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:
- Give forty-year-old affluent women a reason (70's theme party) and they'll dress in very short skirts and very high heels.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't try to take pictures during dinner service. I quickly quit after I almost backed into a waiter laiden with four platters!
- 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.