My wife of 35 years graduated from McLean High School in 1978 (We met at Virginia Tech in February 1979.). While helping to plan her 40-year high school reunion, she offered me up to take photos at their reunion dinner.
The reunion festivities included a Happy Hour on Friday, October 12, 2018, at J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood, in McLean, Virginia; and a gathering/dinner on Saturday night at the Tower Club, in the Tycon Towers 1 Building in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Although close quarters at the Happy Hour Friday night didn’t lend itself to taking photos, the dinner on Saturday provided more opportunities. Here are some of the results.
Lessons Learned (DRAFT)
1. Nikon’s D850 DSLR “Center-Weighted Metering” Really Means It, …
My wife and I stopped by the Tower Club the Thursday before the event, just to check out the layout of the club, and the lighting. One of the key areas where I knew I would be taking photos was on the exposed balcony that surrounds most of the 17th floor. You get a beautiful view of the sunset and the Blue Ridge Mountains from up there, and on the other side you can even see the Washington Monument in D.C., and National Harbor in Maryland.
But one of the first things I noticed was that there were no exterior light fixtures on the balcony. There was lighting from the sunset, and some lighting coming through tinted dining and conference room windows that adjoined the balcony, but there was nothing in the way of direct lighting. This is fine if you are really focused on the sunset, but what if you want to photograph people standing on the balcony in the fading light?
I had been trying to use the D850’s Center-Weighted Metering setting, because it averages the exposure over a little bit larger area of the sensor in order to determine the proper ISO setting, than does Spot Metering. But I soon confirmed what I had already suspected to be true. Spot Metering uses the sensor elements at the selected focus point to set the exposure. With Center-Weighted Metering, the exposure algorithm only uses the area in the actual center of the sensor array.
This isn’t a problem if your subject is always centered. But for sunset photos of a subject on a balcony, I would typically offset the subject to one side, and show the sunset on the other. This back lit situation demands some fill light. And so, I guess it is time to mount a speedlight.
2. And Nikon’s SB-5000 AF Speedlight Seems to Mean it Too, …
Therefore, I’m using Spot Metering instead, so I can set the point in the frame where the camera will autofocus, which in this mode is also where the exposure will be calculated. Now, can I focus at that point? Well, that, as it turns out, would depend on the SB-5000’s Auto Focus Assist Light.
As the sun was setting, and the moon was rising, there was not enough light on my subjects to achieve good focus without some assistance. Luckily, the SB-5000 has an Auto Focus Assist light built into the front of it (behind the red bezel). This light projects a red line pattern onto your subject. But what I found was that the pattern changes somewhat depending on where the focus point was in the array. And in fact, if the focus point is positioned near the side edges of the array, the Auto Focus Assist light turns off altogether.
Luckily, this can be dealt with by setting the focus mode to Single (AF-S), setting the focus point near the center of the array, autofocusing, which in the process turns on the Auto Focus Assist light, and then once the image is in focus, shifting the focus point to where you want it (not for focusing, but just to position the point that the camera will use to set the exposure), and then shooting.
3. And So Does Nikon’s SC-29 Flash Cable
But, I really dislike on-camera flash. The flat, shadow-less look is just so unflattering and uninteresting. Knowing that I would be steering away from on-camera flash, at some point, I ordered Nikon’s SC-29 Flash Cable, which would allow me to shoot wired flash at least a few feet from the camera. But frankly, with the SB-5000’s wireless communication capability, I really didn’t think that I would ever need it.
But in preparing for this event, I realized that the SB-5000’s Autofocus Assist Light only functions if the SB-5000 Speedlight is mounted on-camera. I guess the geniuses at Nikon realized this too, and so they actually put an Auto Focus Assist light on the camera end of the SC-29 Flash Cable as well, since unlike the tethered flash, the camera end of the cable should always be pointed toward the subject.
This seemed to work.
4. In Photography, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Easily)
Once you’ve seen what a Nikon D850 can produce when you have close to the ideal conditions, lens, and settings, it is hard to settle for images of lesser quality.
Other than the basics of focus, exposure, and blur, one of the key image shortfalls that I am always trying to avoid is image noise. On my Nikon D500 DSLR, sensor noise always seemed to manifest itself as color noise, where the image is contaminated by a carpet of unwanted red and blue pixels. These can be removed, to some extent, in post processing. But if the noise is excessive, then the post processing noise reduction algorithm can leave you with skin tones that look unnatural.
At least with the D850, the noise tends to be more illumination noise, which shows up as white pixels that just create a graininess in the image.
In order to reduce the image noise as much as possible, for this shoot I set my D850 to limit the ISO to 1000 for the first half of the event. I much prefer to shoot at or near the native ISO of 64, that produces essentially no noise in the images. As it got darker, I raised the ISO to 2000, which I use for low-light sports. In Adobe Lightroom, with the ISO set to a maximum of 2000, the noise reduction setting provides pretty good results when set to 90 out of 100.
I needed greater depth of field.
5. I Need to Learn TTL
Since I started using Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlights, I recognized the availability of TTL mode. No, I’m not talking about Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL). I’m talking about Through The Lens (TTL) metering. In general, TTL is a feature of many of today’s cameras and flashes, whereby the camera will trigger the flash to emit a “pre-flash”, whose light will then be measured by the camera after it is reflected off the subject.
6. Lighting and Stabilization for Macro Photography
Litra Torch lights