How to photograph people in a black room.
Dear Lord, I was thinking, what did I do to deserve this?
I’m standing in a black room with black 10-metre walls, a black ceiling, a black floor, holding an eight-year-old camera that starts to blow smoke when set to anything higher than ISO 800.
Somewhere, in all this darkness, is a Page Three picture of an artist and his latest work.
The job sheet says: Go to art gallery, photograph artist and work.
At my disposal is a 16-35mm wide lens on my camera, a flash transmitter and a flash.
And a whole lot of blackness.
And a very patient artist.
I’m wishing (for like the 1000th time in what feels like as many months) that Canon Australia would send that promised (and seemingly fictional) second flash.
But after whispering a dozen Hail Marys only to find that an another flash still hadn’t materialised in my pocket, I got to work scheming ways to stretch the output of my single light source.
I start popping test shots and immediately hate the results.
The flash just smashes into the artist and his artwork with the subtly of a brick.
It looks crap. More like a Page Three-Hundred photo than a Page Three photo.
Keeping my chin up, I beg the gallery tech to turn a spotlight or two onto the artwork, which improves things a lot, but also makes things harder.
See, now the artwork looks good, but the spotlights are a constant, soft, low-powered light compared to the brutal, quick hard pop of the flash.
Even at the flash’s lowest power, it still nukes all the quality out of the spotlights and ruins the good work they were doing for the artwork.
I’ve got to get the flash away from the artwork somehow.
So, flash is on low power, shutter speed is around a respectable 1/80th and my aperture is fairly wide open, maybe f4 or larger.
I tackle the too-bright-flash problem first. Turn the power down low, back it up a bit from the subject, and use my notebook to shield the light away from the artwork and guide it on to my artist.
After a few test pops, I get the flash under control by shrinking my aperture to f5.6.
Artist looks good, but artwork is now almost black. What to do?
Only one thing I can do … I just start dropping my shutter speed, taking test shots until the artwork looks like it’s exposed nicely.
At about 1/10th of a second, I’m there. Which is a bit slower than you want usually go when hand-holding a camera, but with a few deep breaths and steady hands, a sharp shot is quite achievable.
ISO for the shoot was 500.
FYI – when shooting at low shutter speeds, adding flash into the mix helps freeze your subject sharp, so when I’m hand-holding at crazy slow shutter speeds, I’m usually adding in flash to help myself out and cheat a bit of sharpness.
Am I totally happy with the pic? Not entirely. I’d love to have a second light kicking back toward’s the artist’s shoulders, adding a bit of separation.
But, you do the best with the gear you’ve been allocated, and since the picture made it to Page Three the next day, they must have been happy with the shot back at the office.
Want to know more? Let me help.