When it all goes wrong, remember the basics

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Recently I was asked to take some party photos at an anniversary party. It was for someone that I knew, but they also paid me for it so already the pressure was on. I’m not a wedding photographer and the events I’ve shot before have been very relaxed and I’ve been a participant in the party rather than an official photographer…. which means I get to have a beer. This time, I was the official photographer so I wanted to make sure I did a good job.

I was using some pretty basic kit which consisted of the following:

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Digital Camera (16MP) with APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor (Body only)
– a reliable work horse of a camera. Good ISO capability but the not the fastest camera to use.

Fujifilm FUJINON XF35mm Lens
– a nice wide aperture for low light conditions.

YongNuo YN-560 III Flashgun
– cheap but effective. Lots of manual control.

PocketWizard PlusX Twin Set Transceiver
– these help you keep flexible. I wasn’t mounting the flash on my camera so I’d be hand holding the flash to keep it away from the lens to try and make the lighting a little better and not harsh, in your face light.

For my back up I had my Fuji X100s camera, a spare flashgun and a flash cable just in case…. more about that later.

The Gig.

It was a difficult gig. Very dark venue. Very small venue with lots of people so not a lot of space to move around in. However, all was going ok and everything was working well. So far so good.

Then came the moment I was most worried about. It was time for the couple to renew their vows. So, you remember earlier I said that I wasn’t a wedding photographer, well if I was then I probably would have checked the whole venue before hand rather than just the main room. I had forgotten to check the ceremony room beforehand which is a bit of a newbie error and one I won’t make again. I had to contend with dark walls, dark ceiling and very low light. Great atmosphere for the guests, terrible for the photographer. Nowhere to bounce light off so all I had was the small card built into the flash to use to bounce light. I could still get away with this.

So the main event started, the doors at the back opened and the couple started walking in, I was ready. At this point I started sweating a lot and wanted to swear loudly before hoping the floor would open up and swallow me. My flash wouldn’t work! I quickly gave my system a once over, checked the battery levels, checked the connections, all was good, but still no flash. My Pocket Wizard triggers had failed me for the first time ever. Now it was time to panic….. but I didn’t. I had to get the shots so I went back to the basics of photography and thought about the main elements that influence exposure:

Aperture.

I knew I needed to let as much light in as I could and my lens had a nice wide aperture of f1.4 (low number equals big hole). f1.4 was probably a little bit too wide as the depth of field would be tiny but f2 or f2.8 would probably be usable. Ok, aperture sorted.

Shutter Speed.

In situations like this, I wanted the camera to help me with some of the thinking but you still need to be aware of what the camera is deciding. So setting the camera to Aperture Priority will do the shutter speed for you but make sure you are still getting a fast enough shutter speed to avoid a blurry image. This was a challenge so I tried to make sure the shutter didn’t drop below 1/60th or 1/30th at a push.

ISO.

This was the key to saving the day. So don’t forget it was dark, I had no flash, I was using a really wide aperture and I needed a reasonable shutter speed. A high ISO setting was the answer.

As a quick recap, ISO is the sensitivity to light of the sensor. The higher the number, the more sensitive to light the sensor will be but also the higher the number, the more noisy the image will be.

So the Fuji X-Pro1 does produce good images at high ISO but I also knew there was a chance that some of these images might need to be printed. Told you it was a tough gig! I had to trust the equipment I had and also the software I was going to do the post processing with. I think I pushed the Fuji to it’s limits and it didn’t let me down. ISO 5000 was the level I needed to make sure the shutter speed stayed acceptable so I would get a sharp photo. I never use ISO 5000. Ever. I was scared, but it was all I could do. I got the shots but they were pretty noisy, but not as bad as I thought they might be, there was hope.

So the evening finished and I headed home. The next day I spent a few hours editing the photos using Adobe Lightroom CC and I have to say, the way it can clean up noise in an image is amazing. Adobe Camera Raw and the Fuji Raw files seemed to be best buddies.

Don’t Panic.

What could have been a disaster was avoided because I didn’t panic and I got the shots and the couple were happy. Phew.

So what could I have done better? Well, a few things:

  • Check the venue better. If I knew what situation I’d be in, I would have better prepared.
  • Use the most reliable equipment. That flash cable was sitting in my camera bag all night up that point. If I’d used that from the start instead of the flash triggers, I would have got more images.
  • However, I think I got better images without the flash, so maybe I should have just asked for a little more light in the room. A bit more would have allowed me to use a lower ISO without effecting the mood of the event.

Overall it was a good experience, albeit a bit sweaty at times. I was pushed well out of my comfort zone, but because I had the fundamentals at my fingertips, I got away with it and most importantly the couple were happy with the results.

About Author

A keen amateur photographer, Garry has been teaching people photography for over 5 years but is also always learning. Garry enjoys many types of photography but prefers Street Photography and Candid Event Photography All content is Copyright © 2017 Garry Finch. All Rights Reserved.

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