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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Night time festival photography - it's a breeze!




I love photographing festivals. The light, the colour,the action. And one of the great things about photographing at night is that it's often easier than shooting during the day! A lot of people think that it must be harder but using a couple of tricks can set you up to concentrate on catching the action without having to worry about your camera settings.

Because you'll be shooting with a flash the first thing you need to do is match the light coming from your flash with the surrounding ambient. Many festivals are lit by the kind of lights that show up orange under a daylight white balance. But the light coming out of our flash is a cool blue colour in comparison and looks really unnatural. So the trick is to put a little bit of orange gel (or cellophane) over your flash head to get closer to matching it to the surrounding light. That way your flash won't look so unnatural. The trick is find the right shade of orange - too strong and your subjects will look like oompah-loompahs! But find the right shade and your night time flash pictures will look great.

Speaking of that ambient light - there's nothing worse than gaping black backgrounds. As much as possible you need to let that ambient light burn into your exposure - which means that you'll need a slow enough shutter speed for the background to be bright enough, without being so slow that your subjects are blurred. To do that you'll probably need to bump your exposure up as well.

But once you've found the right settings for the lighting conditions here's the great thing - they often don't change. The same lights are used for the whole festival so, once you've found the right ISO and shutter speed to give you a nice bright background, if you then put your camera into Manual Exposure and dial those settings in they'll last you the whole night. I often dial in an ISO of 400 and an exposure of 1/60 second or so and and aperture of about f8 and that lets enough light in to capture the background.

So you've gelled your flash, your ISO shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set and you're ready to go. Unless you suddenly find yourself in a much brighter or darker place you should be able to use those settings all night and all you have to worry about is your composition and look for those great moments.

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