Sunday, May 25, 2014

Soul Stroll 2014

I was at the Soul Stroll, a fitness awareness event in San Mateo. The featured guest was Laila Ali, the daughter of boxer Mohammed Ali and a world class boxer in her own right. My take on the assignment was simple enough: Show Ms. Ali interacting with the crowd. How I did it was up to me. 

Since this was an outdoor assignment, I packed my "outdoor" camera kit: 2 Nikon D70 bodies, along with a Tamron 10-24, Tamron 28-75 2.8, and a 70-300 Nikkor.  Since weight is a factor, I don't carry constant aperture lenses except for the 28-75, which is light enough to justify its inclusion in my bag. There is my usual single SB-800 speedlight, but I added a second flash, a LumoPro LP 180 complete with a Chinese knockoff battery pack. I chose it instead of another SB-800 because its rudimentary mounting foot lacks the "flash present" contact, allowing it to sync at all speeds in the D70. The LumoPro LP will also work with Canon cameras, and safely too. By attaching the supplementary battery pack (it holds 8 AA batteries) the combination has a very fast recycle time. It has neither iTTL nor non-TTL aperture exposure automation, but if one can maintain a consistent camera to subject distance, it isn't as much of a problem as you might think.

Photo #1
It was going to be a few minutes before Ms. Ali took the stage, so I "warmed up" by photographing some of the participants dancing to music provided by a local radio DJ. Even though there was plenty of cloudy-bright morning light, I let the LumoPro add some supplementary lighting on my wide angle shots. (If you look closely, you can see a shadow on the grass). The output was kept low so that it wouldn't overpower the exiting ambient light. I chose to shoot from a very low angle in attempt to get an interesting cloud background. Exposure at ISO 200 was 1/1000th of a second at F 5.6, set manually. This would allow me to keep the sky, a major portion of this sort of composition, consistent from shot to shot. I also underexposed the sky slightly to help accentuate the clouds. I would now simply adjust the flash output to brighten the foreground when needed, which in this shot,  was set to 1/4 power. For the most part, all of these settings were made by eye, not by meter. The result (Photo #1) was a cute photo, but not a keeper.

Photo #2
Shifting to a second D70 with a 28-75 2.8 Tamron allowed me to get tighter compositions by just changing cameras (Photo #2). Here, I could concentrate on expressions that might make for an interesting photo. I concentrated on this young woman, since she seemed to be enjoying herself. The light was pretty even, so I set this body to Aperture Priority and let the camera decide on the exposure, which in this case was 1/400 at an aperture setting of F 5.6. I felt comfortable with aperture priority because the sky, if it appeared in the composition, would not unduly influence the exposure and cause the foreground to be underexposed, as it sometimes happens.
Photo #3
When Ms. Ali stepped to the stage, I managed to grab this shot using the 28-75 Tamron set to about 50mm (Photo #3). I thought about including as much of the "Soul Stroll" sign in the background, and waited until she and I could take positions where this could happen. When she did, I made this shot (Photo #4), and while it did have the sign and Ms. Ali, there wasn't enough context to warrant submission.

Photo #4
Two other people came up to the stage, and Ms. Ali offered encouragement as everyone did their warmup routines. My exposure, set in the manual mode, was 1/1000 at 5.6, which allowed me to keep some cloud detail in the background. The on-camera flash, set to 1/2 or 1/4 power, gave me enough light to fully illuminate everyone on stage, and keep some detail in the banner in the background. When used on-camera, the flash is essentially on-axis fill and will create specular highlights that often hide the 3-dimensionality of the subject's face. But when the subjects are as small as they appear here, it may not be important.

Photo #5
Photo #5 was rejected because the man at camera right is facing out of the photo. This draws the viewer's attention out of the photo, so I waited for another shot. When his position was more "neutral", I made another exposure (Photo #6). Luckily, Ms. Ali was very animated, and happily cheering everyone on. This shot had everything I wanted, so I wrote a caption and submitted it.
Photo #6
Everybody started moving to the starting line, where an archway made from balloons had been installed. The official photographer was already arranging a shot, and interestingly, asked that everybody put down their cameras until after he was finished, just as I might have done. When he was finished, I decided I'm make one too, since the crowd was in good spirits and could be cajoled into smiling without a lot of effort. So I gave them the "Let's all cheer on the count of three" routine, and this is what I got (Photo #7).
Photo #7

The result was a fun shot, and I could have easily submitted it. Unfortunately, what it gains in spontaneity if loses in context, since there isn't anything that remotely ties it to the event. I've seen worse shots published in the Community Section of the paper, but no matter how interesting the photo, it still doesn't project the spirit of the event. This shot could have easily been improved somewhat by asking Ms. Ali to take a few steps toward the camera. I decided not to take up any more of their time, so after two quick shots, they were on their way, and so was I.