Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Lindy Jazz Summer Ball, Durham.

Or, Emerson Photography faces a blackout challenge.....

Well, just finished editing and processing around four gigabytes of photos taken at the Lindy Jazz Summer Ball - the culmination of Durham's Streets of Dance Festival. You can read about the event here: http://www.jamieemersonphotography.com/news7963.html

If you're here for the gory technical details, read on.

Aaargh, Blackout!!

The organiser, Joo-Lee had warned me that it would be dark. She told me that other photographers had struggled with low light levels at this venue. But I must admit to being somewhat taken aback at just how dark it was inside the Three Tuns.

Hopefully, you'll see a pic below of the scene that greeted me. Fast moving subjects in a large candlelit hall is a recipe for blurry photos, even with the best kit, the right training and a go get'em attitude (although, happily, I am possessed of all three :-D)

All photographers worth their salt would have a few tricks up their sleeves to deal with low light and fast action - this is the way I did it.

Firstly, thankfully, I was able to 'warm up' by taking portraits of the guests as they entered the venue. This is always good for calming the nerves and settling into the job at hand.

Secondly; take a deep breath, think of Mr Myagi from the Karate Kid and use the force.

Thirdly, bump up the ISO on the Nikon D300 and D200. I know from past experience that the former of these will cope pretty well with being on ISO 3200. Okay, that's slightly better. Next, put the SB-800 and SB-600 flashguns into rear/slow synch flash mode. This means that I can use longer exposures with the flash going off at the end of the exposure.

Everyone's seen pics taken like this - loads of light trails and ghostly transparent objects with the main subject lit by a burst of flash - because the flash comes at the end of the exposure, the movement appears to 'follow' the subject rather than vice versa. At an event like this one, this method also means that the pictures retain some dynamism - some of the movement is captured, in the form of blurred, flailing limbs. Regular flash makes everything static - dancers would look to be stuck in an unnatural space, hanging awkwardly, mid-move.

Fantastic! So off come the diffusers - nice, low, white ceiling to bounce the flash off and I'm away! Except that now I find that these guys dance fast. Damn fast. I get stuck into the action, wandering the dancefloor, unconsciously tapping my feet and weaving about in the way one does when trying to cross a nightclub to get to a bar. Although now, I'm viewing the world through a viewfinder so I keep my left eye open too, to avoid embarrassing collisions.

Now that's just verging on abstract....

At anything over around 35mm (on my 17-55mm, f2.8 lens), I'm finding it hard to get a usable shot - my hit rate seems to be about one in five which would normally be pretty dire, but given the circumstances, ain't half bad. So there's nothing for it but to stay in the thick of the action using a wide angle - my 70-200 f2.8 hasn't left my bag. It would be a fruitless exercise as my flashguns haven't the reach to cope with a tele lens and my shutter speed's already risible without piling on extra focal length......

As the night progresses, I'm blown away by the standard of the dancing. Lindy Hop is a kind of fusion of other types of dancing; to my untrained (apart from five years of Ballet, foisted upon me by well meaning but misguided parents) eye, it most closely resembles Jive, but with elements of swing, ballroom and jazz. You can read about it here; http://www.lindy-jazz.co.uk/index.htm

I'm sweating just watching the dancers and briefly switch to my 50mm f1.4 lens, partly to give my neck and shoulders a break from the bigger lenses, and partly so I can sit down for a few moments. I'm also interested to see if the extra stop will make much difference (not really) - my hit rate is dropping as the night progresses - I'm beginning to flag a little and at 11.30 I call it a day and pack up.

Every job is a learning experience; from the preparation, by way of the shoot, right through to outputting the images on disc or paper. This was certainly one of the most challenging jobs I've ever undertaken - the sheer breakneck speed of the dancers combined with the extremely low light combined to give a proper nosebleed. I do feel though, that I coped as well as any photographer could have and I've got a few 'shots-to-be-proud-of' too.

Off to take pics of my coal cellar,

Cheers for looking in..........

And if you get a moment, please have a quick look at the http://www.emersonphotography.co.uk website!


Trevor said...

Brilliant stuff Jamie. I really enjoyed reading this and following your moves !! Well done. Best wishes

Trevor said...

Sorry Jamie, should have left my email address with the earlier comment.

Best wishes