Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to photograph in the dark when you have no flash

So tonight The Wife had the big Texas State University Strutters 50th reunion to shoot. It's the largest photography contract she's gotten to date, and wanted me along because 1) I knew more people there than she did, and could help manage the interactions, and 2) there were so many people there, a second camera was almost necessary to cover all the different situations that needed to be photographed.

Only one problem. We only have one strobe to share between two cameras--my Canon 430 EX. Since The Wife is the better photographer, has the better camera in her 50D, and the better lens in the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, there was no doubt that she'd have the flash by default. Which left me in a quandary--since the reunion was being held in the San Marcos conference center, lighting would be abysmal. It always is in hotels. My Canon XTi produces very noisy images above 800 ISO, and even 800 can be marginal. Assuming I'd be using my EF 50mm f/1.8 mark I lens wide open, there still wasn't enough light available to produce anything but murky images. On-sight testing proved this true. I was in real danger of becoming a useless second photographer.

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, so I invented, in pure Strobist fashion. I have an old Nikon-mount Star-D SDG480 flash I inherited from my father-in-law. It's at least 20 years old, and strictly for film cameras. The voltage feedback would likely fry my camera if I tried to use it, and the whole Nikon-Canon incompatibility is an issue as well. But we do have a set of CyberSync radio triggers. I mounted the transmitter to my camera, then attached the trigger to the Star-D, wrapped the cord around my palm and slipped the bulky receiver/trigger into my sleeve. Holding the Star-D strobe in my left hand and my camera in my right, I made the rounds and took more than a thousand photos. I downloading all of them now, which is why I'm typing a blog entry and not asleep. For the most part, the jerry-rigged light source worked. I had to go full manual on the controls, and often the old flash charged too slow leaving me with dark images, but I got significantly more keeper shots than I initially expected. I felt like an old-time photographer, walking around and holding that T-rail with flash powder in it. The only thing missing was a huge puff of smoke.

I hope to not have to undergo this particular experience again, however. My hands are sore from the awkward setup. A flash bracket would've helped immensely in this situation, but were not rushing out to buy one. Instead, with the payment for this job, The Wife is getting one of Canon's nifty 580 EXII strobes for her camera, which means I'll get mine back and all will be right in the world.

Anyone curious to see our work can visit Lisa On Location. The first batch of Strutter images should be uploaded into a gallery by Sunday evening, with more to come throughout the week.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Final Cut

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