Monday, December 22, 2008

Post-Gig Reflections

Wow... Started this post soon after the gig and then promptly put it on the backburner for almost a month...

While I don't want to share too much, I figured I'd say a few things about last Saturday's job. Overall, I'd say it went well and I learned a lot, but I wasn't so happy with the candids. After I got home (pretty late) and knocked the 200 or so images down to around 90, I was a little happier, but the shots were far from perfect.

Before I talk much more about the candids (and share a few shots, thanks to the help of Mr. Pixelator) let me mention a few of the random things I learned:

  1. Give forty-year-old affluent women a reason (70's theme party) and they'll dress in very short skirts and very high heels.
  2. High-heeled shoes punch through seamless like nobody's business when that seamless is on carpet. Bring some plywood if the venue doesn't have hardwood floors.
  3. Novatron strobe kits are pretty nice and surprisingly inexpensive if you can find a set used on eBay. I learned the hard way that the setup dumps power to all lights at once, so if you turn one light on or off, the others will change intensity.
  4. Don't try to take pictures during dinner service. I quickly quit after I almost backed into a waiter laiden with four platters!
  5. Dealing with drunk people can be a bit of a challenge.

Shooting the candids, I was using my Canon 20D with a neutered Nikon SB-20 (the horror!) in auto mode. As usual, I was shooting about a stop down than the SB-20's recommendation because the auto mode tends to make it a little hot for my taste. That also could be because I didn't set the zoom control to the appropriate setting (I believe normal), which I only thought about later. Unusually, I was shooting JPEG in case I needed to deliver the images as soon as I was done (I didn't). Normally for low-light things I like to shoot RAW. Hell, I usually shoot RAW for everything!

The venue, shown at the start of this post (sans-flash) was your typical dark dance-floor type of room. Half had a standard (8 foot?) white ceiling while the other half, over the dance floor, had a 14 foot (white) ceiling. Pretty good bounce flash conditions, honestly.

To start out, I set the SB-20 to the lowest output at ISO 400 (f/4), the camera to f/5.6 in aperture priority, the flash bouncing up at 45 degrees, and an index card folded in the handy bounce card holder at the top of the SB-20. Actually, I pretty much kept the settings on this all night, and the ambient (which I had set to a stop down) provided shutter speeds between 1/2th and 1/30th. Here's the dance floor with a little bounce flash:

I learned pretty quickly that I needed to keep the bounce flash 90 degrees up because at 45 degrees it directly lit the top of the heads of the tall guys:

I also had to take care to not shake the camera too much with the slow shutter speeds. Some shake I liked, since the flash froze the foreground pretty well, but too much could be excessive (or it makes the party look a little too good).

I also got a lot of use out of the hail-mary, hold-the-camera-up-and-shoot-down type of shots. I personally liked how they look, but they did take some experimentation:

Overall, I was pretty happy with the SB-20 and the settings. It really made things pretty effortless, and it was very intuitive to work in terms of a consistent auto mode with the ambient set a stop or two down. The only, major downside was the lack of TTL metering, which made it difficult to get any usable shots when shooting a longer distance or with something nearby in the foreground:

For instance, in that shot I tried to get the couple talking, but the flash didn't have quite the oompf. One of the things on my list of equipment for the future is a 430EX or 580EX. But, for now, the SB-20 works pretty well for a fraction of the price.

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