I had such high hopes for our toddler's birthday party photos. The photos would look better than any of the events I had previously covered for us or for our friends. Instead, those aspirations were run over by a freight train then processed through a meat grinder.
The day started well enough. Then there was a delay from a vendor, followed by additional last minute errands. By the time I finished handling those emergencies, guests had already started arriving and I was on the defensive. My mind was tied up with a number of other things (including a new pair of !$%#@ Cole Haan shoes that literally began to fall apart!) and I was in survival mode. My shots had zero creativity.
Some of the things I wish I had done better:
1. Was reactive instead of proactive.
Instead of trying to imagine shots and moving around as necessary to execute them, I just took shots wherever I happened to be standing. I was passively taking pictures instead of actively creating photos. A fundamental error.
2. Composition: Function vs. Aesthetics.
I was trying to record all the information rather than simply getting good photos. For example, when I tried to take a photo of the cake, I struggled with the composition because I was trying to find a good angle that would capture the entire cake. What for? The shot would have looked better with a tight crop of only a portion of the cake.
3. Composition: Subject in the center.
For many of the shots, I used the center autofocus point for speed and flexibility (I wouldn't have to move the AF point around -- I have mixed feelings about the 51 AF points). However, instead of re-composing after focusing, I was in a hurry to take the shot while the subjects were still in focus. The result? Yup. Subjects in the center. A newbie mistake. Not surprisingly, many of the shots look like newbie snapshots. :((
4. White balance.
The room was illuminated by intensely yellow lights. I did not gel my flashes to try to match them, making white balance corrections in post processing a dilemma - either I would get the ambient right and the flash wrong or vice-versa, unless I spent a lot of time with layers and masks. If I had gelled the flash with CTS or even CTO, the flash color would have been similar to ambient and I could have reduced the color cast to make it more neutral-looking.
5. Rear curtain sync = slow rear sync.
After I discovered that the YN-560 could sync with CLS but only in rear sync mode, I left the flash sync in rear sync mode all the time. Much of the time, I shoot in manual exposure mode, so this is not a problem. However, when I'm in a hurry, as I was during the party, sometimes I switch to aperture priority. Midway through the party I did exactly that. The problem is that in program or aperture priority, rear sync automatically converts to slow rear sync (because the camera assumes that you want a motion trail when you switch to rear sync). As a result, there was too much ambient light in shots where I switched to aperture priority. To compare, see the shots below which were taken in almost the same place, from a similar angle.
Shot with manual (ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/80, bounce flash):
Shot with aperture priority (ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/30, bounce flash)
I didn't have the presence of mind to detect what was going on. It was for nothing too because I didn't even touch the YN-560. ARGH.
6. Biggest error of them all: forgetting to reset my settings.
During the party, I thought the flash was behaving somewhat unpredictably. Well, now I know why. I looked at the metadata and the slave flash was in MANUAL at 1/32 power. Nooooooo....!!! All the time I thought I was adjusting FEC (using the flash button + sub-command dial) I was only controlling the popup flash! Without real control of flash intensity, I'm surprised the shots weren't worse than they were! Geez!!! This was on the TTL Troubleshooting list but I was too confused to notice.
If I had to pick the
Things I will do next time:
- Reset the settings - the night before or ideally after shooting. I get confused by the different banks that the D300 has available - I seriously need to pin this down.
- Research - in prior events (including our toddler's previous birthdays), I almost always visit the location for planning purposes. I also looked for other people's photos at that location. I didn't do any of that this time - I got cocky and lazy. Next time I will do that, and will take test shots (to have idiot-proof settings to fallback on in case my brain is on vacation the day of shooting).
- Warm up - in prior events, we always arrive early, which gives me a chance to warm up. For me at least, I need warm up in order to perform at least at my own average.
- Coordination with other photogs - my brother-in-law very kindly took photos a t the party, and one of my friends offered to take photos while I was talking to guests and managing our toddler. I should have asked even before the party, coordinated who was taking what kinds of shots, so we wouldn't take redundant shots and wouldn't be in each others' way.
- Wide angle - need practice. I had been shooting with the Tamron 28-75 for about a year before switching to the Tamron 17-50. I still need to learn the best angles for the 17-50.
- Think first shoot later. Except for required shots, I would rather have a few good shots rather than many poor shots. For me, this means I should spend the few extra seconds to think about the shot before taking them. I should also spend more time before the party to imagine and visualize more clearly the shots I wanted to take. Those could serve as fallback or warmup shots.
- Consider: exchanging services with other photog-parents. I think I was a decent father and host at the party. I think most parents would prioritize that over having good photos. To avoid compromising on the quality of the photos, I will look for photogs in our area to exchange services with. That way we all get to focus on being a parent and host, and allow someone else to prioritize the photos.