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Event Photography Questions

Hi -

I have two questions with regard to Event Photography: These are events such as athletic team "Meet-and-Greets, receptions, gatherings after a concert, etc.
- Can anyone recommend a book/tutorial/videos that deal with this subject
- If I am taking informal shots of small groups, couples, etc., and my only option is to aim the flash directly at the subjects, what are a couple of things I can do with the flash? BFT on the underside of the flash head with it maybe tilted up a little, a small softbox diffuser, a white bounce card? I remember seeing something maybe on this site, but can't seem to find it.

Thanks - Dave


  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Are you shooting indoors or outdoors?

    Outdoors - flash bracket with a small softbox. 

    Indoors - depends on the size of the venue. I'd aim to try the BFT, but that would depend on the room size. 
  • Thanks, Neil. I will be indoors tomorrow night, but I haven't seen the place. I was asking the question so I am prepared to not be able to bounce the flash, and what would be the best thing to do with the Speedlite. (Canon T3i with 420EX Speedlite), So, if I used the BFT, wrap it on the bottom? If that is the case, is the flash head directed slightly up or straight ahead? I know I've seen this somewhere on your site, but can't remember where.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Here is all the info:  black foamie thing

    However, it isn't going to do what you think it is going to do.

    Not necessarily ---> "So, if I used the BFT, wrap it on the bottom?"

    Again, make sure you read up about it, and that the BFT actually does what you think it does, because this comment ... "maybe tilted up a little," ... indicates that you're entirely unsure of what it does. 

    The BFT is not a diffuser. It's something you flag your flash with. There's a huge difference in intent.
  • Hi, Neil - thanks. I have read about the BFT a couple of times, and know it is not a diffuser. I was just trying to get some direction on what to do with my flash if bouncing was not possible.

  • The only time you use the BFT is when you are bouncing. If you are bouncing, aim your flash in the direction you want your light to come from so that the light ricochets off the wall or ceiling and bounces back at your subject. Usually you'll want to point flash to wall to your left or right, slightly up and slightly behind you OR perhaps more directly behind you and up depending on number do people you're shooting, as you want light even on the,. Position BFT to block the light coming out of your flash from spilling onto subjects. So it should be between your flash and your subjects (and attached to the flash with rubber band). You only want the bounced light to hit subjects. Shoot RAW (not JPEG).
  • If I can't bounce I put a diffuser on flash and point it up so that the light is cast all,over the place, including at subjects. It might be Sto-Fen cap or bigger thing like a super mini softbox that goes on with Velcro. Neil and most people who really know what they're doing hate plastic diffusers and call them Tupperware and say throw them away. They're right of course but if it's my only choice other than pointing flash directly at subjects it can work sometimes. (Maybe pulling white bounce card out of flash is option). Mini soft bios is better and bouncing is as you know best, for on-camera flash. The other thing I do is abandon flash entirely and crank up the ISO as far as I can without too much noise and adjusting shutter speed and aperture. And/or balancing ISO increase and a little diffused flash. One thing to be careful about with diffusers like plastic caps is shadows on the wall behind subjects. Avoid that at all costs.
  • If you can't bounce I cant see what a Sto-Fen or bigger dome style diffuser will do for you. The light is cast all over the place but if it does not bounce off something where is it going? You have to break down those devices by sections and and figure out how much light is getting to your subject for each section. If there is nothing to bounce of then I can tell you maybe 20% of the light being sprayed all over is getting to your subject. You may as well use direct flash and save on battery power. The flashes white bounce card is still a a small light source thus produces hard light as well. You can't get around the physics of light. Soft light is all about the size of the light source and the distance it is to your subject.   

    You are better off with a larger bounce card style device.     

    This is direct flash. I'm not going to win any awards but in a pinch most people who do not know what to look for will never know the difference.        
  • Zenon - if I can get photos like that with direct flash, I would most likely be pretty happy at this point on my learning curve.
    Neil and Skipperlange - I read a couple of quick posts about the BFT, and understand pretty well why I am using it. Thanks for the inputs as well.

    Last night, I was asked by a friend to take photos at a Halloween charity function, in a large AMVET hall, not dimly lit but not bright either. I was able to use the BFT with pretty good success for the first time...except....when taking candid or quickly-posed shots of the few people who were wearing witches hats of something with a brim. Everything was nicely lit, but of course the upper half of their faces were shaded.

    Not sure when I will be in the situation of photographing witches in full costume, but I could be taking pictures of people with baseball caps in similar situations like an athletic "meet-and-greet". How do you deal with a situation where you want/need light bouncing from above, but yet need to light underneath a brim doing quick candids? Can this be done "in camera", or is it only in post processing? Again, this was a candid/quick-pose type of situation, and I wasn't near any walls, but I don't see how that could have helped.

