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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Outdoor Events at Night

This is the place I come to first for advice. Thank you, Neil, and everyone who lends their experience and expertise to even my most basic questions.

So, this event I'm doing Friday night is a fundraiser at a college campus right outside Boston. I am hired by one of the food vendors, and they want me there between 7:30 and 9:30 PM. I know a lot of the shots will be of this outfit grilling food, serving food, basically of the crew in action. Food is served at ~8:30. I still have to talk with the owner, but it sounds like people get their food outside, go inside to eat, and then a fundraising program begins.

I did a few outdoor test shots with my wife as the model in our backyard last night with on-camera flash and a Lumiquest ProMax with reflector, and also with direct flash, from a distance of 20-25 feet. It started drizzling so had to cut it short. The shots were inconclusive, but she did tell me the spots in her eyes from the direct flash lasted a minute or two. Good to know.

My off-camera experience is limited to the day I added a 430 EXII, decided not to sell my 420EX, set them up in the living room, used the on-board pop-up as the wireless controller, and said out loud "Sonafagun, it really does work", and put them away.

I'm trying to be as well prepared as possible, but I certainly don't have the right equipment, other than the two flashes, a microphone boom stand, two tripods, a medium Flashbender, an 8-inch octagon softbox, a ladder, and some ability to adapt on the fly. (I know, pretty lame right?) But I have a feeling this may be tough if I'm presented with outdoor shots of people doing what they do as late as 9:30, with absolutely no experience with "real" shots using off-camera flash, never mind at night. This isn't making me nervous, but I could luck out and have the majority of the food prep/serving shots take place before 8:30.

Do you think I should run out and get an inexpensive umbrella (shoot-through or reflective) or two, and have them with me just in case? If I did, I would have to do it quickly, set up something in the backyard that looks like a food table, and corral my wife again to stand in.

As always, any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.


PS - here are a couple of my favorite candid shots from the big-money art-school fundraiser. Young lady in the middle is a former student-turned employee with two patrons looking at old photos. They didn't know I was there; the other is in the auditorium where they had food and bar service on the stage while a piano player played. I kinda like the lighting.


  • ViccoVicco Member
    Hi Bruno, so you want to shoot outdoors but you show us indoors samples...
    Hm, what exactly was the question?
    How to get a nice light outdoors?

    If yes, I'd suggest to take a friend with you who acts as voice-operated lightstand and carries a boomstick with a TTL flashgun, a little softbox and a TTL RF receiver. Cheers, Vicco
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Vic - Ah, I guess I should have posted the pictures under another thread, but I try not to post some of my photos unless there is a problem and I need some help. In an earlier post, I made mention I was volunteering for a high-end fundraiser, and just felt pretty good about it. That's all ....

    Yes, getting good light at night outdoors is the question. I forgot to mention I also have a cord to get my Speedlite off the camera, so I would hold that up with my left hand, and snap with my right.

    The reason why I like event photography is you have to figure out how to adapt. But, if I have to adapt to a situation where I'm taking photos of people in a buffet line being served by the vendor who hired me AND at 9 PM EST, I may not have enough equipment and bandages to adapt. I'm wondering if I should have a couple of inexpensive umbrellas on hand. But, with this event, I won't know until I get there.

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Hypothetically thinking of people getting served in a buffet line, I would probably take shots slightly behind the servers and looking down the line. This is what I do during the day or inside. Because I have absolutely no experience with off-camera lighting, and this situation is now at night outside, would I still be in the mode of on-camera flash thinking "bounce from where do you want the light coming from", and set the Speedlite/umbrella combo to my side and behind me, also looking down the line? I hope I'm making sense. I only ask this because I called a local camera store, and they have a Westcott setup that's really reasonable in price. When I saw it, I started thinking about it.
  • Do you know what kind of lighting they will have? They probably aren't planning to grill and serve in the dark.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    I going to talk to the guy tonight, and ask where everything is being set up. In one of the first emails he gave me a heads-up about outdoor grill shots in low light. My questions for him will be if the buffet/serving tables are out in a field somewhere, or near the building where the eventual fund-raising event is taking place. If it's reasonably close to the building, then I'll hopefully be bouncing the flash. If not, I would like to be prepared. But I'll know more tonight, and hopefully he's visited the place before.
  • Dave I will give this some thought to see if I can offer any helpful advice. I haven't shot too much at night outside but a little bit. Hopefully Neil and others will reply. I will say two things right away -- I think you are panicking and I've been there and try not to panic. And if you have no experience with off camera flash now is not the time to try it out for the first time -- on an assignment and at night. Plus I think the umbrella setup might be in the way. You'll need to balance ambient and flash and whatever light they have. You'll need high ISO and very diffused flash. Definitely not direct flash. You may even need a tripod for slow shutter speeds since it's dark and you don't know how lit up the event will be. This is a tough assignment for sure because they want you to make them look good and they chose an event where people are all over the place and it's dark. Don't be afraid to set up shots early, between 6:30 and 7:45 or so when it's still light out. Get a volunteer guest and set it up where they are serving him or her, as soon as the food is cooked. I don't know what they expect you to get after 8:30 if it's pitch black out. But they will probably be lit up.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Skip. I don't feel panicked, I just want to be prepared, do a good job first time out for money, possibly establish a relationship, and maybe get a referral. You bring up a good point that this is not the time to try this out, and that the umbrella may be in the way. The event starts at 6:30, and I'm on the clock at 7:30. I was planning to get there at least 45 minutes ahead to get some test shots in - I always do that. From some of the emails, I get the sense that people will not be eating outside, they get their food, go into the big hall, and get hit up for donations. So, the outdoor work may not go past 9. Also was told the event organizer knows I'm coming, and would like some shots during the fundraising portion. Another relationship maybe?
  • Make sure everyone's clear about who is paying you for the fundraising shots.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Yes, absolutely. I'm off the clock at 9:30, but I don't know how long the actual event lasts.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Skip - just talked with the vendor. The grilles are in a small parking lot next to the reception hall, and the buffet tables are just inside the hall. Nothing is outside. I'll be getting shots of the guys grilling out there, but it's just a few. Lot of food shots, lots of appetizers being served, stuff like that. Promo pictures basically for the vendor. Thanks for all your responses today.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    The biggest trouble you will have Dave will be to lock focus in dark conditions, it will take longer to lock on and if trying to grab a 'moving' target nigh impossible.

