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06-18-2012, 01:45 PM   #1
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Thoughts on lighting for Stage events?

I volunteer my time with an organization, and have been taking pictures of kids and events for the past 4 years. Most of these shots are candid's and tend to be outdoors, and I host them on my website so that folks within the organization can have access to them. I've started to see them appear in our larger papers here, for national ad campaigns, etc, which is great.

Because of the other shots I've produced for them, I was asked to take pictures for an Awards event, which I explained I'd be happy do but that it wasn't the type of photography that I typically do, and that I wouldn't be able to supply lighting if required. I was told that someone (usually a family member) volunteers with their camera, and that there wasn't much to be expected. Just a couple of hours to take some pictures of kids getting awards....

Well, when I got to the event, it was much more substantial and formal than I had expected, with government dignitaries etc. doing the awards.

The Stage was a typical church/school stage with a mishmash of dim incandescent lights. I used one body @ 1600 ISO, a fast lens at 1/125th, which seemed to do a fairly good job. I used a second body with a AF540 at the same time (moving between cameras). Some of the shots are not as sharp as they should be as people were constantly moving up to get their awards, shake hands etc. Not surprisingly, the AF540 simply couldn't keep up and there is some occasional motion blur from the shots taken with the second non-flash equipped camera.

As mentioned, the shots are ok...but are not up to the quality that I would want to put my name beside. I've decided investigate my options in case I get asked again, and perhaps someone here could point me in the right direction and a few pointers.

1) - off camera lighting - A few sections of the stage were simply too dim or the light was coming from the wrong angle. I expect tungsten will be too harsh unless it's "dim-able". Is there anything anyone can recommend that would help lighten half of a stage (presuming I would need 2 of them. Something fairly soft and won't be too intrusive?

2) - Strobes. If I went the strobe route, it would have to be something fairly minimal as to not disrupt the event itself, but bright enough to do what it needs to do. Preferably targeting a section large enough for 2 or 3 individuals rather than lighting up the stage itself.

If someone has a suggestion for gear, or other ideas, it would be appreciated.

Cheers,
Steve

06-19-2012, 07:36 AM   #2
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Check the strobist dot com site for ideas on using remote flash setups for larger areas.
In one of Hobbys DVDs he discusses using a couple of remote strobes to light a gym sized area.
A wedding I was at recently the photographer had two remote strobes on stands high up over the reception floor.
They did not cause a disruption and the photos I saw later were beautifully lit.
06-19-2012, 08:31 AM   #3
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Thanks..I appreciate the pointer. I was looking at some of the less expensive incandescent red heads but half of the ones on ebay can't be left on for more than 20 min due to heating issues and I have serious doubts they would make enough of a difference at a venue like this anyways. As you've suggested, the next alternative is strobes, which means $$. Looks like I have some homework to do.
06-19-2012, 09:35 AM   #4
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I don't have all that much experience with this but I'm surprised your AF540 couldn't 'keep up'. Do you mean that it wasn't recycling fast enough for how you were shooting?

If that's the case then a couple of things I would try.

1) Grab some solid batteries for it, eneloops or similar.

2) Look into an external battery pack for it, which will further help with recharge times.

3) Remember to check if the flash is zoomed correctly, zoom it in to get a narrow beam if it's just one or two subjects to get more power. Also remember that any modifiers on the flash will cut even more power out of it. Zoomed at 28mm with the plastic diffuser angled down is going to give you a lot less power than a bare-flash head at 85mm.

4) Don't expect the flash to work well with a telephoto lens. If its a formal event people will be accustomed to having a photographer around, so rather than snipe at the back just get in there with a wide/medium lens so your flash doesn't have to blast at full power all the time.

5) Don't be afraid to bump up ISO while using flash. You'll probably only start to see ghosting if the ISO is high enough for the ambient light and strobe to mix equally. A higher ISO and going up close to your max sync speed will still cut the ambient light enough for the strobe to be the main light source, and the flash will make high ISO noise less apparent because you'll have detail in the shadows (or something like that).

6) Might sound too obvious, but ask them to turn the lights up. Explain why you need them turned up a bit, ask in advance and nicely enough, and they probably will.

Also I'm not sure about that particular flash, but sometimes if you have the flash head angled all the way down facing head-on at 90 degrees, the flash will go into a different mode and give you less power because it assumes you're pointing right at someone's face. So experiment bouncing with the white-card at 45 degrees etc.

Also, if you're using flash or not, remember that you can intentionally under-expose by a stop or two to get a higher shutter speed and avoid blur, and then bump up the exposure in post.

Another tip, blur will be less noticable with a wider lens compared to a telephoto. If you're filling the frame with a subject at 200mm and they move their hand an inch, that's going to blur a hell of a lot more than if you were a bit wider at 100, 50, 28, etc etc. You can always go a bit wider to minimize blur, and then crop later.

Lastly, if all else fails, whack up that ISO and convert to black and white. If it's for websites/facebook, then the res is low enough that noise becomes less and less of an issue anyway.

Of course there is also the remote flash triggering stuff or continious lights, but the only experience I have with that is when I put a flash on the floor of a stage to get some cool artistic 'under-lit' shots, e.g:




That was just a cheap Yognuo trigger from ebay. You can see the flash on the floor by the drummer in the bottom right of the pic.