    By the way, I got a lot of "Hey, what's that black thing on your flash" questions.

    Thanks - Dave
  • The secret is high ISO. Balance the ambient with the flash so it just kisses your subjects. I try to maintain an ambient exposure of no less than two stops under what the meter tells me. If I can't because the venue is dark I just do the best that I can manage. At that point you almost need strobes or flashes in the corners to overpower the ambient light. I shot events at 6400 with my FF.    

    Gelling the flash in this situation really helps a lot. I always do when the ambient is incandescent. Of course if you overpower with strobes you can get away with it.    
  • Thanks, Zenon. I guess I'm not sure how a high ISO would brighten the shadows under the brims of the caps, as the light is coming down off the ceiling. Unless you mean a higher ISO would allow more ambient with a hand-holdable shutter speed. But wouldn't you still be dealing with the shadow caused by the bounced light? And by "just kissing the subject" do you mean dialing back on the FEC?
    I thought about pulling back the BFT so that some of the direct flash was "let loose" to light under the brims. But, because they were candids or "quick pose" shots, I wasn't really in the position (ie confident) to ask "stay there for one more, but wait till I adjust this stuff". My wife has been a good sport about my new hobby, so I may ask her to don a wide-brimmed hat and take some test shots with various settings.

  • You just need to get the light lower to get under those hats. Instead of bouncing off ceiling, bounce off the walls. Remember, light travels in a straight line. Might try an on-camera diffuser for this, too, depending on situation. Good idea to practice with your wife.
  • Thanks. The walls were kind of far away, as a lot of the shots were in and around the middle of the hall. But yes, trying to get the light lower makes sense, but I will have to try out a few different ways. I feel like I need a contraption that bounces the light off the ceiling and the floor at the same time, but I think suggesting that would be risking a few guffaws on this forum.

  • It's not a bad thought. Not as a standing practice -- and you'd have color issues since most floors are not white. But if there were a simple way to hold a small white board or reflector out and loosely under faces in this situation that might help but in these fast-moving party situations there's no time for that and impractical with only two hands. I know some photographers hold camera in one hand and reflector or off-camera flash in their other hand. But I need both hands on the camera to keep it steady.  
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited November 2014
    If you want to bounce off the floor basically you need something that sprays light all over the place like a Lightsphere. After taking lighting courses and finding tangents I gave all my diffusers away including both spheres - cloudy and clear. Not sure why I needed both but the ads sure looked good. Tough shooting when people have hats. One wedding the groom had a cowboy hat. You can try bouncing behind you off the ceiling which angles the light coming back a little better. 

    The drawing on the left is by a member at POTN and Neil has commented on his work there. One of my favourites if no walls are available and it avoids any spill. It does waste a bit of light but you don't have to worry about the forward ceiling bounce rule of thumb as much - try to avoid shooting less than at 45 degree angle. You don't have to think about it so much. That member is one of the few people I know that shoot using aperture priority indoors which can get you into trouble if you are not prepared.    


  • Zenon - I'm curious - how did you handle the groom in the cowboy hat? And in general, what do you personally do indoors photographing people wearing brimmed hats? Do you bounce over the shoulder as in the stick-figure drawing?

  • There were some shots with shadows. I was not in a studio and things moved quickly. I did not put a lot of effort into trying to work around it in that environment. I little PP to lift shadows and that was about it. I did not expect that and the couple never complained. 
  • When I shoot a photo booth I use a white shoot through umbrella above me and place my foldable white reflector on the floor. The nickname of this process is the butterfly method. Of course this is all staged, exposures are preset and we tape the floor where we want the participants to stand. Easiest part of an event. 

    As for the cowboy hat I always got good results when he stood close to a table with white table cloth :)           
  • I was hoping your response would include situations that were not staged, and the first one did. I did use DPP (Canon) on a few of the shots from the other night, and they look a lot better. I still want to know how to do as much "in camera" as possible, but I do realize not everything is possible and some touch-up is required.
  • Z - the problem with the blue and green drawing is, in the first frame, the light doesn't just spout out of the top of the diffusers, it also comes out the front and sides. If you put black tape on the four sides of a Sto-Fen then maybe it would only shoot out the top. If it only shot out the top my high school seniors on outdoor sessions would get no light from the Sto-Fen, pointed upward to the sky. In fact it sheds a lot of light on them. 

    I'm not arguing for the diffusers or singing their praises but they do emit light differently than the drawing shows and do work in a pinch.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited November 2014
    I actually can't see the difference between a bare flash and a Stofen with the black tape around the sides. Maybe it is just me but the physical set up of both is almost identical and the way I see it both would spew about the same amount of light to the sides. Personally I would not use a non taped Stofen outside pointed up because much like a sphere device most of the light would go everywhere excpet where I want it. If the flash is pointed up the light from the front edge reaches the people and the rest goes into the sky and all around you - if there is nothing to bounce off. The front edge is a hard light source so I may as well just shoot direct. This is just my opinion based on the physics of light.       

