Compensating for terrible lighting at weddings

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by NJMAN, Jul 17, 2007.

  1. NJMAN

    NJMAN TPF Noob!

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    Got a question for all you experienced photogs who shoot wedding receptions and dances.

    What do you do when you they are ready for you to take the important first dance pictures, and then the DJ turns off all the lights and starts the blinking colored lights with the disco ball going? My exposure meter is bouncing all over the place and I have to decide when to take the shot and hope that it turns out okay.

    Here is my setup:
    Lens: Canon EF 28-135mm IS USM f/3.5-5.6 (I dont have a lens with f/2.8 or better with a wide angle)
    Mode: Manual
    ISO: 1250
    Aperture: as wide open as it will go for the focal range
    Flash: 580EX on a bracket pointed straight up with a bounce card on the end of it bouncing the light forward as well as off the ceiling.

    There is almost no room light to work with. I'm just using the flash to bounce light forward from the card and also off the ceiling. I try to do everything possible to keep the shutter speed up to at least 1/50 to 1/60 without severely underexposing the images. Some shots worked and many didn't.

    What is the solution here? shutter curtain sync? I am really struggling with this one. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Sometimes you just have to use your flash. Bouncing off the ceiling and using a bounce card may give you enough lighting but maybe not...it may also light up a big portion of the hall...which may or may not be what you want.

    As for exposure in this situation...I usually shoot in manual mode. Direct flash. I set the aperture to somewhere between F2.8 & F8 (a wider aperture means the flash doesn't have to work as hard, but a smaller aperture helps to make sure they are in focus). If it's dark, the flash will freeze the motion of the subjects. I use the shutter speed to determine the amount of ambient (background) that will show up. A slower shutter will allow more of the background to show up (depending on the ambient light, of course). I use FEC to control/fine tune the exposure of the subject.

    Then you have to consider that some of the ambient light may expose the subjects as well...so you may get some ghosting. This can make for a nice effect sometimes...but make sure that the camera is set for 2nd curtain sync. You can use a faster shutter speed, which will lessen the exposure of the ambient...which can be good to isolate the subjects...but then they may have that 'deer in the headlights' look.

    What you can do, is to move the flash as far off the camera as possible. On a cord in your other hand would work but triggered wirelessly is the way to go. I haven't had a chance to try wireless off camera flash yet...but I'm looking forward to it.
     
  3. NJMAN

    NJMAN TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Mike!

    I was constantly going back and forth on the shutter speed vs. exposure meter to try and illuminate the dance floor without giving them ugly shadows, and also trying to freeze the motion. It was touch and go the whole way most of the time, and I hoping that multiple frame shots at once would save me. What an adrenalin rush!

    I was so worried the important images were going to turn out like crap. I was the only one there taking "professional" pictures at the dance, but I was not paid. I didnt want to be held liable, and I let them know that beforehand. But at the same time, I didnt want to screw up either. They were counting on me and I didnt want to let them down.

    With the stroboframe bracket extended to maximum height, and the speedlite pointed directly upward with the bounce card attached, I got it as high as it possibly could go without having the flash off camera. Whatever the case, I was trying to avoid the deer in the headlights look at all costs.

    Which tool would you recommend for wireless off camera flash trigger? I have the Canon EOS Dedicated TTL Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2, 2' Long. What would be the wireless version of this? Or would a pocket wizard be better?
     
  4. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    Here is a tutorial by Neil Cowley.

    I'd use ISO1600, manual mode - wide aperture (around 2.8, 2.0), shutter speed around 1/15 to 1/30, flash (no diffuser) bounced or direct, chimp often and above all, RAW! I should also add that this would be the point where I'd start.

    The wireless version would be ST-E2. But they are not very reliable in pitch dark. Pocket Wizards are the way to go.
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Damn...I had a reply all typed out and lost it.

    Anyway, I was saying that you don't need the bracket if you are just going to bounce anyway. It doesn't hurt....but one reason why I use a bracket is so that I can use direct flash and have the shadows be behind and below the subjects.

    As for wireless, you can go with Canon IR or radio (or optical).

    Using the Canon gear, you need a mater and a slave. The 550/580 can be either a master or a slave, the 430 can be a slave only and the ST-E2 is a master only (no flash). This set up isn't cheap but it does allow you to retain E-TTL metering and control of the remote units. The downside is that IR is not all that reliable when used in very large areas or outdoors.

    If you use a radio trigger, you do not have E-TTL metering and must use the flash in manual mode. It's consistent but you need to know how to set it up to get good results. Pocket Wizards are the talk of the town, they are expensive but reliable. I've got one of these.
     
  6. NJMAN

    NJMAN TPF Noob!

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    Sorry for my ignorance, but what does "chimp often" mean? Also, if I am concentrating on the shutter speed, should I be looking at the exposure meter on the camera as well? Or does it not matter as much if I am using flash?
     
  7. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Chimping is when you check the LCD screen...especially after every shot. Shoot, check your histogram, adjust and shoot again.

    If you are looking at the in-camera meter...and trying to zero it...you will get a shot that exposes the background as well as the subject. Which will probably mean a really long shutter speed. In most of these types of shots...it's OK to let the background be darker than the subject...so don't bother looking at the meter...just concentrate on the shutter speed that you are using. A longer one will give you more background but more chance of blur...and faster one will mean less background but less motion blur. FEC will take care of the exposure of the subjects.
     
  8. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    As usual Mike did a better job in explaining. :)
    As for chimping, I'd set it up so that you can see the histogram and the image together.
     
  9. NJMAN

    NJMAN TPF Noob!

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    Thank you Mike and danalec99!

    Thats pretty much what I was doing, looking at the shutter speed much more than exposure meter. The exposure meter was down to -2 most of the time, but I knew I needed to keep the shutter speed up as much as possible, and try to find that correct balance as well as I could.

    As far as chimping, I started out looking at the histogram after each shot early in the evening, but when it got crucial to catch the good shots quickly, there was no way I could check it after each shot. At that point, I just had to brace myself and hope I didnt crack under the pressure. ;-)

    And danalec99, that was GREAT technical info. Thank you!! :)

    NJ
     
  10. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    It's more gear to haul, but I've been thinking about a softbox (or two) for pitch dark situations like these.

    Check out the second answer here. Sounds pretty straight forward.
     
  11. Leo

    Leo TPF Noob!

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    Very interesting thread. This situation is something I encounter all the time. And I have learned by experience to use FEC and set my speed to ISO 1600 to compensate for the poor lighting. Faster lenses do help and my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens is a godsend with this type of situation. Would love to have a Pocket Wizard and a slave flash but that's more $$$. Would rather invest on a faster lens. Anyway that's just my opinion.
     
  12. NJMAN

    NJMAN TPF Noob!

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    Yes, it does sound pretty straightforward. I think I like the "Two light" method more though.

    Thanks for your input Leo. Do you have any info on your shutter speed? Also, do you have any photos of low light dance hall shots that you could show me for example?
     

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