I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post. We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures. It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky. Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light. Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.
The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones. In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”. We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking. If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed. Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight. The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.
My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO. I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash. This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50′+). Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light. Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out. Both methods were effective in their own way. With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever. I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time). A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise. Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it. Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.
In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures). All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out. The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough. There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.
Over the past month or so I’ve gotten the opportunity to take pictures of my daughters’ volleyball team in action. My daughters are both setters and while they’ve been learning the skills associated with the position, I’ve been learning more things about photography (as I always do when I take any pictures). I have many factors to consider — low light in the gym (no strobes allowed), the red/blue floor which throws all color off, and fast action. Long story made short, I’ve settled on shooting my 5D Mk ii at ~4000 ISO, manual mode, shutter speed 1/250-1/500, and aperture f/3.5 – f/5.6. Within that range of settings (and with some software noise reduction) I’ve been getting decent results. I’d prefer the higher frames per second of my 50D for the fast action but the ISO performance is nowhere near as good.
I’ve been fortunate to have free range on the floor and to be able to shoot from many angles. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad to be able to help out with the pictures.
Our family recently went to a week-long family camp in northeast Texas where three of my children competed in a sand volleyball tournament. They hooked up with a few others to form a team and took second place in the competitive division. I didn’t spend a lot of time photographing (I’d rather not watch the whole match from behind a camera). The court was in mottled shade…horrible light. In hindsight I’d bump the ISO way up to get a faster shutter speed even though there was a lot of light. I used apertures of f/8 – f/11 because I wanted to keep the crowd a bit more in focus. Since I didn’t spend a ton of time shooting I never really settled into settings that I was happy with but I generally allowed some blown-out highlights to properly expose the overall scene. One issue with that is that the ball itself would blow out when it was in the sun — I really didn’t want the ball blown out. I made do and here’s part of a sequence where my daughter sets my son up for a kill.
I got to second-shoot my nephew’s wedding in Seattle a few weeks ago. Since I wasn’t responsible for the primary set of photos I spent my time experimenting and attempting to get some unique images. When the main photographer was using a normal lens, I mostly used my 10-20mm or my 70-200mm. If she was using a telephoto, I typically went normal or wide, etc. My goal was to capture things from a different angle (literally and figuratively) and get a different perspective on this blessed event.
For the shot at the top of the post I used my 10-20mm from about a foot off the ground. This was the bride and groom’s first dance and I shot the whole thing from that angle.
The shot below of the groom and his mother (my sister-in-law) was taken with a focal length of 200mm. It was tough getting this shot framed when zoomed in this tight on a moving couple. However, since the main photog was getting the normal shots I just went with it and hoped it worked.
As it got darker, things got tough. There was almost no light where the dancing was taking place. I shot with my widest aperture (f3.5 on the 10-20mm I used for most of these shots), bumped the ISO up, and then dragged the shutter a lot to get at least some ambient light from the background [I could write a whole post on how I played with flash/ISO/shutter/etc]. Here’s a shot from the dance floor well after dark:
I had a great time, and while I certainly had to cull many images from the set, I ended up with many good images for the bride and groom to enjoy the rest of their lives.