Apr 22, 2010

Things I did wrong on my last shoot.

Note: I'm thinking of making this a regular post—maybe a whole new blog. It helps me remember valuable information that I learned on the shoot, and forces me to be more ruthless on my pics, after the fact.

... besides, there's nothing I enjoy more than a photographer critiquing another photographer.

Anyway, as luck would have it, my last "shoot" was "Tae Kwon Do Belts ". This is going to be shooting fish in a barrel, because, for starters, I didn't realize when I arrived that I was shooting anything other than a few snaps of my son getting his yellow belt. You know, the cobbler's son wears no shoes... God forbid I put any effort into this.

Lesson #1: Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. A cliche for good reason.

At least I've brought my bag, which means I've got a D700, two primes (20mm, 50mm) and an SB-800, among other odds and ends. The yellow belts go first, so I get the camera out with a 50, and handhold my 800. At this point the instructor—who is also my instructor—sees the gear, and asks me, nice as can be, if I could shoot as much as possible. I'm certainly okay with this, because—who knows—maybe there's a little horse-trading to be done with him next session. Any way you slice it, it's a chance to flex.

Besides, I've seen this guy kick like, 12 feet above his head.

So now I'm running and gunning. My CLS  is set for Group A, TTL. A few test shots, and the pop-up is set at TTL for fill, plus or minus. I'm at f/5.6 with a locked shutter at 1/125 (so I don't accidentally alter it while I'm buzzing through the photos in view mode—learned that one the hard way ).

Lesson #2: Don't just bring a knife to a knife fight.  If you're going to bring a flash, bring a damn light stand. At least a Justin clamp.

Mr. Off-Camera Flash thinks he'll do fine just holding the flash up in the air, because previous run-and-guns have usually been very close to the subject—and who wants a light-stand for that? Problem is, many of the shots are from relatively far away, and once that happens, most of the off-axis effect is lost. I compensate by putting the 800 on a shoe, on the floor. This gives me a dramatic shadow on the far wall...

But truth be told, I don't  love it. Also, the low angle isn't helping anyone's face.

It's right about now that I realize a little ambient light could help me, but it's the most putrid fluorescent ever. Fortunately, I have my gels. Un-fortunately, I don't really have time to dork around with the varying shades of green, so I use a 1/2 and pray.

Lesson #3: Standardize your work-flow. There's lots of time before the shoot. There's very little time during the shoot.

Then come the group shots. What? Now I really wish I had two flashes and two stands. Hand-holding the 800 is one thing, but now I'm subconsciously married to my on-axis fill. Not such a good thing when the instructor is wearing glasses... glasses that look like they've been worn by a toddler covered in sunscreen at a Chinese buffet.

Now I'm a little panicked, because in addition to everything else, these group shots have to happen now. There's lots of kids getting churned out, and the parents are itching to get out of the gym. The result: I pay zero attention to the background, and now I have basketball hoops and windows growing out of people's heads. The reptilian part of my brain is screaming, "Fix it in post! Be a pro, and don't shuffle people around like a nervous aunt at Thanksgiving!!!"

Lesson #4: Reptilian brains are for reptiles. Take charge of the situation!

I will reiterate: no-one forced me to shoot. I was not getting paid, and was okay with that. I had friends in that room, and they'd do the same for me.

Thing is, this room was also packed with potential clients. When the business cards were requested, I was squirming at the thought of any sub-par work going up on my site. I bit my reptilian tongue, and was already firing up Lightroom in my head.

I did what I could in post: with some adjustment brushes, tweaking and vignetting. Some of the group shots were improved by adding a guilty pleasure: selective colour. (I generally avoid it like the plague—having drunk Zack Arias' Kool-Aid—but in this situation, it was begging for it.)

The mega group shots really sucked, and I can't even bear to post one here, but, all in all, it was a very "educational" shoot—the equivalent of a date who has a "great personality".

So... lots of things I would do differently, but nothing that's keeping me up at night. Next time, though... no excuses. And no glasses!

One last caveat: I was also getting my yellow belt that night. But when I walked in and saw that I was the only adult in the six o'clock session, I quickly decided that I would rather eat broken glass than do my impression of Cosmo Kramer "dominating the dojo".

All the best!