Yoga Self Portrait

I took up yoga again at the end of last summer, having had a break of about two years, and I’m so pleased that I returned to it. The chance to experience stillness and peacefulness, and to momentarily press the pause button on the busy lives that we lead is what appeals to many, as well as the physical benefits. Yoga poses strengthen your body and work your core, leading to improved posture. This has the effect of alleviating back, shoulder and neck pain  – I always leave class feeling relaxed and as though my back has had a massage. If you’ve never tried yoga before, you might be forgiven for thinking that it looks quite easy (I did!), but after holding your body still in a pose and feeling the muscles burn, you’ll realise that it’s not just about lying down and deep breathing!

With this self portrait, I really wanted to manipulate the light, with the focus on the hands and an invisible black background. This is something that is quite difficult to achieve inside, as the flash tends to bounce off light coloured walls, of which I have plenty!

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 Reverse prayer pose, or pashchima namaskarasana

The first step is to try and get rid of all ambient (natural) light, and the best way to do this is by putting the camera into manual mode, so that you have complete control over the shutter speed and aperture. You then need to set your ISO to the lowest possible setting. The best explanation for what ISO is and does was one offered by Bryan Peterson in his book ‘Understanding Exposure’, which I would thoroughly recommend. He likens ISO to worker bees – if you use ISO 200, you have 200 worker bees; if you use ISO 400, you have 400 worker bees. The job of the bees is to gather light coming through the lens to make an image. Well, I wanted to get rid of all ambient light coming through the lens, so that meant as few worker bees as possible and ISO 200.

The next step is to set your shutter speed to the maximum sync speed – the maximum speed that both the flash and camera will work together. Any faster and the shutter will open and close before the flash of light can go through the lens. I set my shutter speed to 1/250th of a second.

Next, you need to figure out what aperture setting to use. Start with a low ‘f’ number (wide aperture) and keep increasing the ‘f’ number until your camera is capturing images that are completely black. Mine was set to f/8.0.

Now that your camera is set, it’s time to introduce light. I set my flash up on a Bowens light stand with reflective umbrella, and used Pocket Wizards to fire it. I placed the stand about a metre – metre and a half away from my test subject (a chair), in order to test out the flash power. With the flash in manual, I started with a power level of 1/4, which was too bright, so I kept lowering the power until I achieved the desired level of light. My flash ended up set to 1/16. Also, with the umbrella fully opened, I found that the light was cast over quite a large area, which is not what I wanted. The idea was to focus it more intensely towards the chair. I therefore closed the umbrella down a bit, in order to focus where the light would fall.

If you have a willing subject or an object to photograph, then your work here is done. If not, then it’s time to set the camera to timer mode, focus the camera on your stand in object (or otherwise you won’t have an image that’s in focus), then work quickly to replace said object with yourself, all before the shutter goes off! No mean feat!

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