Sunday, May 20, 2012

Under The Big Top

Smokin'! I was invited to photograph a charity fashion show in Hillsborough. I was eager to go, since I had never photographed a runway style fashion show, and was curious as to how it would be done. A while back, I saw a You-Tube short from a series of "What's In The Bag?" interviews, a question that elicits a different response from a photographer than it would from a fashion conscious young woman. Katy Wynn, a photographer for Getty Images, gave a pretty complete rundown on what she carries when she covers assignments on the Red Carpet. After viewing the video clip, I even went to far as to purchase not one, but two CB Junior flash brackets, since I liked the idea of not mounting my increasingly heavy speedlights on the camera's built-in hot shoe. But for this event, I brought only my standard bag along with my usual Zumbrella mounted in a bracket attached to a slightly modified monopod. Nothing fancy in the lens department, but they were all 2.8 fixed aperture zooms. I had toyed with the idea of bringing only "fast" primes, but remembered the advice I often apply whenever confronting the unknown: "When in doubt, go with what you know", so I took my 3 standard lenses: my 11-16 2.8 Tokina, my 28-75 2.8 Tamron, and my 70-200 2.8 Nikkor. I also carried 3 Nikon SB-800 speedlights, along with a supplimentary Nikon SD-8 Battery Pack modified to work with both the SB-800 and SB-900.

The fashion show was part of "Luncheon In The Serengeti", a major fund-raiser presented by the PARCA Auxiliary. It is one of the major Hillsborough social events, so many of the local movers and shakers were there, although nearly all were so modest in their demeanor that you'd never know. There was seating for over 340 guests under the main tent, along with a runway for the models and a podium for the moderators.

Ceiling Bounce In The Tent: When I first evaluated the shooting conditions under the tent, I thought that available light might be the ticket. A high ISO with a relatively fast lens could probably do the job. However, I was curious to try Neil van Niekerk's system of wide aperture, high ISO bounce flash. I added a Black Foamie Thing to my shoe mounted SB-800, zoomed it to 135mm to better concentrate the light, and angled the head to about 30 degrees from vertical. With the wide angle lens in place, I started shooting shooting some environment photos. With the flash blasting at full power, there was enough bounced light to evenly illuminate the foreground. The ambient provided the background illumination.

The exposure for this shot was 1/250 of a second at F 5.0. ISO was 800. Because the optimal flash setting for this aperture was full discharge, I attached the SD-8 to improve the recycle time. This shot was made with the flash head point nearly straight up. You can clearly see that the chairs in the background are under-exposed by about 1 stop, but there is plenty of detail. The viewer's attention is up front, in the foreground, where it should be.

The technique works well with a longer lens when photographing details from the luncheon. Since the event had an African theme, the chocolate elephant should come as no surprise.

Location, Location, Location: When the show started, I decided to position myself at the end of the runway and have the models walk towards me. Since this was a fund raiser, I felt that the back of my head was not the sort of thing these fine people paid to see. Had the tent any walls, my back would be against them. The distance from the runway was a problem because now I had heads and hands at the lower edge of the image, but I gave some thought to incorporating them in the composition. Another composition issue was the panorama on the far side of the tent. The closer they were the background, the more completely if filled the frame. Models just starting their walk appeared to be standing amid the plants and animals of Africa.

The greatest thing about this technique is the even light that results. The distance from the flash to the tent ceiling down to the subject is very consistent, so you're not constantly checking the exposure. I purposely didn't use iTTL because the background was sure to influence the exposure. So with that totally under control, shooting was breeze.

Light Contamination: While photographing in the tent, I noticed a strange phenomena: color contamination. Light striking the surrounding foliage was reflected back onto people standing near the edge, giving the shadows a green cast. This fellow photographer got the green double-whammy on the shadow side of  her face and hands.

I was very pleased with the ease and simplicity of using an on-camera bounce flash used over long distance. Using your most narrow beam setting can be very important in getting enough light up to the bounce surface to make the technique work. And kudos to the "Black Foamie Thing". The neutral inside surface of the tent helped, too.

This was fun. I'd do another such event in a heartbeat.