    I have this conversation on other sites. The name of the device is the omni bounce. 

    Omni from the dictionary -  combining form meaning “all,” used in the formation of compound words. This tells me in every direction and bounce is self explanatory. To me the purpose of this device is to bounce off everything around you. This was what it was designed to do. As a stand alone it is still a small, thus hard light source. 

    I'm not saying I'm right and anyone should do what I say. I believe in a whatever works for you world. I do find these conversations interesting. 
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited November 2014
    I thought of an example I used when I did some flash workshops for a local camera club. The sun is millions of times larger than the earth but because of it's distance to our planet it appears to be about the size of a basket ball. The sun spews light all over the place in every direction you can think of yet when I look under my car during a mid summer day I see a dark shadow. There is significant contrast between the shadow and the area that the sun is illuminating with a hard distinct line between both. On an overcast day clouds are a huge diffusing screen. The shadow is not as dark, the contrast between it and the highlights is much less and the line between shadow and highlight is smooth or more graduated.                  

    Despite the size of our sun and how much light it casts, as a stand alone it is still a hard light source. When I think about the size and distance of the Stofen as a stand alone to a subject, I see relatively the same thing. I'm no rocket scientist but this made sense to me when I started to study lighting.            
  • Dave. I was thinking more about this and one option is using bounce card style diffuser like a Rouge Flash Bender. Hats are still going to be an issue but some light is coming from a lower area. Of course this still is not bouncing, you are getting spill from the flash and even if the card is larger than your flash it's effectiveness still diminishes over distance. 

    Or just bounce of the ceiling and use the flash card but again you get spill from the flash.  

    Here is a DIY you can make for less than $10 and check it out.

  • Thanks, Zenon. I will give this a shot. What I didn't try, as I wrote in an earlier post, was to pull back the BFT just enough to get a bit of the direct-ray spill coming from the flash to light under the brims. I haven't had a chance to try this yet with someone (my wife) wearing different hats. The psuedo-Rogue looks like something I can easily(?) put together, and I'm sure it's a lot cheaper.

    I would like to get this as right as I possibly can. Towards the end of the month, I volunteered to take photos of a walk/run for charity, and I was assigned primarily to take photos of the different teams as they head out. You know there are going to be at least a few people in baseball caps. After the teams are all done, they want me to move to candids at the start line. So you can see why I'm trying to work this out.

  • Are they going to be outdoors? 
  • As I was thinking about what I just posted, I should have mentioned I am trying to prepare for situations that may come my way that day, which is 23 November in the Boston area. If it's sunny and nice, great. A little fill flash to brighten up under the brims in the 8 AM-ish morning light. But, you never know what the weather will be like around here, so if it's bad weather - but not bad enough to postpone - the teams may be under some sort of canopy. Once again, bouncing light and creating shadows under the brims. This is my thinking. But am I way off in my thinking?
  • dbruno:


    It sounds like you’re going to be photographing outdoors or
    under an event tent where there is a lot of ambient light using one camera
    mounted speedlite.  I would manually set
    the camera exposure for the ambient light without out exceeding the max sync
    speed.  With the flash pointed directly
    at your subjects set to TTL, exposure compensation to what works for you, I
    would start around -.7.  In this
    situation you’re trying to get a clear image of the faces, adjust the exposure
    compensation to just add a little light to remove the shadow and make it look natural.



  • Thanks. I would like to get this stuff right, not just for this but for the future. I hear a lot of "direct flash is bad/harsh", so being able to light people's faces correctly while they have hats on without direct flash is something I would like to solve, if solvable, without a huge amount of software processing. In one of my earlier posts I describe the situation at the Halloween party that brought up my questions.

  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited November 2014
    I agree with qirckman. Shoot direct outdoors unless you have time to set up lighting. When driving around the city and I pay attention to the wedding photogs out there doing the post family formals with the bridal party and most shoot direct. The key is balancing ambient and flash.

    You probably know this but this video is pretty good. 

  • Practice, if you can’t get someone to model for you take a
    ball or bag anything and put a brimmed hat on it and shoot under different
    lighting conditions.  If you do this you
    will see what works for you and it will become second nature to you.

  • Zenon - good video, thanks. There was one part where you are demonstrating Canon Av (around 8:30). Hard to see that the exposure on the model had not changed as you hiked exposure compensation up and down. But even though I knew some of these concepts from this forum, I watched whole thing because it was well done.
    Quin - that's a good suggestion, and I do that when presented with certain situations I want to work out. I just haven't gotten to this one yet.

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