Think Fast! {For Photographers}

Ok, so this one isn’t about anything specific really, other than encouraging you to think fast on your feet, or perhaps even “MacGyvering” something on the spot if need be. The end result is about getting the job done, and doing it the best you can with what you have! I’m going to use a scenario from this past weekend’s wedding (which I am in the process of blogging) as an example of both my thought process and how thinking fast can sometimes mean the difference between just getting the shot and creating a WOW image.

Here’s the set up: towards the end of the night the guests at this particular wedding were led outside for a firework display. Now, I knew this ahead of time, but to be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t overly prepared for it. As most wedding days go, the pace is fast, sometimes frantic, so when they announced the firework display I grabbed my 35mm 1.4 and a flash on my 5D Mark II and hoped I could work something out. My initial plan was to try and shoot this using only ambient, either with the couple silhouetted in front of the fireworks, or perhaps the fireworks would be somewhat close enough to throw some light on them, or maybe I could ask the couple to stand near some outdoor lighting. I wasn’t sure exactly where this would go down, what would be near me, how close the fireworks would be etc., so wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off exactly. A little scary, and a little exciting at the same time! When the fireworks began I knew right away that all of those aforementioned ideas were not going to work. The fireworks were too far away to use any of its light to help me light the couple who were standing in total darkness. There also was no outdoor lighting I could utilize to shed some light on the couple. I had to think fast as I knew the fireworks were only going to happen for a few minutes at best.

So now I know that I am going to have to provide my own light to this shot via flash. Here is where I need to interject the fact that I was working this wedding alone, so had no 2nd shooter to help me and no assistant either. So having someone hold an off camera flash/play with the settings for me etc. wasn’t an option. I could have set up an off camera flash on a light stand and kept running back and forth to change the power output (I’m using pocket wizards, not radio poppers), and then also hope that no guests tripped over it in the dark. My options pretty much exhausted I had to do what I didn’t really want to do, which was fire my on camera flash at the couple directly. (See first photo) ICK!!!!! Yes, it looks horrible, but in the end it does get the job done, albeit in an ugly way. But wait a minute, there WAS a better way! As the fireworks were a little more than half way done I realized that the couple was standing about 8 feet or so away from the outside of the venue’s white tent. AHA! That’s when I thought, hey, I bounce off white walls inside, why not outside too!? I quickly pointed my on camera flash away from the couple and towards the white tent. From here it was just a matter of adjusting the power output from my flash to get the right exposure. Now I have a MUCH softer and directional light source. (see second photo)

This first photo (see image below) was taken towards the beginning of the fireworks display, when I knew that I had to supply my own light source. This is essentially a test shot, trying to get the right exposure for the fireworks and the right amount of flash to light the couple. This is on camera direct flash, before I realized that I should bounce my flash off the nearby white tent. At this point I am not caring about getting a good firework in the shot, or composing the couple in a nice way, this is strictly testing to get good settings. So, you have to still use your imagination a little to envision a nice pop of fireworks over their heads and them composed nicer in the frame, maybe from a lower camera angle etc. Regardless of all that, I still would have wound up with an ugly direct flash look, which to me is painful to look at, but hey, sometimes it’s any port in a storm ya know!? Let’s move on to the second photo, my grand finale as it were!

And here is the second photo, taken about 2 minutes after the first test shot. By this time, I have figured out I should be bouncing off the white tent, I have dialed a good background/firework exposure, found a good flash output setting, and composed the couple from a low camera angle and waited for the grand finale, complete with the bride’s “fist pump” of approval! Check and mark! Notice how soft and directional the lighting is now, all coming from on camera flash, just bounced indirectly.

For those interested in shot settings in the second photo, it was shot using a 35mm 1.4, ISO 1250, f/1.8 at 1/40 sec. and I don’t remember exactly what my flash settings were, but I’m guessing it was around 1/16th power, maybe less.

So there you go, think fast, and come back with the best possible shot you can make with what you have to work with! So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

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