Wednesday, 17 August 2011

PK 2011 Event Photography

Just got back from shooting in Christchurch at Promise Keepers, a weekend-long christian men's event where I was one of the official photographers. I wrote in my last post about ISO settings for the indoor event - and how I was most likely going to shoot on ISO 1600 all weekend (and this turned out to be the case).

In this post I want to show some of the image from the weekend, and go into the nuts and bolts of shooting the event - a sort of personal de-brief now that the dust has settled (and my feet have recovered).

Sung worship. Canon 5D & 20-35mm
To begin with, lets talk technical. How did I set my cameras up to shoot, what gear did I use, and what did I learn from the exercise?

Well, to start with, I used both of my Canon DSLR's - the 5D and the 20D - and set them up exactly the same. Both were set on centre weighted metering, tungsten white balance, AI Servo auto focus and ISO 1600. I also shot in AV (Aperture mode), wide open for the whole weekend. Both were also set to highest quality jpeg so I could download and hand-off the images instantly, without having to go through RAW conversion software. I decided not to bother with RAW + JPG since I thought I might be shooting a LOT over the course of the weekend and didn't want to have to be dealing with too many Gigs of images.

PK Band. Canon 20D & 70-200mm
The only difference between the two bodies was the inclusion of the vertical grip on the 20D, and the exclusion of a grip on the 5D. Why on one and not the other? The decision had to do with the lenses I decided to use on both cameras (see, there is a method to my madness).

I borrowed a Canon 100mm f2.8 to take because I thought I would need as fast a lens as possible - but at the last minute I also bought along my 70-200mm f4 L. And boy, am I glad I did! When I got to the venue, I set up the 70-200mm on the 20D, effectively giving me a 112 to 320mm f4, and attached this outfit to a monopod for better stabilisation. I found that I was getting anywhere from a 60th to a 125th second shutter speed, depending on the lights, and decided that this was fast enough. It's a big venue - even though I had the run of the place and was told that no where was out-of-bounds for me (except actually on the stage itself of course) - so I opted for reach over speed. Considering I used this set-up about 70 to 80% of the time, I'm happy that I bought the 70-200mm f4 L along.

Lost in Prayer. 5D & 20-35mm
On the 5D I went with the widest lens in my bag, the Canon EF 20-35mm f3.5/4.5, and again, it was another really good choice. With the 20D, long lens and monopod in one hand, I slung the 5D with wide-angle over my shoulder and was good to go. I wanted it to be light and maneuverable with the second camera, hence not attaching the vertical grip, and with my new camera strap (see two posts ago) the 5D and wide-angle stuck at my side all weekend. Don't want to harp on about the whole strap thing, but I really did feel that the 5D was very securely planted on my right shoulder all weekend. I was moving around a lot, and never once felt the camera start to slip off of my shoulder. I know I couldn't say the same thing about the standard canon strap.

I also bought a 50mm f1.8 with me (again, because I thought I might need super-fast glass), but didn't use it. Ditto my 580EX flash.

The wide angle allowed my to get in really close to the crowd and get some very emotive images - as well as step back and get in a sweeping crowd shot to fit in as much as I could of the venue.  Both scenarios worked really well.

Ian Grant. 20D & 70-200mm
Most of the images of the speakers were taken using the 70-200mm on the Canon 20D - and most of those at the longest 200mm end. I waited to shoot until a: the speaker looked interesting, and b: the light was good - to give me the best chance of getting a sharp, interesting image. And I shot a lot! Even so, my hit rate was maybe 50/50. I took as many blurry images (normally because of subject movement) as sharp ones - and tried to up this rate by shooting in short bursts (so that at least one would be sharp). This worked very well, and I am very pleased with the amount of keepers I got for each speaker.

The event organisers wanted at least 10 good images of each speaker to choose from - but using the technique above I managed to give them twice as much!

