Shooting notes : photograhy night with Download

Last night I was at the Download show at Club Neutral. I came prepared to do some shooting of the band line up. Had my prime lenses, a flash, a clamp for the flash, some wireless flash triggers, and a bunch of batteries.

Before the bands came on I walked the venue, exploring where I could mount the flash (to trigger remotely), where I could bounce the flash from while on the camera, and generally deciding how I was going to shoot that night.

As it turns out I used very little of the ideas I had as I came into the venue. This is a re-cap of what I had learned last night. Photos can be seen in my gallery or blog.

On the way to the club I was reminded of a quote of Arnold Schwarzenegger (I think it was him) from his body building days. In reference to becoming a champion he stated that it’s the last few reps that you do beyond when the pain sets in/almost ready to pass out and you would normally give up are what makes you grow that extra step.

I think that applies to all/most things in life. And last night, when I thought I had shot enough and was getting tired, I kept going and took some more shots.

Shooting in a dark club with dark (black) walls floor, walls and ceiling is tough. I never liked using a flash (prior to yesterday) mainly because of the look it provides when used head on. That was because I didn’t know how to use it any better. After last night, I realized that a flash is an indispensable piece of equipment. Even if it’s only used for its AF assist function, it’s worth it’s weight hanging off the top of the camera.

The whole night I shot on manual mode. Shutter speed was around 1/80 for the whole night, and the aperture was played with between full open at f1.4 (f1.8 for the 85mm lens) when shooting in ambient light to f4.0 and f5.6 with a flash. The ISO was at 1600 for most of the night. I went to 3200 for a few shots in ambient lighting, and 800 for a few more shots with the flash. The flash was set to ETTL mode, usually zoomed to 85 or 105mm.

Update: Looking at the photos, it looks like a whole bunch were taken at a shutter speed of 1/25. What was I thinking? How did this happen? I need to be more attentive to these details. All the photos taken at that shutter speed were garbage due to camera shake, which is a shame since lots were exposed very nicely and had potential. Photos taken at 1/80 to 1/100 turned out quite sharp.

What worked for me (and seem to prefer) is to bounce the flash off the floor, while I’m down low, shooting up at the subjects. The flash distance to floor and consequently the type of light it provides (not too harsh) is repeatable. It also doesn’t light up everyone behind the subject (it does a little bit sometimes, but far less then bouncing it off other surfaces).  Must most of all, I really like the lighting that it provides. Light coming from the ground up to me has a mysterious/darker look/feel to it then overhead lighting. I personally love how it makes my shots look. I guess I would call it part of my ‘style’, (whatever that means).

When bouncing off the floor is not an option (obstructions like a table blocking reflected light from reaching the subject) I’ll bounce off the ceiling. Bounce just slightly forward (maybe 5 deg), and slightly to the side (5-10 deg).

Both bounces (ceiling and floor) I noticed that a -1 stop flash compensation works well for me, and I like that darker look. Also I was able to shoot with an aperture of f/4.0 (for some extra in-focus range) at ISO 800 (for lower noise). And since f/4.0 seemed to work well, it makes me think that I could probably use zoom lenses (17-50 f2.8 that I own) with decent results, and be able to get some wide angle shots.

Update: The -1 stop flash compensation may not be good. When shooting at ISO 1600 or 3200, there is not much room to brighten the image in post, so initial proper exposure is that much more critical. Expose to the right; and I’d even go as far to say overexpose by 1/2 to 1 stop. The image will have a cleaner look in the end and highlights can usually be saved when shooting RAW. Also, bump up the ISO to 1600 or 3200. The flash has to work less, and I’d rather have a slightly over exposed image at ISO3200 then underexposed image at ISO800.

With flash, what didn’t work for me (or rather what produced results with which I was not happy with) was any flash bounce angles that illuminated the background too much. I prefer to isolate the subject, and a busy background I find is distracting. Even with bouncing off the floor, and shooting up

On the topic of flash, I need to make a snoot for the flash. Something that comes in 2 halves, and I can use to stop blinding spectators, when I only want light to go in a certain direction. Need to work on this.

Never used the AF assist gadgets. The laser pointer idea has too narrow of a pattern to be useful, and the CameraBrite thing worked very poorly when tested in my basement compared to the AF assist light of the flash.

AF assist; the flash’s AF assist worked wonderfully. In order to make better use of it, I had to change my style of shooting. My old setup was the shutter button would only evaluate the scene at half press and the AF was done by the AF-ON button, so that they 2 functions (focusing and metering) were done independently. I prefer this mode for shooting in AI-servo mode where I’m continuously adjusting focus. But this method doesn’t work so well because I have to notice when the focus confirmation light stops blinking and push the shutter button. There is a delay there, and the subject could have moved in that time. I changed the custom function so that focusing is done with the main shutter 1/2 press, so that now I can push the shutter button fully, and the image gets taken the instant focus is confirmed. No delay. There are still missed shots since focus is not instant, but much better then before, however there were times when focus was not attained (maybe due to too much movement of subject). This was likely due to using the ‘One Shot’ focusing mode which requires focus confirmation before firing the shutter. I think AI-servo will fire the shutter even without AF confirmation. Will have to try another setting.

I would still like to be able to use AI-Servo to continuously track the subject, however the AF assist light will not fire in this mode. I will see if I can modify my Sigma flash to do this.

I am re-thinking the requirement for a 5DmkII. I felt quite happy/satisfied by the end of the night with the shots I got, and felt more comfortable using my equipment. Funnily I now feel there are far fewer limitations of my equipment then I thought. It certainly pays to learn to use your equipment.

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