Building a Shot

A photographers life is all about compromises and every one of them comes with their own challenges. One of the compromises I made when choosing my camera was taking the crop sensor over a full frame sensor. For the majority of the shooting I do (wildlife, landscapes), this is the better choice. For some of the shooting I do (dance, event), it can cause some issues.  Since I have a dance shoot coming up in April I was looking for a way to lessen the compromise I had made with my choice of camera body. To that end, I purchased the Sigma 18-35 F1.8 Art series lens. On my crop sensor camera, this translates into a 28-56 F2.8 lens.  This lens will let in 4 times the amount of light as the lens I was using.  This is a good thing for indoor photography and will allow me to shoot at much  lower ISO’s to get the shutter speeds I am looking for.


As the lens arrived yesterday, I thought I would spend a little time putting it through a few test shots. As I was doing this, I realized that I had captured a few images that showed how I go about building the final photograph that I show people. One of my favorite photographers once said “If you want to be known as a great photographer, only show your great pictures”.  I am going to break that rule and show you some of the less than great ones that built to what I finally shared.


The subject of this shoot is a pewter candle holder that sits in my living room.



This first photo was taken allowing the camera to choose the correct exposure. I used aperture priority set to F1.8 to allow the most light to come in.  As you can see, it exposed perfectly for the candle light, but left the rest of the image black.


For this second shot, I turned on the room lights in the sunroom that is behind the position of the candle. This brought some life into the scene and showed the counter top that candle is resting on. However, the foreground is still really dark.  I know, let’s use some flash to fill this in!



Holy Cow!  What happened here?  When I set my flash up, I had it on eTTL exposure which means the flash was trying to light the entire scene.  As such, it completely blew out the foreground as it was trying to light the room in the back. Not exactly what I was looking for.  So, let’s adjust the flash to it’s lowest setting of 1/128th power and try again.



Much better!  However, the humming bird in the foreground is much too bright and the counter top shows the direction of the flash.  Again, not quite what I am looking for.  So, let’s break this image down and see what we like and what needs to be adjusted.

1) the background looks good. A nice warm light and very diffused.

2) the counter top is too bright. Bad.

3) The candle holder is too bright and too white. Bad.

4) There is a directional shadow from the flash. Bad.


Ok, since I cannot turn the power on my flash down any further. How do I get less light from it?  I could move the flash farther away, but since it is attached to the camera it is not an option.  Ok, let’s place a diffuser between the camera and candle….. Hmmm, again, the flash is attached to the camera so not an option…  Think, Think, Think.   (imagine a light bulb going off over my head now).  I’VE GOT IT!  I will use my left hand and place a couple of fingers in front of the flash to diffuse it and and hope it is enough…




This is perfect. It shows the glow of the candle and using my fingers reduces the light falling on the candle holder perfectly.


If I was to do this again, I would hold a piece of golden cellophane in my fingers as I blocked the light to provide a more golden glow to the candle holder. But all in all, I am very happy with the final result.


This all shows that the photography that we finally see is likely built through a series of mistakes to get to the final product.

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