In Depth Wedding Reportage – #1 Making Preparations

Hi and welcome to another blog post about wedding reportage!

This time I want to give you an in depth overview about making a wedding reportage.
I will start this series of articles with telling you how to prepare your wedding reportage.

Preparing a wedding reportage is lots of work in general. After you received a job from a client to shoot a wedding you will have enough time to contrive everything well because the client will send you a request well in advance, normally.

A wedding is a sequential procedure so you need to know when you have to be where. Ask the client for a timetable or a listing of all of the important happenings on that day. This timetable may change a lot until the wedding day, but it is very important to you to get an overview of that day as soon as possible because you have to plan everything well and you need chronological indications to arrange how long to stay for the preparations of the bride and the groom or how much time you will have to get from the church to the celebrating location etc. As soon as you got the final detailed timetable go into detail for your arrangements.

There are three main topics of a wedding day:

#1: Preparations of the bride and the groom
#2: The marriage ceremony
#3: The celebration

If you are doing a full day reportage you normally cover all of those three topics. That means to arrange each of this topics in detail.

Take a blank sheet and a pen and start with #1, the preparations.

Write down everything you can think of that has to do with the preparation of the bride and the groom – the location, the address, the time, the possible procedure, how to interact to create an easy atmosphere, the lighting (available light, flashguns or a studio flash with a softbox, on camera or off camera flash, gelling etc.), which lenses to use, the camera settings to stay flexible for unexpected happenings, how to transfer the mood and atmosphere during the preparation, important details to shoot and so on.
Of course you may not have a tangible knowledge about the scenery where the preparations will be, but go through the most possible situations and search a solution for each so that you are prepared for any situation and do not have to struggle with an unexpected situation like a room with a wooden ceiling or colored walls with mirrors on it etc. Also think of how to draw attention to those who are involved. Think of the light you want to create – backlight, sidelight, dead frontal etc.
Set a fixed amount of time for every stay. For example 60 min for the bride and 30 min for the groom.
Think of how to start, for example with an overview image of the scenery, than capturing the work of the make-up artist, capturing emotions of the bride, shoot the dress, shoot details etc.

You should also make you an own timetable with details about when you want to shoot what and whom – send it to the client.

The things you should think of for #2 and #3 are similar to the ones in #1. Just go through the procedure like in #1.

At least you need all addresses and phone numbers of the locations and the people who are involved like the witnesses to a marriage, the church, the priest, the bridal couple of course, the catering etc. Think of the tasks these folks have on that day and get in contact with them. Ask them for their purposes. Ask the priest for permission to shoot the marriage ceremony from the first row etc. Think of all possibilities and how these folks could help you to get the best images possible that document this special day in the (very) best way. So, this is a professional approach, of course. And it fits to my slogan: “Striving for the better picture everyday.”
While others are working sloppy and do not care about arranging everything well ahead but shooting straight ahead without a plan, I contrast from them because I care about a solid preparation to be prepared in the best way to be a step ahead of unexpected situations, to keep cool when it gets stressful so that I am still able to concentrate myself on the main things: Catching the Moment and make great images that match to the clients expectations.

The evening before you sally to the wedding it is time to pack your camera bag.

What you are taking with you depends on the effort you want to make.
For a standard reportage I am using a camera, f2.8 lenses from 11-200mm, tele-converters and a flashgun plus gels and filters.
If there are portraits to shoot you would also need a light-stand and a softbox or an umbrella, a reflector or so. If you plan to install a remote camera you would also need SuperClamps, a MagicArm and a wireless trigger. Lots of stuff you have to carry. An easy way to carry all that stuff is to use a trolley case for the big stuff and a camera bag like the Lowepro Stealth Reporter bag for your lenses, flash, camera.

After packing your bag, check your car: Oil, tire pressure, water. Clean/wash your car – The first impression counts!

Program your GPS with all locations in chronological order and print all routes, too.

Finally, pack your clothing if you have to stay overnight. A suit/pantsuit for the wedding reportage, casual wear for the journey and a pajama to sleep well after an exhausting day of wedding reportage. 🙂

Go to bed early and do not eat spicy food the day before if you do not wish to spend 80% of the wedding day in the toilette! 😉 Finally, start your journey early enough to prevent traffic jams and have a solid breakfast before.

I hope that article helps you a bit to prepare your wedding reportage.

Next month I will post the 2nd article of this wedding reportage series that shows some “behind the lens” action. 

Bye!
Chris


Shooting Indoor Sports

Hi and welcome to this blog post!

Today’s topic is about how to shoot indoor sports to get high-quality photos.

Sometimes gyms do not offer the light quality that you need to create high-quality photos. So, you need to bring your own light.
It’s no secret that professional sports photographers use strobes to light gyms or arenas. Thanks to Dave Black I learned a lot about that and this weekend I did it the same way.

