Hey all - I know, it's been a while since my last post. But like everybody else I know, I'm busy. Got a job and a bunch of other things to be doin', so the blog goes a bit to the back-burner most days. That said, I think I discovered a new way of working that gave me three of my favorite portraits to date!
It all started when I was asked to shoot some backstage shots at a local performing arts theater, and I did the usual thing of showing up with everything I own (much like the 'gear porn' shot on my previous post). So I'm running around backstage, out in the audience getting show shots, and I shot maybe, 250 or so shots. I get them home the first night and nothing stands out. I might as well have been a parent sitting in the audience waiting for his kid to perform and just shooting from his seat with the kit lens (not that some people can't do incredible things with the kits lens....).
So the next night, I decide to re-vamp how I was going to work. I'm a portrait guy, so let's get some candid, semi-posed portraits of the performers doing what they do naturally. I stripped down my gear to one body with a 50/1.4 lens attached. I used an eBay wireless trigger to trigger a hot shoe flash that I held in my left hand with the wide-diffusion panel out. This is what I used:
I liked using just the prime lens because that meant my left hand didn't have to worry about having to operate the zoom ring, I would zoom the old-fashioned way, with my feet. What I was envisioning before I started was some portraits with the background completely blurry, I wanted no depth of field since where the performers were was actually ugly - it's a theater afterall - the part the audience doesn't see isn't very attractive to begin with!
Then I thought about how I'd light it. I knew from the night before that going without flash wouldn't be an option. Faces would be in too much shadow, that kind of thing. I just wanted enough flash to light the subject. So I actually worked backwards, and this wouldn't work if you were shooting film because you need to do a test to know that it would work. I took a manual meter reading from the camera, and at ISO 200, the camera came back with 1/15th of a second at f/1.4. Perfect. I set the camera to that, then bump the shutter speed around the 1/30 - 1/40 mark, and set my flash to manual power at first to 1/128th power. Then I went up to 1/64th power and shot a test subject to see how it was working. And I got this shot:
I played around with it in black and white trying to go for the George Hurrell look, and this image got me going. I floated around the backstage area, and actually spent time talking to the performers and having a great time. It's true - if you talk more, then the performers don't mind getting their pictures taken (actually, all performers want their pictures taken I've discovered). But the ensuing photographs I got were all candid yet posed, but came across as very natural, but formal enough that they didn't just look like snapshots. Here's a couple more:
And the one that stunned me during the post-production, was one of the first ones. I just happened to be walking by a performer sitting backstage, and as she turned to say hello, I stopped, the camera went into position and my left hand went up with the flash. I swear I couldn't have posed this if I wanted to and it came out nearly perfect:
Yes, it's not technically perfect, and I think my camera's AF was set wrong. I should've set the camera to it's ONE SHOT mode, which means, once you get the subject in focus, it stays at that focus so long as you hold the shutter button down. The camera was actually set to AI SERVO mode, which is what you use for moving subjects. The camera, as you pan with the subject, keeps adjusting focus on what it thinks is right. This works great if you're panning a running animal or a flying aircraft, but for portraits you don't need it. So what happened was the camera focused, and then as I re-composed the shot in the frame, the AF point when it was moved re-focused on the middle of the frame, which is the only focus point I rely on (being old skool, ya' know). If I was at f8, it probably wouldn't have mattered, but when you're dealing with a shallow depth-of-field, you actually see areas go blurry because of the front-to-back relationship. This wasn't that bad and I think it came out great anyway.
But now that I have this new way of working, I'm going to explore this a bit more. On this second night I only shot about 74 pictures. But I got alot more keepers than I did the night before!
Now I'm debating getting a slightly wider lens to be closer to the 50mm aesthetic since, as you know, the smaller sensor of the digital camera means you actually get a telephoto effect. Meaning that my 50mm lens is actually a 65mm lens (1.3 multiplier). With these kinds of shots, I could stand to be a bit closer, or if doing a full body shot, I won't have to back-up so far. So, the 35/1.4L or the 28/1.8? I'd love the 35, but those cost $1500 new. I had the 28 years ago and loved it, but it doesn't open up to 1.4, which is my magic number now (but it's only $500) I already have the 20-35/2.8, but it only opens up to 2.8. Decisions decisions.....