Corridor. Canon 5D & 20-35mm
Of course the whole weekend was dedicated to taking photos for the Promise Keepers organisation - trying to cover all the images that they required. This meant taking wide crowd shots, photos of the speakers, capturing the various group break-outs, as well as getting intimate worship images of fathers and sons, individuals etc. With every shot I took, I had these criteria in the back of my mind.  Over the whole weekend, there was only one shot I took for myself - a 'grab' shot that doesn't really fit any of the required categories - and it just happens to be my favorite shot of the weekend.

It's the image above, 'Corridor' and literally was a grab shot I took while going from one room to another. As I was about to go onto the top floor to get some wide crowd shots looking down from above, I spied this group just standing at the end of a long corridor. I swung the 5D to my eye, snapped one shot, and went on to get the photos I was after. This is 'my' shot for the weekend. I love the light, the silhouette, and enigma of this image, and despite it not fitting in with the brief, I'm glad I took it.

Bill Subritzky. Canon 20D & 70-200mm f4L
Finally, an image the definitely does fit the brief, and one of my other favorites from the weekend, is this image of New Zealand's most famous faith healer, Bill Subritzky. Promise Keepers is organised by his two sons, Paul and John, so it was important for me to get some very strong images of their father giving his message. I positioned myself purposefully to include the cross in the image, and waited for Bill to strike an obviously 'religious' pose (which didn't take long).

Overall, the weekend shooting at the Christchurch Promise Keepers event was incredibly positive - and fun. I was nervous going in to it since it was such an unknown quantity (photographically speaking), but it turns out I needn't have worried. I got some fantastic images that the PK event team are thrilled with, and at the end of the day that was all I wanted to achieve. I was very sore by the end of it (I have a problem with my ankles if I stand for too long), but looking back over the photos, the pain was worth it.

Even though I enjoyed the experience, it might be a while before I do it again. Next year I'm going to take my son Joshua to Promise Keepers to actually sit and be part of the crowd. He'll be 11, and old enough to take part in one of the break-out groups for young boys. He's very excited about going, and so am I. Only one year to wait!  :-)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Canon 5D at ISO 1600

This weekend I'm off to Christchurch to attend Promise Keepers - a christian men's event that runs from friday through to saturday night. It will be the fourth time I've attended the event (there are different speakers and a new theme every year), although this time it will be very different - I'm one of the official photographers for the event!

I'm very excited about this because I think that it will be a: challenging, b: rewarding and c: fun (hopefully). In preparation for shooting the event, I've read up a little on concert/stage photography (although there are conflicting views and it's nothing I couldn't have figured out for myself), and bought a manfrotto monopod head to use with my 5D and 70-200mm f4 L.

Of course I'm taking the 5D, as well as the 20D with an assortment of lenses. There will be no flash during the presentations, but I'll take one anyway since I may get to use it during the breaks for group shots etc. I will also need to take my laptop for burning CD's and maybe for some quick editing? The event organisers would like as many images as possible supplied immediately - although there may also be the option of taking the files away and working on them for supply at a later date.

I know the venue reasonably well, and am happy that there will be plenty of room for me to work in. I can probably get as close to the stage as I like without actually getting on it(!) - so I may not even need to use the 70-200mm a lot? I'm actually thinking of using my 50mm f1.8 on the 20D (giving me a 75mm f1.8 effectively) for stage shots when the presenters are doing their thing, together with the 20-35mm f3.5/4.5 on the 5D for wide angle shots of the crowd, band etc? Then of course there's the 28-135mm IS lens on the 5D if I want a 'one lens fits all' kind of approach - and finally the 70-200mm f4L on either the 5D or 20D, depending on how much 'reach' I need?

Canon 5D @ ISO 1600
Having never really pushed the 5D in terms of high ISO's, I figured I had better do an 'experiment' before next weekend to see how comfortable I would be shooting at max ISO (which is 1600 for both the 5D and 20D without using the 'extra' high setting to go to 3200 on the 5D).