This weekend’s venue was the GSH Alsfeld, which is one of that dark venues with horrible light. It’s one of the darkest gyms that were ever built.  Here one has to shoot with ISO 10000 and f2.8 to get a shutter speed of 1/320s!
Every photographer gets nightmares when have to cover games that are hold in this gym. The results are mostly not that good – technically – because of the very lame light. And every Monday one can see the grainy, dull and blurry results in the sports section of the local newspapers. Not only bad for the reader but also not that good for the image of a newspaper.

Because I’m not satisfied with such lame photos, I did it the professional way.

While some photographers already brought their own light to dark gyms, they made a mistake by using on-camera flash. There is no worst idea like shooting indoor sports with an on-camera flash because on one hand it disturbs the athletes and on the other hand it offers no good light in terms of a natural look – as direct flash does mostly. That leads me to point #1: Don’t use on-camera flash but off-camera flash.

Professionals are using off-camera flash in terms of sport strobes that are mounted high above the court under the ceiling to illuminate it like lamps do to create a natural light look. Okay, that’s #2: Mount your flashguns/strobes under the ceiling.

It’s a pity that we don’t have such nice catwalks under the ceiling like they have in the USA. That makes it way more difficult to get the lights up there. If there are no catwalks and no ladders that would it make possible to reach the ceiling you have to find another way. Maybe you rent a long ladder from a hardware store or you rent a manlift etc.
But the very first step you should do is: Ask for permission! Ask the teams, ask the housekeeper and everyone else who is involved in decision making. Also make a contract to play it safe.
Apropos “safe”: Safety comes first! Secure your installations and make sure that if something brakes no one gets hit.

As you can see you have to arrange a lot in the first place before you are able to mount your lights. Maybe that’s the thing why in Germany there are just a few photographers using sport strobes. Effort is a big obstacle in an age where time is more money than ever.

Anyway, I made all that arrangements before and on Saturday I was ready to install the lights under the ceiling. I made all the installations early that day and went there at 10 o’clock in the morning. The first game was at 4.30 p. m.


As always I made a plan. Finally, I installed one flash in the upper left corner and another one in the lower middle. During the game I positioned myself in the lower left corner. That’s the typical light setup that causes a fill flash and a backlight.

I put the flash on the left (see the image above) to the left corner and used it as a backlight:

As strobes I used only two NIKON SB-800 Speedlights. The benefits are that they are light and portable and don’t need an external power supply. As Dave Black says in his workshop videos, the Speedlights have plenty of power and due to FP sync very short shutter speeds are possible. That means I can freeze all the action and can blend the available light with the flash light so that no ghosting appears like it would be with the typical sport strobes.

Because the SB-800 just sends the infrared signal up to 20 meters and a line of sight is needed, I used the RadioPopper wireless triggers. They allow me to trigger the Speedlights without a line of sight and from a distance of 400+ meters.

Finally, the difference between available light shots and flash light shots are amazing! Thank’s to the very clean high ISO of the D3, I can use ISO 5000 to realize a shutter speed of 1/640s which is okay for Basketball. The flash light cleans the high ISO and the result is a clean photo with a good contrast, saturation, more detail and frozen action.

Using available light:

Using flash:

As you can see, it’s worth the effort to make all these arrangements and installations. As for my part I use flash whenever it is possible.

Bye!
Chris


Shooting Motocross

Hi and welcome to this post about shooting Motocross in a professional way.

As you know, I’m working on a sports project this year. I started with swimming in March and proceeded to motocross in April, then to track and field in May and in fall/winter I will shoot volleyball and other indoor sports.

Today I want to show you a professional way to shoot motocross scenes.

Mostly the problem of shooting motocross is a blown out sky and black faces caused by long shutter speeds to reveal the rider from shadow caused by backlight. Also if you shoot with the light you have often these problems.

Available light shots often don’t offer the possibility to shoot with high shutter speeds to freeze the action so that especially the wheels of the motorcycle show motion blur. You will need at least a shutter speed around 1/2500s to freeze the motion. But when there is not enough available light you have to reduce the shutter speed and that results in a blown out sky and motion blur.
Finally, the typical available motocross image looks like the following.

Image 1: (Photo: GOGO Visual (Creative Commons: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)))

As a perfectionist I have a professional approach. That means that I want great images that contrast from competitors. So, I have to think about a solution to get better images than the other photographers. In the case of motocross images I have to solve the blown out sky problem, the contrast problem and the dark face problem plus the motion blur problem.
All these problems have one basis: LIGHT. If light causes these problems, it will also solve them. The point is that I just have to use it for my purposes.
I cannot adjust the sun and I cannot blind the riders by using a reflector – so, I need my own adjustable light – FLASHLIGHT.

