Photography at the Christmas Party

Tree Planter's 009 Tree Planter's 040

Tree Planter's 076 copy Tree Planter's 255

 

The Christmas season is here and that means photographers, digital cameras in hand, will happily begin filling memory cards with all the photographic opportunities as they join family, friends, and co-workers at all this month’s festive events.

I have the feeling that for many, it is more about the process of picture taking than it is about making memorable photographs, or even documenting the party.

The act of picture taking has become easy and so much fun as a process as photographers rush over to take a picture, look at the LCD, and quickly slide back to show others those tiny images. And seem more interested in that quickly snapped candid than what is actually happening at the moment.

Most images made in this fashion never become more than files stored on computers and tucked away on hard-drives with good intentions, but after that initial viewing, most photos loose their value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

What is my advice for photography at the next Christmas party? Yes, continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter the subjects. Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of themselves being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.

My approach is to take a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, make a couple of test shots using longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include the room’s ambient light when making exposures using an on-camera flash (I always use a flash) so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

I suggest taking group shots with two or three people. Get them to position themselves so they are squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, steady the camera, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light, and use a flash. Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that can be set to 1600, and some can go a lot higher.

Shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, or less, doesn’t always work for children playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but, with limited indoor lighting, moving subjects will only be properly illuminated when the flash goes off.

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for everyone. The occasion would become more about the photography than about the fun and festivities. I use a hotshoe mounted flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, blend in, and not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as it’s enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some pictures to give away later I want people to like, not be embarrassed by, the pictures taken of them.

I always look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

One more outdoor lighting workshop.

A. An outdoor studio  B. Workshop participants  C. Adding light  D. Outdoor shooting  E. Softbox by the buggy  F. Thumbs up  G. Outdoor with softbox  H. Ladder and reflector  I. Got it.  J. Portraits in the barn  K. Gold reflector  L. Umbrella in the barn

I’ll begin with a quote from an interview with American photographer, and author of the Strobist.com lighting blog, David Hobby. “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist…”. What “I hear is, “I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead.”…. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it…”

 I wish I had read that interview with Mr. Hobby before I began my series of workshops on off-camera flash. I would have started every class with his quote. With that, I thought I would let readers know about the last day of what became an enjoyable and successful day for everyone, the photographers, our model Danya, and me.

Unlike the last session’s stormy overcast weather, the day this time was warm, sunny, and we didn’t have to contend with a cold, constant breeze. However, I couldn’t have asked for two better learning environments. An overcast day demands different lighting techniques than those that accompany a bright, cloudless day, and all I had to do was present the participants with opportunities specific to each so they could begin experimenting, and learning how to effectively use off-camera flash.

In the first session I introduced the ten participating photographers to basic outdoor portrait photography, and off-camera flash techniques that would help them transform their outdoor portraits into something special.

This time I continued by putting together different lighting setups. In the meadow, I erected a backdrop, and placed a 4×6 foot light diffusion panel with a wireless flash to one side. The second set up was a lean-to that used a 4×6 light diffusion panel. For the third set up, I placed in the barn a softbox and a bare flash on stands. I also left extra wireless flashes on stands and a few reflectors outside the studio, ready for photographers to use when they wanted to select their own location.

My goal was to give participants plenty of options as they put into practice what they had learned about adding flash to natural light.

We positioned the 10×12 foot backdrop, made out of an old painter’s drop cloth, so it blocked the sun and swathed our model in diffused light, and then fired a flash through a diffusion panel placed on the left.

The lean-to was constructed with a diffusion panel on one side. It softened the sunlight, giving a subject a diffused glow that could easily be manipulated with a reflector or flash.

The softbox was perfect for the open shade in the barn. The large metal-sided barn gave lots of room and an interesting patterned backdrop. In that location the softbox, a flash and umbrella, and a reflector were used.

I always use a flash when I am photographing people, inside or out. I can’t control the lights in a large room, or the sun shining on my subject from 93 million miles away. Participants discovered how to control the light they added from small off-camera flashes in the natural ambient light, and by the end of the workshop were using flash effectively, and learning about creating and controlling shadows rather than just filling them.

We live in a time when cameras can almost see in the dark, and the art of adding light to a scene is under-appreciated. Those photographers ready and willing to turn down that ISO dial and learn about off-camera flash are beginning a journey of discovery that will remind them that photography is all about light. And I expect they might finally ask themselves, why not try to have the most perfect light possible…and instead of waiting for that perfect light, learn to control that light by adding flash to make the best of the situation.

I really appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com