Tiny Dancers

By Roger (19 June 2014)

Whenever possible, I'm a firm believer in taking charge of your photo-shoot and working out a plan for getting the best results. When you're out in the real world, however, that is not always possible. You may find yourself in a bad location, with questionable lighting, and very little knowledge of exactly what's going on. I had a perfect example of that, last weekend, as I attended a dance recital starring my granddaughters. (Well, for 4-5 minutes of the three-hour ordeal, they were my stars.)

I had never been to the auditorium, and I wasn't allowed to walk around or move up to the front during their performance. The lighting, as in all such shows, was constantly changing, and flash was forbidden. I was pinned in the middle of the audience. The auditorium was packed, so seat hopping wasn't an option. I had no choice but to work with the situation as it was. The results show some of these problems.

Down in front! 

Down in front! 

These are family snapshots, not a paying gig, but, to me, that means they are even more important. You don't want to dismiss your family snapshot work or use them as an excuse to put in minimal effort.

There were several steps to working through the challenges of this shoot. Your situation probably won't be the same as mine, so your mileage may vary. Part of a photographer's job is to find the right compromises to get the photos.

I usually set my color balance to a constant setting, but, in this case, I went to an auto setting. I knew the lights were going to give me some funky colors, and I figured the camera's computer had a better chance of keeping up than I could. My hands were full trying to keep the dancing princesses in my frame and focused. When I got to post-processing, the color balance only required some minor tweaks.

I sat up as tall in my seat as possible. The grandparents behind me would only let me go so far. This kept the dark silhouettes of heads to a minimum. I knew I was going to have to go into Photoshop, but I wanted to reduce the amount of work as much as possible.

Put the camera into aperture priority. Most of the time, I'm in manual mode because I like to fine tune the exposure solution and then forget it. But, again, the constantly-changing lighting was going to ruin that plan. I moved the setting to a wide-open aperture to allow in the maximum light. Because I wasn't very close to the stage, my depth of field was sufficient.

When your little hoofers come onto the stage for their number, shoot lots of photos. They, each, had about 3-4 minutes for their number, and I clicked throughout their performance. I had photographed a couple of prior numbers to validate my exposure solution. I made sure my ISO was high enough to give me a workable shutter speed.

The camera settings and practice during non-family-member routines made the post-processing much easier. The auto white balance worked well. My subjects were in focus. I took photos at a point in their routines when they were not so close to the other dancers. This kept my clone stamping to a minimum. Here is a sample.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

In the end, everyone had a good time, and we got some nice photographs of the girls. Thinking through the problem gave me the best possible solution. All of this was basic stuff, both in camera and in Photoshop. It was a fun exercise.

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?

Home Lighting: More Details

By Roger (9 Jan 2014)

Happy New Year! We hope this year moves you forward with your photography. We (mostly Mark) have a schedule of topics for the new year, but your questions can supercede that schedule. This week's blog is an example of that. I got a couple of questions asking for futher details about my last blog in which I suggested a quick and, relatively, inexpensive way to light a room in your house for easier snapshots.

As I said last time, I use this method because it provides enough light for me to shoot in any direction, without moving gear and leave my flashes in the camera bag. I use daylight-balanced photo bulbs, so I don't have to fix the balance in software and for a consistent light. You won't get that consistency from three different lamps, containing three bulbs of different strength, from three different manufacturers.

Without any corrections made, you can see the orange color cast from this table lamp.

Without any corrections made, you can see the orange color cast from this table lamp.

Since this was Christmas morning, let me show you the den configuration when the tree is up and surrounded by presents. The overhead fan has three bulbs, giving the room good overall light.

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I replaced the bulbs in the overhead light and table lamp with the photo bulbs. Here is the brand I have from my local camera store. There are many other brands, but make sure you keep your bulbs from the same manufacturer for consistency. I get extra credit for this photo because I, finally, used the light tent I borrowed from Mark six months ago. (Maybe, some day, he'll get the chance to try it out.)

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These provided a good amount of overall brightness in the den. I decided to add some more light from my travel softboxes, placed at the back of the den and out of the way of four little grandkids who were always running around the den at full speed.

Again, there are many options for softboxes, with many different price points. I usually shoot with natural light and flashes, supplemented by the Westcott Ice Light (link), so I chose to buy an inexpensive travel kit, the RPS Studio 7040 (link). When I went to get the link, I noticed their price has gone up, but the total cost for this set up and the other bulbs is still less than $250. When you research studio lights, you will quickly see this is an inexpensive kit. I like that they pack to a small size for travel, and I can have them in action in minutes.

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My softbox kit packed and ready to travel.

My softbox kit packed and ready to travel.

With all the light in the room, I was able to take our snapshots throughout the morning. I could move around the room, hand-holding the camera, at a shutter speed (usually about 1/125, with ISO at 640) that kept my snapshots sharp. You can use this for birthday parties, family gatherings, etc., without the need for distracting flash.

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Notice the table lamp in the background is brighter and color corrected with the photo bulb.  This is the same lamp pictured above.

Notice the table lamp in the background is brighter and color corrected with the photo bulb.  This is the same lamp pictured above.

All four grandkids after some of the debris was cleared away.

All four grandkids after some of the debris was cleared away.

You can do this with any room, but there are always compromises. The best solution for you may be different. This lighting is rather bland, so I wouldn't use it for formal portraits when you want complete control of the light and shadows on your subject. Still, this is a fairly easy way to get your photographs for small events where you just want to capture the family moments. Have some fun with it.

"Bo with a bow."  One of the four dogs who came with the family to visit for Christmas.

"Bo with a bow."  One of the four dogs who came with the family to visit for Christmas.

Fixing A Snapshot

We are big proponents of getting things correct in your camera. You should be aware of the limitations and capabilities of your equipment and use those to make the best image possible. However, every now and then, a simple fix in Photoshop can really make a difference in a snapshot.