I know that there are photographers out there who are using flash for sports coverage  no more because they got more kicks than half-pence when they used flash. Just because they weren’t able to use it in the right way. Maybe they shot straight away with an on camera flash at full power, disturbing and blinding athletes don’t knowing that there is the ability to use iTTL and off-camera flash. What a pity! Maybe they blew down athletes and therefore got beef. Finally, it’s no surprise that indoor sports are shot with ultra high ISO that causes grainy sports images and bad contrast and color. So, it’s also important to know technical details about photography.
But using flash at daytime – outdoors?! Is that possible? It is, indeed. You just need a vision, knowledge about current solutions and technology. 😉

As a “Nikonian” I’m using the NIKON SB-800 flashgun. Here I can use FP-Sync to get shutter speeds up to 1/8000s. That enables me to blend available light and flash light also at daytime. A fast sync speed takes more power so I need much more flashes. I tried four NIKON SB-800 Speedlights. Another advantage is that because I can effectively blend available light and flash light I don’t disturb or blind the athletes. That’s because I don’t need that giant flash that makes the flash light the primary light. Typical flash solutions have a maximum sync speed of 1/250s so they must be brighter than the ambient light to prevent blurring. But with FP-Sync I don’t have that requirement. Of course, it’s that easy!

Because motocross is not static I need a portable solution. So, let’s see what’s possible.
Building a portable flash solution that offers enough flash power isn’t a problem. There are already solutions on the market.
As I already said, I’m using the NIKON SB-800 Speedlight. The great thing about it is that they have plenty of power plus the NIKON Creative Lighting System (CLS). It allows you to combine as many flashes as you want and adjust their power output separately and control and trigger them wirelessly.
I trigger the Speedlights via the NIKON SU-800 Commander wirelessly over a distance of 20 meters. To get a greater distance I’m using the RadioPopper PX System. With this solution I can trigger the Speedlights from more than 400 meters away. The RadioPopper transmitter converts the infrared signal from the SU-800 to a radio signal and the RadioPopper receiver converts this radio signal back to an infrared signal for the SB-800.
For my portable flash solution I’m using  four Speedlights and put them on SuperClamps which I mounted on a Monopod. To trigger all SB-800s I’m using one RadioPopper receiver. It’s connectet with the Speedlights via a black box and optic fibre cable.

Image 3: DIY Quadlight with RadioPopper solution

On location my assistant controls the light by adjusting the DIY Quadlight into the right direction and following the motorcycle.

Image 4: DIY Quadlight in action

Using flash solves all the problems named above. Thanks to FP-Sync I can use 1/2500s to freeze the action. I also have enough light to reveal the rider from backlight and shadow. And my images are rich in contrast without post processing.

Image 5: The high-quality result

Finally, I can create high-quality images without time-consuming post processing, plus: I contrast from my competitors that just have the typical motocross images that maybe need some time-consuming post processing. While they are sitting in front of the computer editing their images, I have already sent my images of the motocross race to the newspapers and sold some images to the riders and fans on location. The early bird gets the worm. 😉

Bye!
Chris


Going Commercial

Hi everybody and welcome to this short posting!

I just wanted to give you another tip: If you are interested in commercial photography and you want to go deeper into it maybe Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is what you have been looking for. Well, today commercial photography becomes more and more post-processing and computer. So, CGI could be the next step to a still more computer based photography.

If you are a student, Autodesk Software offers you a wide product range of their professional software for free! That’s pretty cool. I love these services. Also Microsoft offers this through its Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDN AA).
Just join the Autodesk Education Community. Autodesk will check your data because you need to be a student and enrolled.

For professional CGI use Autodesk 3ds Max.

Bye!
Chris


Shooting Live Music

Hi everybody and welcome to this blog post!

Last Saturday was the X-th school festival of the ASS secondary school. At Eaze, a young modern hard-rock band that I met in 2008, hired me to cover their gig.
I shot them the first time in early 2008 at a music contest for the local newspaper. After my photos were published, I received an e-mail of their manager – he told me that the band saw my images in the newspaper and that they would love them. Finally, he asked me if I want to cover the band’s upcoming shows. I accepted. That was the beginning with At Eaze.
I covered many of their shows since 2008. Now, after three and a half years I’m recognizing that these musical kids I shot in 2008 became young adults who are applying for A-level and run a great band that published its first album. To me this is a fascinating process. The whole coverage of their gigs over the years does show an evolution – a change from kids to young adults. Although they had several drummers and members over the years the band never broke up. Its core was always formed by Laura and Kevin (right).

At Eaze 2008

After I shot them the last time in October 2010 they hired me again on Saturday.

