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Post Mortem of a Disaster Shoot / First time event

ErinCErinC Member
edited January 2014 in general photography
Hello All.

Firstly, thank you Neil for the time, effort, patience and skill you put into this site. It is what inspired me to buy a speedlite, to look beyond natural light, and to try and challenge myself to areas I had put in the 'too hard' basket before - events and on-camera flash.

But to my main point(s). I did my first event with flash on the weekend. To date my thing has been natural light. Kids and newborns. Events seemed scary and hard. Now I know they are scary and hard! To say I stuffed it up would be the biggest understatement of the year so far, luckily it was a practice job - a bday party at a buffet. I've spent the last four days trying to figure out what I did wrong and what I should have done, and was hoping to get the input from you all as to whether I've identified my complete catalog of errors, and correctly figured out the 'right' way. If I have misunderstood what I should have done instead, please let me know!!

So here goes. Try not to laugh too hard!

1. I used auto iso. Facepalm. It seemed like a good idea at the time, with the huge skylight combined with uneven tungsten and fluorescent lights. But its made processing a nightmare and meant my attempts at ambient exposure + flash exposure are one giant mess of yellow and white blergh when i forgot to set it manually during flash shots, and it re-metered when i pointed my camera at the subjects (who I wanted exposed correctly by flash). Next time I should manually select my ISO. I should probably never, ever ever use auto ISO again!

2. I positioned my group shots way too close to the small wall I used to bounce off. So those closest to the wall have intense, high contrast light, with significant fall off until you get to the third or fourth person. I understand now that this is due to the inverse square law, and if I wanted more even fall off while bouncing to my right, I should have positioned my subjects further back from the wall. Images are recoverable after hours in lightroom but not something I want to repeat! So the lesson is when bouncing to the side for a group shot, DON'T have people standing too close to the thing I am bouncing off... right? Or maybe even dont bounce to the side because it guarantees uneven light and horrific fall off?

3. Care of the skylight which was inconveniently positioned over the group casting Freddy Krugeresque shadows and the lack of surfaces to bounce off, I relied on a wall that was too close to my subjects, and trying to 'bounce' / diffuse light off a white foam card with the flash pointed at the ceiling. From trawling the blog this afternoon, I gather I should have used my BFT and the technique described in this post instead: http://neilvn.com/tangents/black-foamie-thing-to-the-rescue-bouncing-flash-forward/
I am, however, a little confused as to whether this would still apply if I was 6 - 10 ft / 1-3 metres away from my subject.

4. Using a white foam thing to act as a bounce card with my speedlite directed up (to try and get some diffuse light on the subjects to counteract the effect of the skylight, which overpowered all other available light. Not sure whether I should have used direct flash here with the FEC dialled way down, the technique described in the link above, or what. Would love some ideas here.

5. I used Auto White Balance. I'm not sure why but I have a feeling this is a no no. It has certainly made post more time consuming, though not sure if there would have been one consistent WB that worked for all given the wacky lighting in the buffet? Any suggestions of what to do next time re: mixed lighting?

6. I used stupidly small apertures (eg 8, 9 etc) I was so concerned with keeping as many people in focus with DOF that I overlooked the effect this was having on the Auto Iso I had stupidly set. I now have a load of ISO3200 and up images with more photoshopping on them than the cover of Vogue. Dumb dumb dumb.

Sooo. I think those are the mistakes I made, and what I should have done differently. I would love your thoughts and input on what I should be doing differently to avoid such mediocrity in the future!



  • I don't see anything wrong with using auto iso in the right situation, I do it a lot, what I cant understand is why it would alter your colour (yellow and white blerrhg I think you said) I'm assuming you shot it in RAW and not jpeg? If so then again auto white balance shouldn't be a problem either. I'm saying these things shouldn't be a problem, of course getting it right in camera is the way to go. When I'm shooting a wedding I don't want to have to think about iso (too much) so I have it on auto iso a lot but not all the time, same with auto white balance. The only thing I want to think about is shutter speed, aperture and light, available light or where I'm bouncing my flash.
  • ErinC, I've photographed enough of my own kids' birthday parties to feel your pain! The rooms in my house are too small for group shots with directional bounce flash -- like you, I get dramatic fall-off because the bounce surface is too close to the subjects. For group shots, I opt for less directional light, i.e., I bounce behind me and maybe a little to one side. This solves the fall-off problem and still yields soft light, but the light is more flat, a compromise I choose to live with. I still use directional bounce flash for individual shots, however. One other thing I do is pre-program two custom settings into my camera, one for individual shots and one for group shots. This just speeds things up when wrapping paper and cake are flying everywhere. Starting points for ambient might be f/4, 1/100, ISO 1000 and f/5.6, 1/100, ISO 2000, respectively, with TTL flash taking up the slack. Hope this helps!

  • Thanks for those settings justin, will have a play and see if I can applie those custom settings (or variations of the two)

    Cakencamera, it occurs to me that instead of using Auto ISO being my problem, it is the way I have my camera set up to meter. My AF button acts both as focus and meter - meaning if I metered for a brighter background in Auto ISO, the ISO would then increase if I set my focus over a darker subject, meaning I don't get those lovely even exposures across my background and subject. This, coupled with my terrifyingly inept decision to bounce off a wall a meter away may be why my exposures are like my aunt in Christmas (all over the place !) If you don't mind sharing, do you meter separately if you are using Auto ISO? Or do you manually set your ISO when you are taking those pictures where you are wanting to balance your ambient exposure with the flash on your subject (eg when the background is the same or brighter lighting than your subject)
  • Erin:

    For consistent ambient exposures try using the ISO in manual. When the ISO is in auto your exposures will be all over the place, as the camera does not know if the image you’re taking is bright or dark so it tries to make everything 18% gray
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited January 2014

    You have given yourself a huge autopsy analysis on your shoot, which in itself is a large step forward wanting to better your photography, that's a great start.

