Sunday, November 3, 2013

Plan B

Photo #1
For me, Plan B is often a "Go For Broke" situation where you pull out all of the stops and do whatever it takes to get a photo. Sometimes it resorting to techniques that might range from distracting to down right annoying.  In earlier posts, I made clear my reluctance to use flash whenever it might interfere with my subject's concentration, or have an adverse effect on the environment. This generalization is aimed primarily at on-camera, direct flash, which by its very nature ranks high on the annoyance factor. Of secondary concern is indirect, or bounced, flash, which is far less conspicuous, but is probably best described as distracting.

Award Ceremonies: I had some time to plan for Photo #1. I arrived well before the presentations were made and had a chance to evaluate my lighting options, which were the pits. First off, the background was black velvet. Second, there wasn't enough existing light to properly illuminate the image. For this reason, I decided to go with speedlights, one key light on a light stand and one fill light mounted on camera. Out of deference to the audience, I only shot during the applause period after the acceptance speech. The key was an SB-800 triggered with a Calumet Wireless Flash Trigger. Because I would never be sure of where I was standing, I couldn't rely on the "line of sight" limitations of the Nikon's CLS optical triggers. The fill light was conventional iTTL which the Calumet system allows for. The shooting aperture was determined manually, and the iTTL simply went along for the ride. This was the only photo of the set with a good facial expression, and the one I submitted for publication.

Fundraisers: The next sample came from an annual fundraising luncheon. In this case, lighting was a bit better, in as much as they and installed spot lights to provide frontal lighting on the presenters. This worked reasonably for the audience, but for a photographer working from the sidelines, the exposure was less than optimal. Photo 2a was "right out of camera" and there is no detail in the shadows.

Photo #2a
While this photo is an accurate "capture" of the moment, it shows action, but no reaction, as noted wedding photographer David Ziser, would have said. Since I knew that a "standing ovation photo was definite possibility, I kept an SB-800 speedlight with a CTO gel with me. Since I had set my camera to a Tungsten white balance preset, the light from the speedlight would match the ambient light on the speakers. When the speech was over and the audience rose to applaud the speaker, I figured I could take off the kid gloves, attach the speedlight, and go for it.

Photo #2b
I was very pleased with the results (Photo #2b) and that the Through The Lens (TTL) metering by the bounced flash did a great job of filling the shadows while preserving the ambient key light. If you look at the shadows on the stage, you can see that the light is clearly from camera left, and the the main speaker is clearly separated from the ceiling in the background. I might have been able to find a better position, but decided that standing beside the stage just wouldn't be appropriate. I did achieve an "action/reaction" aspect to the photo, and since it was an awards ceremony, totally in keeping with the editorial intent.

Museums and Exhibits: Museums are the ultimate "No Flash" zone for a number of reasons. As a visitor, there are few things more annoying that a constant series of distracting flashes made at intervals by some overly enthusiastic photographer. Then too, many works of art are sensitive to bright lights, so the issue becomes one of long term preservation. Certainly the darkened interiors found in most galleries would suggest this.

My editor was hoping to get a photograph of the "official spokes-model" for the exhibit standing next to one of the clay figures in the exhibit. When she managed to get the model to go into the exhibit itself, I grabbed my gear and followed. Once we positioned him in front of a suitable statue, it was my turn to produce. I remember fumbling in the darkness, pulling out a D7000 with a 17-55 2.8 Nikkor in place. I was shooting with the aperture priority setting so I had no real idea where the shutter speed would wind up. I positioned my SB-800 to bounce off of the wall behind me, which was almost black. Somehow I managed to find proper focus, so I held down the AF/L button to keep it from shifting. After three minutes, I had ten shots. The camera had chosen an exposure time of 1/8 of a second for my aperture setting of F 4.0. My ISO was set to to 800, with the flash white balance preset.

The funny follow-up to this shoot was that right after the first shot was made, another journalist cried, "Look who's here!", referring to the spokes-model. The EVERYONE came over and a blizzard of flashes followed, allowing my editor and me to quietly sneak out of the exhibit under the cover of darkness.

Looking back on these three assignments, I was saved by having some specific techniques in mind, and carrying the equipment to make them happen. I have since added a flashlight to camera bag, should I ever need to work "in the dark". That way I'll be a little better prepared the next time I must resort to Plan B.