Wednesday, 26 November 2008

40th party people

In my last post, talking about happy accidents, I alluded to a recent assignment photographing a party. Here's a bit more detail about that...

This one was a private affair - as apposed to a corporate shindig - and was held to celebrate a 40th Birthday. The location was a large activity centre housed in an aircraft hangar, in which 60 guests congregated - complete with fancy dress - to let their hair down... Remember Dennis The Menace? Thunderbirds? Banana Man? Well... they were all there, strutting their stuff! Encouraging attendees to dress as characters from their favourite childhood comic books and television shows was a great idea and, photographically, it offered plenty of potential for some striking images.

As is often the case with these jobs, I was commissioned via one of my event management clients. I've worked with them a lot over the years, and we have such a good working relationship now that they know what they can expect - without the need to direct me in any way. I really like this flexibility because I think it produces better pictures - and that is, after all, what it's all about.

Humor me while I get a bit technical here, but I know some readers love to get a glimpse into the 'behind-the-scenes' stuff... My initial set-up, as is often the case, was to have one camera hooked up to the utra-wideangle Sigma lens, and a second to the trusty telephoto. This is the way I most often kick things off, sometimes substituting the latter for my 'standard' 18-70mm Nikkor zoom - an aging optic now, but still nice and sharp.

One of the great things about the wider lenses is that they allow me to get close in amongst my subjects, for frame-filling shots with a certain intimacy that you just don't get by stepping back from the action. This suits me fine, because I think it's really important to engage directly with people - to make them feel at ease... which results in the best possible pictures.

With all shoots - but especially at events such as weddings and parties - I'm always looking out for the smaller shots, too. The details, the incidentals - such images have the ability to 'fill in the gaps' and ultimately build up the narrative of the story.
On the night in question, I was able to produce plenty of candids, using the ambient light to compliment the costumes' striking colours.

Speaking of lighting... each of my cameras was set up with a Nikon SB-800 speedlight. However, I really don't like to use these on-camera if I can help it - the results are often flat, uninspiring and full of god-awful shadows (see left). Instead, I do one of two things - either hand-hold the flash at a distance anywhere within my arm's reach or, at more controlled assignments such as location portraits, place the flash on a stand. Off-camera lighting is just so much better; it is more flattering for portraits, it helps you avoid unsightly image content (again, see picture) and it shows the form of objects off at their best, at the same time adding atmosphere to a shot.

By way of comparison, have a look at this picture, again depicting one of the musicians. See how much better this looks? In this particular example, there was no front spot-lighting of the band, so I was able to replicate this effect simply by holding the flash high up an angle of about 45 degrees to my left shoulder. Notice how the background drops off into shadow, how the wonderful colour and detailing of his guitar stands out, and how I have made use of what little ambient lighting there was, to add a bit of colour and interest. Altogether a much more pleasing image, I think.

And finally, just to prove that the tables do sometimes turn...

If you are one of the girls in this picture, please speak up - I'm curious to see what your picture looked like! Get in touch and we'll do a swap :)

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