Note: unfortunately the original images used in this article were lost during a software upgrade.
Those of you following my (sometimes daily) musings will already know that I was selected to photograph the 47th ICANN international meeting which was held here in Durban, South Africa last week.
It was a pretty hectic affair with something like 50 breakaway sessions happening every day, not to mention the bits in between, such as VIP breakfasts, lunch meetings, social gatherings and gala dinners. I was often needed in two places at once, so I had to move around quickly.
Fortunately I had my wits about me and I had planned my equipment use well, so I was prepared for just about everything. The only thing I wasn't prepared for was the rain that happened at the gala dinner event which was held outdoors at our marine park. It never rains in Durban in July, except when you don't want it to. I found myself up at the top of the dolphinarium with a very heavy ThinkTank Airport Security roller, faffing around with my gear, not entirely sure which body and lens to use, whether I should be shooting the dolphin show or testing the weather-proofing on the D700 to photograph the ICANN participants watching the show in the rain. More on that later in this piece.
Gear-wise I brought along three bodies for this job. I had my old trusty Nikon D700, a newish Nikon D3100 and of course the sexy little Olympus OM-D E-M5. Lenses for the Nikons included the Nikon 24-70/2.8, Sigma 12-24mm and 70-200/2.8. For the Olympus I brought with me the 9-18mm Olympus, 14-45mm Panasonic, the ridiculously sharp 75/1.8 and the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye. I had flashes for all three bodies, SB-900 on the D700, SB-800 on the D3100 and the FL-600R on the Olympus.
Basically there are three main things that an event photographer needs to capture:
1) the venue
2) the people
3) the interactions
Four days is a lot of time to cover those three areas, but the thing is, the organisers needed images immediately for use on social media platforms (such is the fast paced nature of our modern lives) so there was literally no time to do much editing. I had each camera set up to shoot both RAW and large JPG files so that if I needed to I could pull off a JPG at short notice. The trouble with that idea was that I would still need to re-size the JPG because a large one would be too large for media requirement and would simply slow things down too much. I suppose I should have set the JPG to be smaller in camera.
What I ended up doing was importing the RAW files to Lightroom and I left my laptop with the ICANN media liaison, showed her how to white flag or reject any of the files as they were being imported (in Lightroom you simply use the P and X key to pick or reject an image from the import). This worked very well and once the process was done all I had to do was set an export recipe and hit the button. We dropped the small JPG's onto a thumb drive and the ICANN staff were then able to use them immediately.
I found that using the OM-D with the 75/1.8 lens gave me the best low light results. I am quite comfortable shooting that combo at ISO 3200 and leaving the aperture wide open at f/1.8. This almost always results in a shutter speed of well over 1/500s which combined with the in-body image stabilisation system (IBIS) produces very good results. Some minor toning and noise reduction applied during the Lightroom import and you've got a winner. The D700 with Nikkor 24-70/2.8 didn't fare as well in the same conditions. Bear in mind that there is no image stabilisation with that combo, plus the 24-70/2.8 I don't find quite so sharp wide open, so I limit myself to shooting it at f/4 maximum. That's a full two and one third of a stop slower than the other combo. A lot of light in anyone's book. I used the D700 and 24-70/2.8 with the SB-900 when I needed to take photos of award winners or I could get decent ambient light. That didn't happen so often, so I found myself wishing that I had a 2nd OM-D with perhaps a 17/1.8, or even better, a Fujifilm X100s.
The evening of the gala dinner was held at the uShaka Marine World down at the southern point of the city. Clouds had been gathering all day and at around 5pm the first few drops began falling. It was a slight drizzle at first, but then it really began bucketing down (see the top corners of this shot). I literally had nowhere to go, so I ended up shooting the dolphin show from right up at the top of the little stadium, where it was at least dry and I could keep an eye on my ThinkTank Airport Security case. I gotta say, that rolling case was a Godsend on this event. I rolled it everywhere with me and was able to gain easy access to my gear most of the time. The only downside was when I needed to put the raincoat on. I just couldn't figure it out and eventually gave up. I should have practised that before I took the case on a job.
As most of the activities at the gala were taking place outdoors, things got chaotic very quickly. Almost a thousand people were crammed under the main marquee getting their dinner and I had nowhere to put my bag down without it getting soaked or trampled on, so I squeezed off a few high angle reference shots and made my way home after that. My feet felt like they were going to literally explode inside my shoes - I had been on them the entire day and it was pushing 10pm.
View full article