Hope that helps a little bit

Woj

06-19-2012, 12:19 PM   #5
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Thanks Tom, some great pointers! I put new batteries in the 540 at the start of the shoot, but it needed an external pack. Shooting was continuous over a 30 minute period alternating between ~8 shots with no additional lighting, followed by 2 or 3 shots with flash. This left plenty of time for the unit to recharge, but I simply depleted the batteries and taking the few moments to swap batteries would have resulted in missed shots.

Thanks again....I'll dig into it a bit more....
06-19-2012, 01:31 PM   #6
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Steve,
If you go with pttl flashes, then you are talking about a lot of money to strobe up, but with manual flashes, not so much.

if you go with Yongnuo 560 II manual flashes, you can do it for a lot less. I think they run for about $70 new. They have full power and have sensitive optical sensors on them that are easily oriented to your in camera flash as a trigger. Alternatively, you can buy 2 or 3 cactus triggers for flashes on the left and right. put a strobe on a stand on each side and you've got it covered. The Yongnuo 560's have adjustable zoom flash, the 460's are only $40 or 45 if memory serves, but have no zoom flash. So for $140 you can buy 2 560's. But wait, you have a pttl 540 flash, you could put that on the right remote flash, and then put a single Yongnuo on a stand on the left which could trigger off the 540 flash. Then use your in camera flash to trigger the Pentax 540 which essentially will trigger the yongnuo 560

so for $70, and the price of 2 flash stands, you could have remote flashes left and right. I've been very impressed with how sensitive the optical detectors are on the Yongnuo flashes. you can also set them to weed out the preflash of the pttl, or not. set your camera in manual and set camera exposure 1 to 3 ev below the scene metering, set the flashes at 1/2 power or so depending how much area to light up, and you've got it made.
06-19-2012, 05:58 PM   #7
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Another Idea?

Hello Steve,
Another inexpensive option is to buy a couple of the little flash sensor/triggers, they are about the size of an ice cube, black plastic, with a small clear optical "eye" on one side. A tripod socket on the bottom and a flash mount on top. Sometimes called a "Peanut". Less than $10.00 usually.
Mount them on a tripod, put (any) flash on top. When your camera flash goes off, the 2nd flash goes off, too.
Get to the event a little early (always a good idea anyway) and ask a couple of folks to "model" for you on the stage. Balance your first and second flash outputs and camera settings. You might have to borrow a second tripod or find another way to mount it somewhere offstage. In a pinch, a helper could hold it!
The Yongnuo's seem to have a good reputation, but I've used inexpensive Pentax AF280 T's many times in this way, mounted on a peanut, triggered by my AF360fgz. Works fine.
The 280 T's are a good backup flash too, Pentax Support confirmed that the trigger voltage is low enough to use on Pentax DSLR's directly.
Just another idea!
Ron
06-19-2012, 08:46 PM   #8
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Some great suggestion Phil and Ron. With 200 people in the audience using their own cameras, I don't think I can use something that is triggered by a flash, but the Cactus units would deal with that and the price is right. The only worry I have with flash units is the power supplied to them. At 4 to 6 pics per child, it works out to being about 160 to 200 shots and it's fairly continuous, so I'd need external battery packs but it's still a cheap option. Can anyone come up with a good reason to spend the extra on strobes?

06-20-2012, 08:31 AM   #9
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I shot a dance show last week. It was a last minute replacement so I only had one light in my car. I set up one AB400 with umbrella on stage right, and fired it with Cybersyncs. I had one camera with a DA12-24 which fired off the flash and another camera with a DA*50-135 without flash to capture ambient lighting better.

Here's a shot with flash going off:


If you are hired for an event ask whether use of flash is permitted.
06-21-2012, 08:28 AM   #10
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That's a terrific shot Francis.

Each of the options obviously has it pros and cons. The biggest problem with flash is the 3 to 5 sec recharge time and after the extra battery packs, transmitters, stands etc I'm looking at about $500. Still the cheapest option.

Alien Bees are about ~$250 each and with the receivers, stands etc, which at a guess would bump it up to $1000 for 2

There is a Elinchrom BX-Ri 500 2 unit kit with soft boxes, transceivers, stands etc for $1300, very pricey but a very nice kit.

There is an older Norman 40/750 2 head kit with umbrellas on craigslist for $500. Stands and other odds and ends would bring it up to about $700. It's not clear to me how risky it is buying older heads....
06-21-2012, 11:18 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by SteveM Quote
That's a terrific shot Francis.

Each of the options obviously has it pros and cons. The biggest problem with flash is the 3 to 5 sec recharge time and after the extra battery packs, transmitters, stands etc I'm looking at about $500. Still the cheapest option.
....
I did some light painting a few years ago with a single flash, tripping it about 25 times as i walked around a large dump truck. It was important for the way i was shooting it to not stop and wait for recharge. I found that if i used them about 1/4 power level, i could basically use them continuously.

In your situation, you're using those flashes as fill light, so i think you could use them at 1/2 or less power levels and boost the iso up a bit to make the difference. You could even gang up two flashes at each location, both at reduced power levels which will recharge quickly. To determine how much power is an issue, perhaps you could talk the school into letting you to a flash test to see what power levels are needed from your flashes. The reason i like the Yongnuo flashes is they have fractionalized power levels down to 1/128 which really gives one useful power options. Vivitar flashes offer very limited power fractions, so if you go this way, but sure you buy models that have a lot of power fraction options.

best of luck
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