4.11.2019

Sometimes the secret to getting an image you want is for everyone to just slow down a bit. Take a breath. Get still.

Lou. Studio. 

Seems the harder we try to be good at something the more elusive success is. I think the old masters of every craft knew that rushing things ruined them. That patience is a way of letting 
what you are learning soak in. That calmness is a path to beauty.

Yesterday's simple and fun event photography for Texas Appleseed.

the poster show begins to ramp up.

I'm trying to throw off the mental shackles from a time when a clean ISO 400 file was a miracle to behold and when flash absolutely ruled all aspects of night time event photography. There's a penalty for having decades of experience; sometimes you are held back by old information and truisms that are no longer even remotely true.

Using the Jpeg setting on my Fuji X-H1 I am fearlessly (hmmm....) racking the ISO dial all over the place while shooting at events. And yesterday I substituted the little, tiny Fuji EF-X8 flash in the hot shoe of my camera instead of a bigger, more traditional flash unit. Kinda nuts but it worked.

Texas Appleseed is a non-profit you can learn about here: Link to Appleseed.

In order to fund their initiatives they do the usual fundraising but they also do a bunch of event stuff that I think is fun and cool. Yesterday was their annual poster show. Working with sponsorship from the largest ad agency in town they select a group of artists/graphic designers and get them to design posters that incorporate current messaging about justice and legal issues people face in Texas. The top print houses in town donate the printing, and the posters, signed and numbered by the artists, are sold for $75 each; both at the show and on the Appleseed website. It's exciting because it brings in a segment of Austin's very hip advertising community and not only raises money but also creates community awareness in a new demographic.

And, of course, nearly everyone in Austin loves an excuse for a good party... There was ample catering by Austin restaurant, El Dorado, (EldoradoCafeATX.com) and several open bars. No charge for admission to the show and no charge for drinks or food. Felt like the old boom days in Austin...

The pop-up gallery was at 800 Congress Ave., just a few blocks from the capitol, in the middle of downtown, and people started trickling in when the doors opened at 6pm. By 7 pm the place was packed and posters were flying out the door.

In the days of yore I would have been concentrating on making big flash work. I would have a large guide number, articulated head flash in the hot shoe and it would be topped with a Rogue reflector or a large, DIY foamcore reflector, held up by tape and rubber bands. I'd be working at f5.6 to f8.0 if shooting full frame, and I would be working around ISO 400 to ensure noiseless files. As darkness closed in I would come to rely on the AF-illumination light to get focus in the dimmer areas of a big ballroom.

I did none of that yesterday. I put on the 16-55mm f2.8 and used the lens mostly between 2.8 and f4.0. Near the big windows on the east side of the large room I used ISO 1250 and, instead of pounding flash and watching the background go to black, I was shooting down around 1/60th of a second and being very, very mindful to catch people in pauses where subject movement wouldn't ruin my photos. I got some blurry hands but I decided it doesn't matter and I didn't care.

In the back half of the room I worked around ISO 3200 and, in really dim areas I took a deep breath and set the ISO dial to 6400. And, amazingly, it worked. It all worked.

Most of the time I wasn't just depending on the ambient light, I was using the small, included-with-the-camera flash to fill in and get me a little closer to clean color. I had the flash set to minus 2/3rds of a stop, in TTL, and I worked a bit to get a reasonable level with the ambient light; sometimes (usually) opting to keep it about a half a stop dark. Seemed just right for the combination of tiny flash and room light. They worked together to get me very close to a perfect exposure out of camera.

Here are a couple samples showing the ambient + flash in action:


The small, EF-X8 flash seems to come with every Fuji X camera that I buy and I had ignored them for a while. Now I'm keeping one on the top of my camera almost all the time, just in case it comes in handy. 
The EF-X8 doesn't take batteries; it uses power from the camera's battery(s). I used to worry about battery drain but I was using a battery grip last night and after shooting from 5pm (set up and posters) till about 8pm (party winding down...) I was still on the first battery in my grip. Not bad considering all the stuff it was running....


All my photo stuff fit in my small, Think Tank backpack. I brought along the Fuji X-E3 with an 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 kit lens as well as a 35mm f2.0 Fuji-cron, neither of which I needed to use; but you know my feelings about always having a back up.... I also brought along a big, Godox flash, dedicated to the Fuji system as well as a radio trigger. This did come in handy for shooting the posters as I could have someone stand ten feet to one side of, and at a 45 degree angle to, the art work in order to get clean shots without a lot of fall off and with no glare. 

I could get used to a minimal kit like this! In fact, someone should write a book about it...

The last thing I wanted to mention was transportation. I could have taken the super high performance Subaru Forester downtown and parked it in a garage. I could have spent $26 and taken an Uber from the house to the venue. But in the same spirit of carrying everything I needed in one small pack I thought I would also reduce my travel footprint. To that end I chose to take a city bus to work. 

The bus comes to an intersection about a half mile from my house. An easy and leisurely 15 minute walk. The bus costs $1.25 and gets me to downtown, within a block or two of the venue, in about 25 minutes. Easy-Peasy. I cheated on the way home. Belinda is working downtown and has garage parking at her agency. She met me at the show and when it was time to head out we walked two blocks to her garage and then sped off into the night. In a Subaru Impreza. All fun. 

That's my take on yesterday's photo festivities. Hope you aren't pining too much for the days of complex flash, slow film and the need to deliver stacks of color prints to your clients. It wasn't really that much fun. This is better. 

I remember the line that Ian Fleming wrote at the end of "Diamonds are Forever." He was talking about James Bond's life as a spy. He wrote, "It reads better than it lives." Brilliant. Just brilliant.