Well, back to the topic. Shooting live music is a hard business. You have to fight against very low-light conditions, different light quality, colored light, blinking light, varying lights/light intensity/light colors, fast motion, loud music etc. You also have to cover the best moments during the first three songs (professional bands) or the whole show (amateur bands).
When I started  doing concert photography I thought technical correctness would be the point but it isn’t. It’s just a part of a greater whole. As always: The most important thing is to capture the moment. It doesn’t matter if there’s a bit of motion blur as long as if you have captured the special moment.

There are many types of shooting styles for concert photography and I prefer a clean one. That means that I want a clean image that’s technically perfect in terms of light, noise, motion blur and color. When I’m using effects like motion blur I’m using them purposely. Motion blur only makes sense if you’re using a flash. Because only the flash allows you to stop the action and to create a sharp image followed by motion blur. Without a flash the whole scene is blurred and hard to identify.

But using flash isn’t always allowed. At professional concerts for example flash usually isn’t allowed. There is an advice – or even rule – that every security guard gives you before you enter the photographer’s pit: „Three songs, no flash!“
At an amateur gig you would have to ask the band before you’re going to use flash. The problem is that there are so many photographers who don’t understand the correct use of a flash. They’re disturbing bands by shooting the flash directly at full power and blinding the artists on stage. Therefore it’s intelligible that many bands don’t like flash.

Is there a less noticeable way to use flash at concerts? Yes, I think so.


Step one:
Prepare the camera for available light conditions

In terms of a clean image I need a high ISO that causes an acceptable noise. It depends on the camera you’re using how extreme the noise will be at high ISO. I’m using a Nikon D3 and my limit is ISO 3200. After I set the ISO I proceed with the f-stop and shutter speed settings. The f-stop should always be at its lowest, e. g. f2.8. Finally, I have one variable left that I can change – the shutter speed. Here I’m using the following approximate rule:

Max. shutter speed that doesn’t cause blur = reciprocal of (1/focal length in mm)

That means that if I’m using a 50mm lens, I need a minimum shutter speed of 1/50s (on an FX sensor camera) to prevent blur that’s caused by shaking while holding the camera. If I cannot realize this shutter speed because it’s too dark, I have to use a monopod or a higher ISO. Otherwise I just raise the shutter speed.
For concerts I set the camera always to manual mode and matrix metering. I also make some test shots to find the correct exposure. It’s very easy if there’s just one parameter to adjust especially when the light intensity is varying. Mostly I’m working in a range around 1/60s and 1/250s.


Step two:
Adding flash

The goal is to combine the ambient light and the flash light in a way that finally no one will recognize that you used a flash.
To get started I would recommend to set the flash on the lowest power level available. Use a dome diffuser and let the light bounce off the ceiling (or a similar white surface like a bouncer card – whatever). Use the available light camera setting and make some test shots to adjust the flash.
If the flash power is too low don’t raise it too much! It’s better to blend in more available light than pushing the flash power. Remember: You don’t want to blind or disturb the band. If the flash is too bright, use a higher f-stop.
Always remember:

The shutter speed adjusts the intensity of the available light; the f-stop adjusts the intensity of the flash.

The goal is to find the correct mix of available light and flash light. Finally, no one should recognize that you are using a flash or that you have used a flash.

When you’re using a flash some color shifting may appear. That’s because the flash produces a color temperature of 5000K which is very similar to daylight, but the spotlights maybe produce a warmer light of 5000K plus. The solution for this is a warming gel that warms the flash light so that it will fit more to the color temperature of the spotlights.

Examples:

#1 Reveal the Drummer
Here is an example where I used a flash to reveal the drummer from darkness. It’s a well known problem that drummers mostly sink in darkness, especially at amateur concerts. That’s also the reason why many photographers don’t shoot the drummer of a band.
In this image I mounted a flash on a mike stand in front of the drummer. It looks like a white spotlight illuminates him but actually it’s a flash that reveals him from darkness.


#2 Reveal the Audience
Another problem is that the audience often sinks in darkness, too. But the audience is an important factor because it shows emotion and gives the viewer a feedback of how good the band played and how it influenced the audience. Finally, a happy audience is a quality indicator for a band. So reveal it from darkness to show how good the band is on stage.


Conclusion:
It’s possible to shoot concerts with flash. The advantages are that it can reveal important people from darkness like the drummer and the audience. It also helps to clean the noise of high ISO and to influence the light quality and light color. Disturbing the band with flash is an absolutely no go! Get familiar with the correct use of your flash and your camera. Blend the flash and available light in a way that no one recognizes the flash – neither during the gig nor after the gig when viewing the images.
If a band forbids the use of a flash accept it and draw on your skills and equipment to shoot in available light situations. Good luck!

Bye!
Chris