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

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