting out away from the building, just get a monopod or a tripod. You can put your flash on it and hand hold it out away from the subject.

Same can be to mount your camera on and use either a wireless trigger, wired trigger, or a delay trigger. This way you can get to extreme heights, lengths than you would normally be able to do.

August 29, 2008 3:54 PM  
Blogger Tina M. Harris said...

Great photo -- and it was good to see it in the PPA Magazine this month. In fact, I loved the article about you and Strobist AND I loved the article that was written BY you (especially the diagrams that you included to explain how you set your lights).

Any chance you will do another light seminar in Seattle any time again soon?

All the best from Tina Harris.

November 16, 2008 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Matt Bostock said...

For the first photo of the puppeteer, would it have been possible to side-light him with a strobe dangling/taped to the side of the building facing towards the sky?

April 08, 2009 5:09 PM  

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