Doin’ it in the dark (aka, shooting cocktail hour)

Odell_20090808_5485.JPGI had the pleasure of going back home to Florida for one of those “you are getting old” rituals– my 20th high school reunion.  Unlike last time, when I brought my point and shoot film camera, this time I was ready, armed with a Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens, and SB-900.  I figured I’d do what I had always done at official high school events– shoot photos!  But I wanted to make sure that these photos would have a better quality than the standard snapshots we get with the point and click cameras that I knew everyone else would be using.

Find out more after the jump…

The problem with shooting in dark martini bars is that they are dark. Very dark. And what little light there is is strong colors, like reds and blues.  Expect bad AF performance,a and flash is an absolute must.  Since I was trying to enjoy myself at the same time as shoot (hey, you gotta carry your drink!) I abandoned the idea of holding my flash off-camera.  OK, so I won’t get the absolute best quality, but hey, I wasn’t being paid for this gig, either.  I decided to go with the following setup:

  • D3, set to Manual Exposure mode, 1/15th @ f/5.6, ISO 800.  This lets the colored lights in the background show through to give a sense of ambience.  I used Single-Servo AF so that the AF assist lamp would be activated on my SB-900 speedlight.
  • SB-900, gelled with the Nikon TN-A2 filter (the light orange one) and set to +1 1/3 EV compensation to pop the subject.  Had I been using Aperture-priority mode, I would have used slow-sync.  I also used the diffuser dome on the SB-900 to soften the light just a tad.
These shots work because the subject is in relative darkness compared to the background, the slow shutter speed is still nowhere near slow enough to get the subject properly exposed.  Because the subject is illuminated almost entirely by the speedlight, they are frozen and sharp.
The result:  a photograph that shows the fun and spirit of the evening and lets you know that we were in a cool club, not blackness.
The Class of ’89 still can party!

3 thoughts on “Doin’ it in the dark (aka, shooting cocktail hour)”

  1. I graduated in 89 too. My 20th is coming up in a couple weeks. I will definitely be bringing the D300.

  2. Could you add how your flash unit was angled? Did you bounce or did conditions force you to use the 90 degree?
    Also, why the light orange flash gel?
    Thank you. New to the show. Love it!

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