Sunday, October 21, 2012

Staying In The Manual Mode

Speaking engagements featuring media personalities are often easier to photograph than those featuring a local resident who has gained some recent notoriety. This is because people used to being "in the spotlight" know that this is more than a metaphor. Proper lighting is important and adds polish to their presentations. These photos were taken at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame which features a very professional lighting set-up that is an integral part of this venue. In fact, there was actually a mini-media center in the back of the room to coordinate the recording and simultaneous projection of the presentation onto two screens placed on the left and the right of the speaker.

When I arrived on the "set", one of the first things I did was to find a good spot from which to shoot. I let the publicist know that I'd like to move as close as possible, but assured him or her that I would be careful not to obstruct the view of the event's guests. As I moved closer, I made it a point to check the location of the video camera so that I wouldn't be in the "line of fire".

White Balance: In a professionally designed lighting setup like this, it's pretty safe to leave your white balance at Incandescent. By using one of the white balance presets, your camera is now "immune" to changes in background color, something that can cause a color shift when your white balance is set to "Auto".

Guessing The Exposure: When shooting in environments where the background is is so light absorbent, any meter reading would have been a bad guess. I chose to make my first exposure guess at 1/100, 2.8,  ISO 3200, the lowest practical shutter speed / aperture / ISO combination I could use when the camera was hand held. Luckily for me, the preview in the LCD display showed significant over exposure.

I like to creep up on the final exposure settings using the Highlights option in the camera's display mode, which displays any overexposed areas as blinking in black and white. When I saw "blinkies" occur over some important areas in the photo, I knew that all detail would be lost unless I decreased the exposure, which I did. I dropped the exposure a full stop (1/250 at 2.8) and after re-checking the preview, was pretty much "good to go".

Composition: In this first shot, I chose a position where the sponsor logo was clearly displayed. I thought this would be a good context clue, but after taking several shots, decided that I should try to include the projection screen in the background instead. So I changed my position as soon as the next speaker took the podium.

The nice thing about shooting in the manual mode is that as long as the main lights remain constant, the background can be under or over-exposed and you will still have a consistently exposed subject. When they turned out the house lights to lend drama to the background PowerPoint presentation, the subject was still properly exposed, save the shadow areas that were no receiving any fill light.

Shooting under these circumstances required some contortions on my part, since a steady shooting position is not always consistent with a low profile. In this case, I was about three tables away from the podium, kneeling behind two seated guests, shooting between the bobbing heads on the other side of the table. You can see one head that entered the frame just as I took the shot. I still like it because with the house lights off, the PowerPoint slide didn't suffer from random reflections from the projection screen, giving the image a higher level of saturation.

The photo I selected for publication can be seen at the top of the page, which incidentally ran the very next day. Several factors dictated my choice: Both hands visible and easily seen, and a gesture that suggests a forceful lecturer. One final feature was the sharpness of the eyes. With minimal depth of field, the eyes did occasionally fall out of the plane of focus, but luckily for me, not in this case. The VR (Vibration Reduction) feature of the lens helped too.

I'm glad the lighting was as good as it was. It made the assignment relatively easy. And by locking the shutter speed and the aperture setting, it made it more so.