Monday, September 26, 2011. President Obama was scheduled to present a Town Hall type meeting a the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I arrived at 6:30am to find out that I was too late to get access to the shooting riser that had been set aside for still photographers covering the event. Not that I was late, mind you. I just mistakenly tried to enter the law enforcement entrance and spent 10 precious minutes trying to find the Media Entrance, which was locked when I found it. Now I'm in a pickle. Two more senior photographers from the San Mateo Daily Journal, Scott Lenhart and Andrew Scheiner, were far better prepared than I, as they arrived at 5:30 (the suggested opening) and dropped off their equipment and were now relaxing until we all could enter the hall and begin preparing our equipment at 9:00 am, sharp.
Somehow, either because I was lucky or pitiful, I managed to get a hand check of my equipment by a Secret Service agent. After the obligatory wanding, I headed into the hall and tried to stake out a spot. I wound up at the far right end of the riser next to the sound mixing station and behind two network video cameras. By 10:00am, nearly a full hour before the President's arrival, our shooting area was beginning to get crowded.
Good Idea #1: Always Carry A Speedlight: The Secret Service specifically said, "No Flash Photography", but since President Obama was an hour away, I felt that these "color commentary" shots would certainly be permissible. I wanted a shot of the melee that was forming in front of me, but all of the spotlights were pointed at the stage, which left us in the dark, literally. I needed a splash of light to illuminate the foreground. I could have used the flash built into the top of your camera, but the light would have been uneven, fading rapidly as the distance increased. In addition, if used in the TTL mode, the flash and camera would have been easily fooled by the disparity of distances within the frame.
Instead, I mounted an SB-800 on the D7000 and pointed it straight up into the ceiling, which was probably 20 feet above us. Since my current camera settings (shutter speed 1/125 and an 11-16mm Tokina set to F4) included an ISO of 1600, I was able to aim the flash straight up and bounce light off the ceiling. The light, now traveling a distance of over 40 feet, evenly lit the players in front of me, and completely disappeared towards center stage. And while the White Balance setting was at Auto, the deep blue drapes must have compensated for the warm tone of the spotlights, a happy accident and a believable rendering of the stage-lit audience. The flash was set to manual at 1/8 power and gave plenty of light. If you examine the people at the far right edge of the photo, you can see the "daylight" from the flash start to fade, and the tungsten light start to pick up, as the distance from the lens increases.