Sunday 24 May 2009

I've had enough of muddy skin tones and high noise photos

In taking a critical look through the photos from the 2008 World Cup I've decided I need to work on mastering the use of flash. The light strength and quality inside the venue was inadequate for capturing high quality images and who knows what the venue at Argentina will be like. There's no real way to find out without turning up at the event then figuring out the challenges.

Photo and zoomed in version from Italy, Canon 30D, ISO 1600, no flash...

Photo and zoomed in version from yesterday Canon 40D ISO 800 with flash bounced off the ceiling. Notice how much nicer the skin tones are and how smooth the image quality is by comparison to above...

The things I don't like about flash:

- Flash guns going off can be off-putting to the competitors.
- They tell everyone that you've taken a photo and make the photographer more obvious rather than being unnoticed in the background.
- They can give an artificial/non-natural look to the image.
- They can make the light in the image look flat.
- Badly used, harsh shadows can show.
- They burn battery power and only last for about 500 shots
- Makes the camera a lot bulkier and heavier to handle
- When shooting two competitors, the closer one to the camera will be better lit then the one further away. Some times the closer one will be over exposed - burnt out.
- when taking a sequence of fast action shots - say 7-10 images in a row at 4-5 images per second, the flash can be pretty annoying to others.
- It is yet another issue to think about and have to master.
- I use two cameras during a tournament. One with my 18-55 f/2.8 IS zoom lens which is fantastic for close up stuff and the other with my 85mm f/1.8 prime lens which is necessary when competitors are near the far side of the ring. Does this mean I'd need another flash unit so both cameras are powered up with flash all of the time?

The things that flash can deliver:

- I can use a lower ISO speed which makes the skin and colour tones much smoother. The quality difference can be very significant. Without flash skin tones can look muddy and quite ugly.
- Colour quality can be much better.
- The images are significantly brighter.
- A faster shutter speed can be used, less blurry unsharp photos.

I have a high quality flash gun that I bought second hand off a photographer a few years ago. It's a Canon Speedlight 550EX - a really good quality unit.

So... this is my next challenge, to master using flash and hopefully therefore bringing you better quality images.

Yesterday I tried using flash during the Auckland World Champs training and was quite pleased with the results. Normally I would have had to use ISO 1600 but did the whole photo shoot at ISO 800 (resulting in finer quality images). What do you think about the overall image quality?