Last night, I attempted my first ever night time portrait session. I’ve had shoots that ended around dusk/night, but this one didn’t even start until about 11pm. I had the homie O come through and be the guinea pig for the shoot. Real quick, before I continue, he has a blog as well. Check it out here http://www.o-get-whitted.blogspot.com/ , and while you’re at it, follow him on Twitter as well (@Detroit_O).
Anyway, the shoot itself took place in the middle of the street – a street that still had fairly high traffic at midnight. The most obvious issue with shooting at night is how you’re going to light the subject. Surprisingly, this was the LEAST of my problems. I figured out my lighting on the sidewalk before we started shooting. Once I knew what setup I wanted to use, when traffic was clear, we’d run out in the street and take the shots. We’d run out of the street when cars were coming. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The lighting setup wasn’t too difficult to figure out. For starters, I knew I had to factor in those funky orange-colored street lights throwing off my white balance. So I threw a full CTO gel on my light and set the white balance to tungsten, or as I like to call it, “light bulb.” I shot into a reflective 60″ umbrella, at *I believe* 1/4 power. The umbrella was probably about 4 feet or so from O, camera right. I upped my ISO slightly to 400 in camera, and shot wide open at f/1.4. To get a proper exposure on the background, my shutter speed was at 1/10. As complicated as all this sounds, I worked all this out in my head quickly and easily.
The most difficult part of this shoot, aside from dealing with the cars, was getting my camera to focus! I spent a large part of the time too far away from O, and the camera simply could not find him in the darkness. Once I got close enough for the AF-assist light to find him, things smoothed out.
Another technique I tried for the first time was stacking my gels. The full cut of CTO that I placed on my light was to balance the light with the street lights. Basically, it just made everything look “right.” However, to me, “right” started to get a little boring. So I stacked a 1/4 CTB gel (blue) on top of the CTO, which helped cast a nice blue light onto O, as you’ll see below.
While I work on constructing a brand new website, I wanted to give you guys and gals a slideshow of my portfolio images. Now that WordPress has added a cool new feature to “like” posts, as well as share them on Facebook and Twitter, feel free to do that with this post, as well as any of the previous ones. Thanks for the support you guys!!!
So last night I went out to The Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac to see Jaydun (@JAYDUNAVIATOR) perform. I went as a fan, and not as a hired photographer. Yet, I couldn’t resist bringing some of my gear, and seeing what kind of shots I could get. Concerts present an interesting challenge for a photographer for a few reasons: For starters, it’s always dark. This fact alone forces a photographer to make a decision on what sort of approach he or she is going to take. Is he going to attempt to artificially light the subject, or is he going to kick that ISO up a bit and use a fast lens? Secondly, as you can see in the picture above, the light can change. It’s not something consistent that you can show up early, measure, and then adjust for. One minute there can be a flood of light, the next minute it can be pitch black, or as you see above, it can be blue and purple.
Now, let me just say that this wasn’t my first time in this situation. I shot a concert that was similarly lit when I lived in California. It took place in the basement of a club in LA. Pretty much, the conditions were exactly the same, and that show went fairly smoothly. So once I got to this show and saw the setup, I decided to start with the same approach. In retrospect, I see why this concert presented issues that the other one did not, and it was for a reason that I did not anticipate going in.
The band that I shot in LA consisted of a guy on a keyboard, a couple guys on guitars, a drummer, and a singer. All of these people were stationary. All of them moved their arms, but for the most part, they stood still. So my strategy of “kick up the ISO, and shoot with a fast lens” worked. Since my subject was essentially motionless, it was almost like kicking up my shutter speed even more. I got more bang with a slower shutter. Also, since that was my first time using my camera in such a low light situation, I kicked up my ISO higher than I would advise doing on a D90. I got a lot of noise on this images. Well, it was a lot of noise TO ME. The average viewer’s eye probably wouldn’t even notice, but when I looked at those images completely enlarged, the noise was excessive. Furthermore, even if I HAD noticed the noise at the time I was editing the pics, I wouldn’t have known what to do about it. Now, I have a noise reduction plug-in Photoshop.
Anyway, Jaydun is a rapper – an animated one. His arms, legs, and body are constantly in motion. He’s rapping, moving across the stage, and getting the crowd involved. 1/50th of a second is not going to produce sharp images. As I found out very quickly, an inflated ISO and a fast lens was simply not good enough. I didn’t know how long I’d have, either. Jaydun could be off the stage any second, so I had to act fast. I had wasted an entire song worth of shots, seeing only blurry “immediately delete me” images. So I did the next best thing I could: I grabbed my SB-600 out of my bag, set it to TTL, and hoped for the best.
It’s worth noting that I had to set the flash to TTL. I typically don’t use it that way. I usually have it in manual mode. The cool thing about manual mode, whether it’s flash or the settings in the camera, is that since you choose the settings, they stay that way. You will get the same output every time, 10 times out of 10. I prefer that reliability when using artificial light. No matter what happens, I control the output of my light, and it will always stay that way. However, it obviously requires a little more time and effort to get those settings correct since you’re doing them yourself, rather than having a brilliant computer figure them out for you.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have this luxury of using the manual mode during Jaydun’s performance. The time it may have taken to figure out the correct settings alone would have cost me valuable time. Additionally, he simply moves around the stage too much. I could have calculated an amount of light output that would be PERFECT for when he’s standing 10 feet away from me, then at the blink of an eye, he could be 20 feet away and now I don’t have enough light.
So I ended up putting my flash in TTL mode (which is fancy talk for “you figure out the light output, flash”). Since the flash would have to talk to the camera in a split second in order to calculate the light output; Jaydun was moving all over the stage and being very animated; and the light on the stage was constantly changing, the flash had to do a lot of thinking. I knew this would produce drastically different pictures throughout the course of the performance, so my final strategy was “take a ton of pictures, and we’ll see what we get.” It didn’t turn out well. Most of the pictures were throwaways. Some were poorly lit, some showed a poor white balance, others were out of focus. Fortunately, rather than getting all throwaway images, I did get some keepers. It was definitely a learning experience, and Photoshop helped me turn good but uninteresting images into images with eye-popping colors. I learned a lot this time around, and the next time I shoot a concert, I’ll be much better prepared for any obstacle I may come up against.