Gone racing

6 09 2014
The Mechanic.

The Mechanic. Without Kimura-san, the Lola Formula 3 car would never have gotten off the trailer.

‘Peter-san, please brake on’ – Kimura-san was about to put the jack under the front suspension, and just needed me to activate the brakes. Climbing over the wide body moulding, I levered myself into the driver’s ‘seat’ and stretched my legs down a seemingly endless tunnel. My size 11s found the pedals, but you need ballerina’s feet to touch only the brake. By turning myself kind of sideways, and pointing my toes, I managed it. Not a comfortable experience by any stretch of the imagination, and then there’s the wild howling crazed monster of an engine, inches behind the driver’s head. You really have to be a slave to cars, to even contemplate strapping yourself into one of these missiles.

I had come to Fuji International Speedway, location of the longest straight in the world, to shoot some portraits with a 10 year old Japanese karting champion. Unfortunately, he had gone to school. But Kimura-san, the mechanic for dentist Saito-san’s little F3 Lola, had an interesting face, and I told him so ‘not interesting, Peter. bad, maybe’. Saito-san owns and drives the Lola at closed meetings like this one, or historic racing events. But he seemed a little camera shy. So Kimura and I went to the pit lane, where you have these beautiful converging lines, and a heavy cloud covering the background. I shot with a 14mm lens, to include the dramatic architecture of the grandstand and circuit buildings. A flash in a soft box provided the light for Kimura’s face. It was a shame that the original subject had not made himself available, but still coming away with a great shot is compensation in itself.


coming & going

9 04 2013

coming & going

despite photography being almost the national hobby (smoking beats it), I get a few funny looks today, shooting fill flash in glaring sunlight. the suits, in Shinjuku.

here’s the way I have done it since the eighties…set the flash to auto (not TTL), select the widest auto aperture, in this case it’s F5.6. Set the lens to two stops smaller aperture, ie F11. Now the flash will complement but not overpower, the ambient light. Shutter speed can be set manually depending on how or little ambient light you want. for this one I shot at 1/400th. and processed in Nik EFX

3 lads

3 04 2013

3 lads

first shots with the light modifiers I ordered from CheetahLight in the USA. this one with the wide angle reflector. this unit is intended for use with an umbrella, dispersing the light better, to be reflected after. I wanted a harsher light, 120J flash was about 5 feet away from the boys; I shot from a low viewpoint with a 17mm lens. converted to b/w in processing, and warm toned.

some people might have cloned out the overhead wires but, these are an integral part of life in Japan. just shot in the road outside my house

Cheetah Bare Bulb modifiers – first impressions

30 03 2013

if you follow my occasional ramblings, you’ll know that I expressed an interest in the new to market Godox bare bulb flash and, more pointedly, the associated light modifiers that had been announced by the US distributor CheetahStand. I already own a couple of Sunpak 120J  barebulb units, and am quite happy with them. However finding modifiers has been a thankless task, until now. I ordered one of each of the following:

Std 5″ reflector

Wide Angle Umbrella Reflector

Honeycomb Grid and colour gel set

Conical and Cylindrical Snoot Set

12″ Beauty Dish

19″ Softbox with grid and ‘beauty dish’ reflector

All the accessories above come in plain white boxes, none of which could be considered substantial. The snoot set is the only item that has any kind of internal packing (a preformed card holder, which locates the units securely inside the flimsy outer box). Both snoots seem well made, and the honeycomb inserts are both removable.

Both reflectors, compared to my Sunpak originals, have the same planished finish inside, albeit with a slightly duller finish.

The grid and colour filter set seems well put together, just a shame there is no soft case or wallet included. Perhaps the case for my 122mm filter will fit? The grid has a flexible plastic  pulltab screwed to the side, to allow easy removal from the standard 5″ reflector, which has an appropriate sized lip to accommodate it.

The 19″ octagonal soft box, which is based on an umbrella design, has a recess of maybe 2″ deep at the front – this recess is lined with velcro, so that the front diffuser and grid, can be attached. The whole unit costs just $50…..which could be the cost of a eggcrate type grid alone, at another more well-known maker. There is a slightly dished metal reflector panel supplied, this screws onto the crown which surmounts the umbrella ribs, with the idea is emulating the light which comes from a beauty dish. We will see!

