Monthly Archives: December 2013

First outing with the D3100

Earlier in April, friends of ours had found that Billy Smarts Circus was spending three days in Southampton and decided to treat their kids to the show. We had been invited as we hadn’t seen them in a few months. At this point I had my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100, the kit lens 18-55 VR and a Sigma 70-300 that the shop had bundled in.

We turned up on a cold day and collected our tickets and I read in the box office a small sign that to take photos, you had to pay the sum of £1. I handed over my quid, got my little stub as a receipt and felt confident that I wouldn’t be hassled in the big top.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

We took our seats and the lights came down, really came down. It was perfect in terms of human sight but for a camera, it was a tricky level. On the one hand I wan’t to try and freeze the action as much as possible. I boosted the ISO to a level I felt I could recover from, around 6400 and set the shutter speed at the lowest speed I thought I could get away with, 1/200th. As I was shooting at about 40m I wasn’t too worried about the subject moving significantly towards or away from me enough to miss focus if I opened up the lens to it’s maximum wide open aperture of 4.0. The exposure meter was indicating that I was still underexposed so I decided to drop the shutter speed to 1/160th rather than boost the ISO. I would have to concentrate on the slower acts.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

As the show kicked off I was happy to see that 80% of the acts were solo which meant that I could really narrow in and get fairly tight shots. The background of the darkness and two spotlights really isolated the performers shapes.

As I look back at all the EXIF data from the days pictures, most of the shots focal lengths were between 110-135mm. I had to use loose hands since we were all sat on plastic seats that bounced up and down as people hopped about and the kids were jumping about.

Most of the noise from the ISO 6400 setting I managed to clean up with Luminance Noise Reduction in Lightroom, a little contrast boost here and there and I was pretty much done with them.

Of all the images I’ve put up on Flickr, 95% of which are architectural, the original 10 circus shots consist of 75% of my viewed stats so I’ve shamelessly revisited the original RAW files and processed another 30 or so and stuck them into the same set after keywording them.


Click to visit Billy Smarts Circus set on Flickr

Bad interior lights and kids on the move

It was our beloved nephews 2nd birthday party and his dad had hired out a little church hall and a party supplier to fill the place with massive toys and things to do. I asked if I could bring my camera and offered to do family portraits with the flash gear*.

We turned up an hour early at the venue behind a beautiful church near Watford so I could set up my gear, take a few test shots, help getting tables out and offering our services as food testers.

The hall had almost no natural lighting. I should have known really. I mean, it had windows but they were 18″ high frosted security glass type that were at high level along the Southern elevation only. What light there was, we lost at 4pm when the low winter sun hit the tress that lined the churchyard. The hall had strips lights that ran parallel to the boxed in trusses so depending on where you stood, you’d either be in direct orange light or 4′ away in cool blue shadow. Due to the hall having a relatively high ceiling with truss partitions, using my flash gun off the ceiling was out and I was too far from the walls to bounce off them, I had to go with boosting the ISO and shooting open wide as much as possible.

The party suppliers had set their toys up against the only real clean background I could have used for the portraits. The other three sides were full of noticeboards, inspirational posters and strangely enough a huge lions head made with glue and sawdust. Across the front of the hall was a small stage curtained off, much like the church hall where I grew up in Salisbury, I suppose church funding only allowed for one design… It was roughly 12′ front to back and had one 8′ wide clean background so I set up there.

Up went the stand, adaptor, remote, flash and umbrella and out came the test shots thanks to my long suffering wife. I spent most the time shooting the kids as they played around with the toys and one particular toy car that had it’s own roller-coaster type rails. I planted myself at the far end of where this roller-coaster discharged it’s passenger to scoot across the hall’s timber floor and caught them while they were in the dangerous activity of trying to keep all four wheels on the floor.

As I was so impressed with the 55-70 VR’s Continuous Autofocus during the Winter Wonderland experiment, I decided to let it take the strain as I couldn’t have kept up with refocussing while they were coming straight for me. It worked pretty well since it was fairly dark in the hall. As I was switching from AF-Continuous to AF-Single via the command dial and the dedicated AF button, I was getting some focussing that kept jumping from background to subject and for 30 seconds or so, wondered why that would be. I had just found the dreaded third AF selection, AF-Automatic. As you might guess, having the camera automatically decide what the focus point should be is a dangerous thing. I can’t really think of a situation I’ve been in so far where using that selection would have helped, but then again I don’t shoot so much of a wide variation of subjects as most people.

Only one family (out of six or so) was up for portraits at the end of party and they turned out ok. All the in-laws grouped up in various configurations with the birthday boy who was rapidly losing his energy after a full afternoons playtime with his friends.

The lessons I learnt from that afternoons experience were:

  • Try and scout the location beforehand.
  • Ask parents if they want portraits done before the party kicks off because at the end, they are knackered and covered in food.
  • Look down first when quickly crouching to get a kids eye level shot as I blatted one of the poor little guys on the top of his head with my elbow (he didn’t make much of a fuss to my relief).

*Note to self: Don’t agree or suggest stuff after drinking heavily

Winter Wonderland 2013

A few years ago, my wife and I took my niece to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. It was small, expensive, muddy and rather amateur. This time round we went to the new and improved version at the other end of the park. Boy have the organisers changed things!

There must have been two hundred or so little cabins selling chrismassy bits and bobs, at chrismassy prices of course… It was jam packed as we went on the first Saturday after opening. We went with my wife’s nephew and most of the in-laws but spent only half the time looking at the rides and stalls and the other half trying to keep an eye on where everyone else had wandered off to.

I took the camera hoping to get a few decent shots of wide-angle crowds but it ended up being a bit of a pain since the crowds were too dense and I was losing the light towards the later end of the afternoon. I did however manage to get a couple of really good shots of the nephew on one of the rides with the 55-200 VR using the Autofocus on Continuous. I wasn’t expecting it to work as well as it did as I’ve not really had to try it since most of my photography is either architectural or at least very slow moving.

As I lost the light I tried hand-holding for a few ‘fairground lights in the dark’ type shots, a couple worked out. Of course had I planned it properly and gone alone I would have taken a tripod and gone two weeks later when the crowds had died down but since I’m no longer in control of scheduling…