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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The long walk home

It seems like just yesterday we had full snow cover and great ice here in the Lakes but how quickly it disappears. A couple of days of warm southerlies and it's back to wet and windy, grey and drab and not a white patch to be seen on the hill. Which means that when conditions are here you got to get out there and shoot, right now.

For me and my pal Paddy, "right now" was one evening after work in late January, hoping to be in time to catch the dying sunset. There was no time to mess about trying to get to a great location, just where ever we could find some snow, a decent mountain background and a high fell road for a 5 minute walk-in. So Kirkstone Pass it was then, always a good bet for this kind of thing.

I really wanted to get that end-of-the-day, "last rays of the sunset" look for this winter walking portrait but unfortunately, despite our best efforts to race up the hill, the declining sun (or what there was of it) beat us. The location went to full shadow as we panted up the mountainside - well I panted up - Paddy is as fit as a butchers' dog and doesn't appear to notice things like ascents.

My solution was to to try and recreate the warm look of evening light on the snow with a Nikon SB600 speedlight and gold pop-up reflector. The set-up was pretty easy. I located a decent patch of virgin snow - "no walking in that bit, I want it untracked please", with a nice view out over the Kirkstone Pass, the summit of which is the location of Britain's third highest pub, the Kirkstone Pass Inn (altitude 1500 ft!)

I set up my ancient and battered Manfrotto 190D series tripod and clamped my trusty Nikon SB600 flash complete with dome diffuser for extra scatter/diffusion onto it using a home-made Justin Clamp (must get a proper set of these things). I often take a tripod rather than a lightstand on the hill with me because it's more versatile on uneven ground, it's heavier and more stable so it won't blow over and if I need a tripod to shoot from I'd rather have the real thing rather than try and to adapt a lightstand for camera use.

I used a couple of small Pony clamps (watch the Justin Clamp video - those are Pony clamps) to fix my 5-in-1 reflector disc to the tripod legs, using the rake of the tripod legs to aim the reflector up at Paddy. I take the reflector everywhere with me these days - you never know. The SB600 on the JC is aimed at the reflector and bingo - you have a big swathe of soft, warm, golden light illuminating your subject - just like a sunset. I added a bit of foreground/background colour differential by dialing in a lower K value for the white balance to make the ambient sky glow a deeper shade of blue. What that basically involves is going to the white balance control in the custom menu, finding the K value settings and dialing in something like 3500k instead of 5000k or whatever the daylight value is at the time. This is like putting a blue filter over the lens - it cools everything down, including the warm flash, which might otherwise look a bit too orange to be believable.

The shutter speed ended up dragging a fair bit to get the fast disappearing ambient light, which has resulted in a fair bit of motion blur in the boots but I'm OK with that. I feel it adds a bit of dynamic movement to the shot and stops it being too static. I use motion blur all the time.

I'll add to this post soon, with some pix of the gear I used.

Bottom line? It's always worth going out and trying for a shot while the conditions are there - if you don't go, you get nothin'.

Nikon D700, Nikkor 18-35mm Af-D ED, SB600, using Nikon CLS system, Manfrotto 190D tripod, home-made Justin Clamp, Expro diffuser/reflector