Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Trash the Dress (Camera!)

'Trash the Dress' shoots with brides have been popular in America for a few years now - but they haven't really taken off here in New Zealand. Maybe it's the hard sell of getting a bride to 'trash' her wedding dress (although there are certainly different levels of what constitutes 'trashed'). Maybe we wedding photographers aren't pushing it enough? Or maybe it's just a gimmick?

I've always wanted to do a 'trash the dress' shoot, but have never had any takers. And then, a year ago, I was approached by a woman (Danice) out of the blue, who said she wanted to do a 'trash' sessions with me - even though she isn't getting married! She had seen some images from a shoot done in America, loved the photos, and wanted some of her done in a similar way - just cause it looked 'cool'. She had bought a cheap dress on-line, and was ready to go whenever I was.

Unfortunately, due to a full season last year, the shoot never happened. I lost touch with Danice, and figured that was my chance gone. Recently, however, I met up with her again, and the shoot was back on! A year late - but better late than never, right?!

I had scouted out a forest near where I live (only 10 minutes away), that has a very relaxed walk to an amazing waterfall - everything you could want on a 'trash the dress' shoot. We choose a day that looked clear and sunny on the long range forecast, and the shoot was all go!

The day did indeed dawn clear and bright, and we met in the car park before the walk at 9.30am. I had to collect me kids from school at 3.00pm, which left about 5 hours - including walking time - to get the job done. Plenty of time, with no need to rush.

Danice had a friend do her hair and make-up, and she tagged along with us for the first couple of hours. I had my assistant, Nicky, with me to help carry gear, and position the lighting or reflectors whenever they were needed. I find it's always helpful to have a couple of others along on the shoot - not only as extra hands, but to make everyone feel more 'safe'. I didn't really know Danice - and she didn't know me - so I think it would have been very uncomfortable for us to have been alone in a forest taking photographs. Common sense really.

For a lot of the 'Trash the Dress' shoots, water features quite prominently. Which is why I chose a walk that ended in a waterfall. But you need to build up to getting in the water, not least of all for your models comfort. So I planned on using the forest for the first couple of hours, making our way slowly to our final destination - the waterfall.

Since you've spent quite a bit of time with the bride by then (and presumably prior to the shoot on her wedding day), there should be a great amount of trust between you, so that when you do say "ok, now I want you to jump into the water in your wedding dress", she trusts you enough to actually do it!  :-)

And anyway, using the forest as a setting in which to take amazing images is by no means the poorer option. Even if we'd never made it to the waterfall I would have been happy with the images from the day.

Eventually, though, we did make it to the waterfall - and this is where the real fun began.

We reached the falls around noon, where the position of the sun was less than ideal. Most of the waterfall itself was in brilliant sunlight, and was blowing out on the histogram something crazy! Positioning Danice where I wanted to, meant either shooting her in silhouette, or using flash, reflectors etc. I had bought both flash and reflectors, but it was tricky using them in the middle of a waterfall - so I went to plan 'B' and stuck mainly to the shady spots by the side of the bank. I was still able to get a hint of the falls in the background, but couldn't really use them as the kind of main feature I though I would. But then that's the challenge with any photo shoot. Plans change.

All of the shots from the session have a moody, dark quality to them, which is exactly what I was going for based on the images that I liked from similar shoots overseas. I had a blast, and so did Danice - and we are both very happy with the final result. She's got some photos of herself that she really likes, and I've got some images I can use to promote these types of shoots with prospective clients. Brides who are game enough to create these kinds of images  - because let me tell you, that water was COLD!

And dangerous. The title for this post is 'Trash the Dress', with 'Camera' in brackets. Yep, you guessed it - these 'free' promotional images are going to end up costing me a new camera! The rocks beneath the surface were very slippery, but I had managed to maneuver my way to where I needed to be all day, right up to the end of the shoot. We were getting ready for the final, all-in, immersion style shots, when - on queue, I did. Camera and all. My 5D with battery grip and lens were completely drowned (as was I), and are now totally buggered!

Fortunately (if I'm looking for some kind of silver lining), I had just changed to a new card - although I suspect the card could have taken a dunking and still be alright anyway.

Unfortunately - and here we have a word of warning - my house and contents insurance doesn't cover me for the full cost of replacement because the gear was not listed separately on our insurance policy. The insurance will only pay out a maximum of $2000NZ on camera equipment if it isn't listed separately! It's going to cost me a lot more than that to replace the 5D, with lens and grip - so I guess I won't?