I simply focused on a dark area of my daughters bedroom - giving me both highlight and shadow detail - and made a shot at all the different ISO settings, up to the 1600 max. I then gave all the files identical processing in terms of sharpening, levels and curves adjustments, and then zoomed in to 100% to examine the results.

Without going in to too much detail, I'm very happy with the high ISO results the 5D gives, and won't have any worries shooting all weekend maxed out at 1600 if I have to.

The results above probably don't show up all that well on the internet - they probably all look much of a muchness? Even clicking on them for a bigger look probably doesn't help much - although you're more than welcome to do so :-)   Yes, there's noise there - of course there is. But it's not horrible, and there is still lots of detail as well. This is, after all, a full-frame sensor with a very large pixel size, so the detail isn't turning to mush (like it will with many compact digitals).

So really, what it does say, is that the high ISO performance of the 5D (and also the 20D which is said to be comparable in all the reviews I've read), is very good - and nothing to worry about. No, it won't be as good as the 5D MkII, or recent 7D, or even the new 60D - but it's good enough for me. Especially if I put the really good images through a noise reduction program later on when I can edit at my leisure. But even without it, they will be fine.

ISO 1600 should be enough to give me shutter speeds of around 125th sec when under the bright stage lights, especially if I can use the 50mm f1.8. It will be a different story when I turn around and shoot the crowds, but the monopod should help me to get steady shots - even around 15th or 10th of a second. Hopefully I can get the crowd to stay still for that long?  :-)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Get a new Strap!

Hands up those who are using the supplied strap that came with your camera?

Yeah, I thought so. That would be most of us - right?

'Hey buddy, there's nothing wrong with the strap that came with my camera' I hear you say. 'It's got a cool Canon/Nikon/Sony etc logo on it - say's 'Digital' on there somewhere, and is in the company's trendy colours. What more could you want!'

How about comfort? How about extra features like cushioning and grip? Think they might make a difference when you're talking about supporting a 2kg+ load of camera gear around your neck for a day? You betcha. And these are the features that you don't get with the camera strap that comes with your digital SLR - even the Pro bodies that cost megabucks.

My new Kaiser (made in Germany) camera strap for the Canon 5D.
Unfortunately the Leica doesn't come with the strap.
If you've never used any other strap on your camera than the one supplied by the manufacturer, then you owe it to yourself to make a change. I guarantee you will wonder why you put up with the crappy supplied one for so long!

There are myriad number of camera straps available as an alternative, and like anything to do with photography, you can spend as little - or as much - as you like.

Straps like the 'Black Rapid' have become very trendy with 'pro' photographers, but even going to a very basic cushioned neoprene style camera strap will totally revolutionise your camera-toting experience. I finally decided to change the supplied camera strap on my 5D (which is a pretty hefty camera, especially with the vertical grip attached), and opted for a 'Kaiser Pro Camera Strap'. It wasn't very expensive - only $25NZ - but makes a huge difference when carrying the 5D around the neck or on the shoulder - and has a few extra features over the Canon bog-standard strap.

No, it doesn't have a big 'CANON' logo on it - and guess what - I think that's a good thing. It's obviously attached to a big Canon camera, but it doesn't scream at you from across the room "hey look at me, I'm a Canon camera". It's just black, with no big expensive looking logos across the neck - just a couple of very discreet 'Kaiser' logos on the side.

What it is, is cushioned (mmmm...) and made of neoprene which is much more slip-resistant than the standard material type. I'm forever hitching my camera back over my shoulder if I use the supplied strap - but not so with a decent strap. And don't dismiss that cushioning. It really does make a great difference - more so the heavier your camera is.

Maybe it's not very sexy? Maybe it's not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of 'upgrading' your camera, and it's probably not top of your list of 'must have' camera gear. But that's a shame - because maybe it should be at the very top of your list! As I said, you don't have to spend too much money to get an infinitely superior product to what you're using at the moment. And once you've used a decent strap, you'll never go back to the supplied straps ever again. Promise.