How I Shot It #1 (or how to get some nice light with very little gear).

The other day, my girlfriend Rowena went out to Lithgow to compete in a taikwondo poomsae tournament.  Poomsae is almost like a dance, a choreographed sequence of moves, and the participants are graded on how well they perform those moves.

I decided to go out with her, and I decided to take my camera.  I didn't want to use flash, since I didn't want to distract anyone and throw them off their game.  But I also thought that a flash could be handy, so I decided to take just a 600 EX-RT.  I didn't take a lightstand for it, or any flash modifiers (which probably wasn't the smartest thing, but hey...).

So when we get there, I decide to take some photos of Ro while she was practicing/warming up.  My first thought was to put the flash on a table that had been set up on a stage and then take some photos with a wall as a backdrop, but the direct light at such a harsh angle was very unflattering, as you can see from this quick shot I took to see what the light was doing.

1/250, f5.6, ISO 100

1/250, f5.6, ISO 100

So I decided to go to the old technique of putting the flash on the camera and bouncing it.  I had the benefit of that big white wall that is being used in the above shot as a background, so we walked a bit to the right into the corner so I could use that wall as a surface to bounce a flash off with the other wall as a background.  With the flashhead turned at a 45 degree angle, I got most of the light bouncing off the wall and turning it into a beautiful big soft light source at camera left, and I still got a touch of direct light from the flash to fill in the shadows and stop them from being too harsh.  I had set my shutter speed to my flash sync speed (1/250 second on a 7D) to make sure the ambient light was not contributing to the shot, since I wanted complete control over the light.  This was lit entirely by flash.  After a slight crop, a reduction in vibrance, an increase in clarity and a slight vignette, I think the photo came out quite well.

1/250, f5.6, ISO 100

1/250, f5.6, ISO 100

After this, Ro was able to go out onto an unused part of the floor to practice her routine.  I decided to get some more photos, but the bounce flash technique wouldn't work, since we were in the middle of a rather large auditorium, and there were no walls nearby.  I decided to try bouncing off the ceiling.  It was about 5 meters above us, but I was shooting with a 600 EX-RT, which is a very powerful flash, so I wasn't worried about not having enough light.

Unfortunately, lighting it completely with flash didn't work.  While I was able to get enough light, the lack of ambient light meant that it looked obviously lit, and just looked ugly.  (If you look in the reflection in the window, you can actually see the ceiling being hit by my flash.)

1/250, f4, ISO 100

1/250, f4, ISO 100

I didn't want to use a slower shutter speed to increase the exposure, since she was moving and I didn't want to have any movement, so I raised my ISO four stops.  Blending the ambient light with the flash would let me get a nice exposure while still using the flash to make sure the exposure on Rowena was good.

1/250, f5.6, ISO 1600

1/250, f5.6, ISO 1600

Definitely an improvement.  Unfortunately, there were lots of other people practicing, so I couldn't get the clean backgrounds I would have preferred, but exposure wise, it's pretty good.

When Ro was called up to compete, I took some more photos, although I didn't use flash at all.  The last thing I wanted to do was distract her.  I had few choices when it came to increasing my exposure to get decent shots with just the ambient light.  I didn't want to use too slow a shutter speed, since she was moving and I wanted to avoid any movement blur.  I didn't want to open up my aperture, since her distance from me was changing and I wanted to make sure my depth of field was deep enough that she'd have a good chance of staying sharp as the changed position.  However, I had already increased my ISO to 1600, and I didn't want to go any higher, so I took my shutter speed down to 1/50 and decided to only go for photos when she was relatively still.

1/50, f5.6, ISO 1600

1/50, f5.6, ISO 1600

So, as photos go, it's not great from a technical point of view (little more than a snapshot, really), but it's pretty well exposed.

And Rowena won first place.  Here's a photo she took of her trophy.