Will this facilitate a move back to Nikon (I do miss the D300)?  Or do I simply get a 40D/50D style body and new lens? What about a 1D mk II for roughly the same price? Or a Nikon D2x and use my wife's 70D as a backup when I shoot weddings? These are all possibilities I suppose? Got to get 2k from the insurance company first though...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

More sports shooting

OK, just to prove that I've still got a long way to go with this sports shooting malarkey - below are some images I shot today at my kids school swimming sports.

Joshua's backstroke action. Canon 20D , 70-200mm f2.8L

The swimming sports is held at the aquatic centre - an indoor stadium that isn't exactly set up for great lighting. There aren't that many lights, and what are there are miles away in the roof. No 'natural' lighting whatsoever, so pretty low-light conditions with which to shoot reasonably fast-moving sports.

I shot with the 20D again to give me 5fps, and kept the camera in jpeg mode to give me a good series of bursts (see last post on Reefton Rodeo). Bumping the ISO to 800, and opening up to f2.8, I was still only getting 100th sec shutter speeds! Not really enough to 'freeze' the action in the way I would have liked.

Emily's freestyle action. 20D and 70-200mm f2.8L

Consequently, all the images have a slight blur to them - simply because I couldn't get the shutter speeds up fast enough. A newer camera would have allowed me to boost the ISO another stop, up to 1600, but that would still be cutting it fine with the shutter speed at around 200/250th. Ideally I would have liked a 500th to a1000th, but I just don't think it was going to happen with the lighting I had. Hands and water are blurred, although I've gotten away with it if the faces are 'reasonably' sharp.

Josh going for gold. Canon 20D with 70-200mm f2.8

All-in-all, within the limitations that I had to work with, I got a couple of 'okay' images. Good enough for the family album - but nowhere near good enough to use as portfolio shots - they're just not 'quite' sharp enough. Maybe I'll rob a bank and get myself a new 1DX that I can shoot at 6400 and still get noise-free images! :-)

Ah well. Dreams are free.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Reefton Rodeo

Yesterday I went on the first photography field trip of the year with my local camera club - to the Reefton Rodeo. I was really looking forward to it, since it would give me a chance to shoot in a fast, action sports style that I don't often get to shoot in.

Bull Riding. Canon 20D with 70-200mm f2.8

I decided to use the 20D, since it shoots at 5 frames per second, and would add a 1.6x cropping factor to any lens I used. I own a Canon 70-200mm f4L, but for the Rodeo I knew there would be quite a lot of background distractions, so wanted to blur the background as much as possible. So I borrowed a friends 70-200mm f2.8, as well as a Canon 1.4x extender, just in case I needed extra reach (I generally didn't).

What goes up...
I also shot using a monopod to keep everything steady, and to save my arms from having to support the f2.8 lens all day. Even if I had been using a lighter lens, the monopod would still have been a great idea, as it keeps everything stable.

... must come Down!
I shot in jpeg, since it meant that I could shoot 26 frames continuously before the buffer was full - whereas if I'd shot in RAW it would have only allowed me 5 frames before locking up. As it was, shooting in jpeg meant that the camera never locked up and I could shoot at the top frame rate without missing any shots. It also helped that I was using a fast (200x) Lexar CF card to speed up file transfer times.

Ropin' and Ridin'
This set up allowed me to shoot all day, wide open on f2.8, at about a 2000th of a shutter speed. But during the roping demonstration, I wanted to pan with the riders and get some blur into the image to indicate the sense of speed that the riders are moving. So I set the camera to ISO 100, and closed the aperture to f11. This gave me a 60th of a second shutter speed, allowing me to blur the background, but the front horse that the camera auto focus locked on to is in pretty sharp focus.

Over the course of the day I shot around 600 photos. Later that evening I whittled this down to about 100, and of that 100 I probably have 20 that I would consider as 'keepers'. Why did I get rid of 580 shots from the day? Well, about half were slightly out of focus, and many of the others had a background that I wasn't happy with. Given the way the rodeo was set up, there wasn't much i could do about the backgrounds. I just had to wait to see if the cowboy was going to stay on long enough to clear the gates and the clutter. Many did, and they were the shots that counted. And then I just had to hope that the camera nailed the auto focus - which it did about half the time. I would expect a better hit rate with a newer camera, since the D20 is a fairly old body.

So next year, my haul of great images should be bigger? We'll wait and see.