Finally, I did purchase the purpose-made 12″ beauty dish, which comes with a honeycomb grid, and white front diffuser. The construction is all metal but this hasn’t made the unit any less prone to damage…my example arrived damaged. I am fairly certain that this damage could have been avoided had the white box packing been supplemented with internal locators (expanded foam?) and possibly a double wall ‘white box’. Since CheetahStand have decided that international customers need to pay to return their faulty goods, it seems  as though this one is destined for the bin. Which is a shame. I had looked forward to using a decent metal beauty dish.

Over the next few days I hope to be able to get some practical experience with the modifiers, and report back. Cheers for now

interesting developments in bare bulb

13 03 2013

so for the last couple of years, I have been gradually building a bare flash system, centred around the increasingly elderly Sunpak 120J heads. these offer a small pack size and reasonable bang for the buck. especially useful for use with ultrawide and fisheye lenses, where the flash covers pretty much the whole area that the lens does. 

one has to eschew the modern comforts such as remote power control, modern power sources, and most of all, a good range of light modifiers, with the 120J. however, a company in China is now making a modern alternative, modelled more along the lines of the Quantum Q-Flash. I’ve decided to investigate their light modifiers initially, as these claim to be compatible with existing 120J heads. the LinkDelight company, based in Hong Kong I believe, is offering some of these new flashes – I had considered getting one of their  more basic gimbal heads, for my 400mm Nikon telephoto lens; so may end up combining the order. 

until only fairly recently, I had my doubts about these 3rd party accessories sold from Hong Kong, but a personal recommendation from a friend (using one of the GODOX battery packs) soon corrected my off-kilter thinking.



Lemon Drops

3 05 2012


So here we are on a wet Thursday afternoon. Middle of Golden Week, the national holiday of springtime Japan. It’s chucking it down with rain for the second consecutive day, and it’s my job to entertain & educate my two small boys, and their mates. Let’s have a bit of fun with flash:

We’ll take this PET bottle and cut it roughly in half lengthways. A fishtank would have been better, but we just didn’t have one lying around. We’ll put some towels down on the floor, and another towel on this low table. Lay the bottle on top of the towel, and light. A Nikon SB26 in the front, set to 1/16th power, and a Metz 40MZ in the back, at 1/32nd power. Fill the bottle with water, and find some colourful fruit……


Having these Nanostands makes life quite simple. The Metz in back is fired by a radio trigger, and the SB-26 simply has an integral optical slave unit, which explains a lot of its popularity, I think. In the setup pic above, I put a black poloneck shirt on top of the towel, to try to make the background a more continuous black. We hung a black canvas background behind the set. Much as I would LOVE Black Sabbath curtains, I can’t see the missus going along with it.


Find a willing participant – no shortage of small boys wanting to get wet and lob fruit around. Great! This guy’s even colour-matched his pajamas to the lemon. Take aim, and fire at will:


Missed! No fancy laser beams or sound/light triggers here, just a degree of ever more accurate prediction of impact. Just a fraction of a second later, and I would have nailed it. But the beauty of this little setup is, you can have as much splashy fun as you want. The camera and shutter speed are largely unimportant…….because, as I explained to a group of students last week, the only light in this shot, is coming from the flash. Which is burning for only perhaps 1/2000th of a second. Maybe even less. You just want to make the exposure based only on the flash, ie a low enough ISO, small enough F stop, and high enough shutter speed, to completely exclude available light. All shot at 125 asa(iso), started at 1/800th F5.6, and ended at 1/1250th F8. Just experimenting really. I should add that I shoot with the Nikon D1x, whose flash sync speed is unlimited. Most current cameras can’t sync beyond 1/250th, but with dim available light, that shouldn’t present a problem.


Getting closer


Ah-ha! Perseverance pays off. I’ll own up to being a grumpy old curmudgeon and say now that there are a number of things I’m not happy with – could always use a little bit more depth of field with the water drops, some of the ribs in the PET bottle have distorted the light, there are lots of ways that this could be improved but yes, we had fun, my two sons both have their own DSLR cameras and got involved with shooting, which was half the battle really.


And yes, he really got his teeth into our little project…..still scratching my head about that. Happy trails!


I’m confused about flash…..

26 04 2012

People say to me ‘I’m confused about flash’. Here’s how I look at it: it’s just like a very small sun, that you can put in your pocket. It only burns for an instant, but you have complete control over it. How great is that?