    Qrickman was right in using Auto ISO, your exposures would dramatically change all over the shop when focusing/exposure values being calculated, when against dark backgrounds or light backgrounds and subject is in same position.

    The difference between say 1200 ISO and 1600 ISO for eg is not huge inside and if you are pretty dark inside, just pick an higher ISO and stick with it, generally in the 1200-2000 range, flash will take up the slack.

    The tiny differences between the ambient background between the shots would be negligible except of course say 400 ISO and 1600 ISO which is 2 stops and you may not want that big a difference.

    It also seems you were concerned with bouncing off a wall really close to you, well I do it all the time without even worrying, but, it's where you bounce off, that is, how much of an angle the flash head is in relation to the wall/subject, you'd need to experiment.

    Justin has given good advice on using a Preset Setting, and I do sometimes, when I am outside getting bride arrival shots then have to move quickly inside with massive light changes, then when it settles down after a couple of mins I manually adjust to suit.

    WB, well that's almost impossible to predict if what you described re lighting is what you had to work with, but generally you just set it manually and look at the back of the LCD.

    Here's a hint to help. As you may/may not know, when shooting in RAW, the image on the back of the LCD you see is an actual jpeg preview which is embedded in the RAW (and can be extracted btw), but, that jpeg preview depends on what you have set your actual jpeg files to look like if shooting jpeg.

    So if you have set it to be really contrasty, or importantly, altered the color as in Saturation, etc. that affects the LCD preview. I set mine taking down the contrast/saturation and that will generally reflect how your RAW files will then look, [RAWs *never* look like your preview, bright/contrasty/colorful] so if you judge then the LCD for WB, you can get a better result.

    Shooting in Auto WB, while in itself is not a 'bad' thing as you most certainly can adjust in post if RAW, it then means every time you changed your camera view, zoom, position, etc. whatever colors the camera see it will compensate to try to get a WB to suit, which then in turn means you may have to *individually* adjust each image; but the subject may not have moved much from the initial position.

    If you choose a WB manually, and regardless of your camera position, zoom, background, etc. if the subject/s stayed roughly in the same lighting you will get precisely the same result each time, and even if 'wrong' you can much quicker Sync WB over a large range of images at once, saving time/effort.

    Good luck in future endeavours.

  • gpcgpc Member

    You have received some great feedback here. I think you have fallen into the trap of many people when adding OCF / bounce flash for the first time. And that trap is allowing the camera to choose a certain variable.

    I did exactly the same when i first tried it but soon learnt that to get consistency i needed to take full control. Once i trusted in that then it all became easier.

    In terms of settings, I simply look at my settings in order of priority. Shooting a group - No1 priority is DOF. No good having a great exposure if the back row is out of focus. F8 - decision made!

    Next priority is Shutter speed. I need enough shutter speed to stop camera shake. My max sync speed is 200, so (using a 35mm lens i know i need min 1/50 however i am using bounce flash so can afford to go faster) lets go for 1/125.

    That leaves ISO - I know my camera produces clean files at ISO 1600 (actually ISO 3200 providing i dont have to pull up exposure in post) so, lets use 1600.

    Flash on TTL. Again, im bouncing off a wall behind me to evenly illuminate the goup in front. I dont want the flash too overpowering and want to keep the ambient so i dial in -1 FEC.

    And thats it, decison made for the first shot. The next trick is to understand which setting needs to be tweaked to get the exposure bang on.

    If the exposure for the ambient is nice, but the faces are a bit in shadow / dark then reduce the FEC to - 1/3

    If the ambient is dark up the ISO / or reduce the shutter speed.

    The key here is that you only change one variable between shots. That way you can see the effect and change back if its not giving you what you need. I use to make the mistake of taking a test shot, fiddling with all the settings then wonder why i had no idea of what i had done when the image exposure turned out worse!

    If you start with a fixed set of settings, explain to the group you are taking a test, then amend where necessary most people are happy to give you time go get set up.

    Now - If you are gelling your flash to match the ambient, then you need to take the WB to match ie switch to a warmer wb.

    If you are shooting bare flash and the ambient is warm, you will have a bit of WB mixture. If the ambient is a mixture of daylight from a skylight, warmth from lamps then check which light is more overpowering and flash to match....its not easy.

    And one last thing.....practice....I have driven my wife, kids, dogs all nuts!! She is trying to watch TV and im popping flashes trying to understand and learn how much gell i need to match ambient with flash whilst still allowing the window to create a nice rim light......

    Hope that helps

    PS.....if in doubt......Ask Neil lol ;)

  • Thank you a million times to you all; every single response has been overwhelmingly helpful. I may be back with more questions but for now, thankyou all for helping me.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Erin, it seems like you got some solid advice here already.

    Just to underline the same idea - Auto ISO will make your life more difficult, unless you control it, or control the limits. But as a escape clause, it will make the photography more complex.
  • Thanks Neil. The more I learn the more I realise I don't know :-)
  • Hi

    Nikon allows EC to be set in Manual mode but Canon doesn't. So a Canon set to auto ISO isn't Manual because the camera chooses the exposure and you have no way of overriding it.
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