A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Bat Mitzvah Lesson

Yesterday a friend gave a bat mitzvah for his daughter, and I agreed to photograph it. Thankfully, he had several other friends with cameras because my results fell far beneath my standards. In fact, the majority of them are unusable. I learned a few things though.

1. Always scout the location and learn the plan of events. Know where people will stand and what they will do. I had the opportunity to do so on Friday evening, but was too tired from work to go. Knowing where to sit for the best shots, and getting there early enough to garner that seat is essential.

2. Know the distance you will be shooting from. Take a few shots before the event of a model in the available light, from the distance you will be shooting. Determine which lens will be most suitable. Have that lens on your camera. If you use flash, and if flash is permissible, know which setting will get adequate light on the subject.

3. Be bold. I had been given permission to roam, yet I stayed in my seat. I did not want to disturb the proceedings with my digital SLR's mirror clacking. Out of respect, during the service, I used a digital point and shoot with the noise muted and flash turned off. Limiting my ability to take good photographs even though I had been given permission to move about was a serious mistake.

4. Have your batteries charged and your gear at hand. Shoot as though you might never get another chance. You won't. If the event is a milestone in that person's life, it will not be repeated. The ceremony is, however, predictable. Bobby Knight once said that everyone has a desire to win, but very few have the desire to prepare to win. I know that. I did not heed it.

5. You cannot get fine image quality by increasing the frame size and cropping out the good parts. As soon as I realized my subject was going to be miniature people in a sea of synagogue, I increased the frame size. I was able to crop out images with better composition, but the overall quality was badly degraded.

6. Don't throw in the towel. After the bat mitzvah, I went to the reception. While my wife chatted with friends, I continued to shoot photographs. The lighting in the reception hall was worse than the synagogue. After twenty or so shots of people with hollowed out eyes from spotlights directly overhead, I had two choices. Change technique, or go outside. I decided to change technique and shoot the reception as though I was a street photographer. The music was loud enough to cover the sound of the SLR mirror, and I could move inhibited among people who were expecting to be photographed. I learned another lesson. Good street photography on the level of Joe Wigfall and Bruce Gilden does not come easy. If I'm going to do that, I need to go manual with a wide angle lens. But that's another lesson.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Mattexian said...

If these are the "best"or are just samples, I think they were fine as regular, amateur photos go, tho I'll concede they're below par for "professional" level. The B&W one I think is a better quality, a better example of the light being used, the color pic showed it's deficiencies. It reminds me of my ex's grandfather and her little sis, both doing photography, both preferring B&W for the ease of composition and showing texture over color, which is a lot more interesting to look at in the end.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous 2yellowdogs said...

Xavier,
In addition to some sport and portraits, I shoot about 20 weddings per year. You're right about there being no second chances. Shooting a wedding (or a Bat Mitzvah) is working without a net. You need to have total confidence in and mastery of your equipment.

If you can't scout out the venue ahead of time, get there early enough to look around and take a few test exposures.

A good quality, 2.8 aperture zoom is almost a must. Yes, you can get away with a cheaper lens, but far too many events are shot in venues with terrible lighting. Also, the 2.8 aperture allows you to blow out the background which you'll want to do frequently.

You HAVE to have a quality off-camera flash unit. The pop-up on bodies like the D200 or D300 (my workhorse) simply aren't strong or versatile enough. You need to be able to tilt and angle the head to get a nice bounce off of ceilings and walls. This will give you a nice, natural effect. You'll also need the power of something like an SB-800 or SB-900 for flash fill when working in mixed light like the first example you posted.

Absolutely ALWAYS be bold. Unless you've been specifically told not to go somewhere or use flash, DO IT. It's always better to ask forgiveness afterward than to miss the shot.

I know you're an avid amateur and love seeing the progress of your work. You have a good eye. Keep it up and please keep posting.

8:18 AM  
Blogger blakenzy said...

Tip #7: Next time your son has a Bar Mitzvah don't be a cheapskate and actually shell out the cash for a professional photographer; don't burden generous friends like Xavier with the responsibility to save a few $$$...

2:17 AM  

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