    On that note, if using off cam flash you would still have on camera one, pointing away just for the infrared focus assist beam alone, and flag it so it does not directly fire into anyone's eyes.

    You will have to pick your battles and as Skip said (and on your wife's experience) blasting with direct flash will kill their mood quickly unless absolutely the last choice.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Trev. Come to think of it, while trying to focus on my wife, I had to go off slightly, grab the focus, and recompose.

    On my camera, Canon T3i, when I use the popup as the controller, I have the option to turn the light from it off. I still think it fires a little, but not like it normally would.

    Now that I really don't have to worry about it, I think I should go ahead and get an umbrella setup and really get familiar with it, for when I actually will need it and not have a fire drill.

  • ranythebardranythebard Member
    edited May 2015
    If you need to move a lot, and have no assistant, light stand and umbrella will bog you down.

    Unless you set up a number light stands around the place, and activate then as needed with a radio controller. But then again, watchout for wind blowing off your umbrella.

    It may be hard to focus in the dark, and may not find the right spot to focus on, then recompose. I tie a tiny LED torchlight(focused) with a lanyard on my camera strap. In complete darkness and the person is quite a distance, I pull up the torch and shine on the person's body, autofocus, toggle to manual focus, turn off and let go of the torch, hold up the flash with flashbender tied onto my wrist and shoot. Takes some practice to do it fast and smooth.

    Good luck.

    Edit: Oh just see that 430EX II has modeling flash, scrap what I said above. My cheap manual flash dont have that feature.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Rany - that's  a really interesting procedure you have there, and when I have the chance I'm going to look more carefully at it. My flash does have the modelling feature, but I want to see if I'm adept enough to do what you do. Really good that you have something that works well and you can physically do it.

    So, as I wrote above, I don't have to worry about this - now - so now is the time to obtain some gear and get some off-camera experience.
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited May 2015
    For dark situations of any kind, Ive found the best thing to use is a human light stand.  Basically, you give someone else a flash which is mounted on a monopod or a pole.  The person moves around with you basically off to the side.  They act as the main light and your flash on camera acts as fill.  

    As for focus, a laser will solve that.  Take a look at this video.  There are a few obvious cautionary notes about the laser like not shining it in the eyes and of course someone may get nervous about it.  This laser is manually activated and only lasts as long as you push down the button.  There are quite a few techniques and tricks for low light focus, but Ive found this device to be the best one out there for low light focus.

    As the video suggests, this laser is mainly for wildlife photography.  I have a setup here for photographing wildlife and dangerous game at night.  A 400 watt flash with large reflector along with my 150-600mm lens.  This is how we photograph bears and other wildlife at night.  Lock on focus with the laser.  The laser presents a very pinpoint beam which is not noticed most of the time.

  • Michael- what ratio do you use for on camera fill and off camera main light?
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited May 2015
    Your one sentence question can be answered correctly in several pages.  Basically, different ratios produce a different picture which I can describe in several paragraphs, but is best conveyed in pictures.  The 3:1 ratio is the one I most often use  Any higher and the shadows increase to a more dramatic effect.  A lower ratio or the lowest ratio 1:1 produces flash across the subject eliminating the shadow.  Some shadow in my opinion is a plus.  It depends on what look you are trying to achieve.

    I did a quick search and found a website where a photographer did some example shots.  

    So basically, the more shadow you desire the greater ratio and vice versa.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    "Your one sentence question can be answered correctly in several pages."

    Really liked that one, Michael ....
  • You see what I mean in that link? No fill creates this ghoulish look proper for Halloween 5:1 and 4:1 a little more dramatic and dark almost like an old photo. Full on 1:1 looks like Peter Parker direct flash. 2:1 still looks a bit too direct. 3:1 is probably the best all purpose formula imho.

    This is for main light / fill flash combo which is a basic setup. There are some other more involved setups and techniques. It goes into pages to explain.

  • Michael- thank you. i need to get to practicing with my dummies.
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