Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: Photographing the Cheetah Girls

Ambient Light in Audience.

I have no kids, so I had no idea who the Cheetah Girls were. So the day started with my indoctrination into the battle for the parking spot. I thought I had it down pat: Park my car at the DAR building, off the main street, and wait until "rush hour" traffic ended at around 6:30pm so I could park on the street. But the soccer mom convoy beat me, pulling up to the line of metered spots in the right lane, 15 minutes before. All along the sidewalk, bands of children emptied from SUV's and minivans, dressed to the gills in cheetah outfits and pink, ready to watch the Cheetah Girls concert at Constitution Hall.

Outsmarted in my quest to get a spot, I circled the block like a vulture, trying to swoop in for an open spot. But they always pop up two cars ahead of you; by the time you get there, the car right in front claims the spot. Fortunately, I found one on D Street, and I guess people had thought that all the spots were reserved for the crew.

After making my way inside, all I saw were girls. Where were the boys, I thought? Perhaps they liked boy bands better, but I couldn't imagine that. Maybe the boys simply don't have a fixation about singers and groups? Talking with a security member, I waited for the opening act to play out, so I could take my position at the stage. The overhead lights went black and the stage lights were kicked up to white hot, and a high-pitched shrill of adoring fans filled the seating bowl.

"Hmm," I said. Gone are the days of a family outing to the circus or zoo; kids now might be bored to watch some clown with a polka dot tie, bike horn, and floppy shoes. Elephants are out; Cheetah Girls are in. It's all about the style and status.

Cheetah Girls Purse Detail

I planned to shoot with my flash pointed down again in order to take photos of fans waiting for the group to make their entrance. With such a deep ceiling, there was no other option besides using direct flash (blech) and floor bounce. So I aimed it down towards my lap (I wore black pants) and used the TTL meter on my Nikon D2H.

Seven-year-old Nora, who lives in Virgina, struck up a conversation with me as I scanned the crowd for a good subject: "I'm so excited!" she said, her wide eyes staring at me with an innocent smile. So I moved back a little and started shooting photos as the crowd waited. A projection monitor threw video from the back of the hall, and I saw that there could be a nice moment to capture. After a short while, the overhead lights dimmed and the anticipation grew, as I fired off frames in the darkness. Compensating for the lack of light, I dropped down my shutter speed a little. But I didn't want to open the shutter too long, for fear of over-exposing the glow sticks.

My attention turned to the Cheetah Girls, since photographers are now generally granted only 2 songs to shoot before being kicked out. One person in the crowd, whom I needed to shoot, sat in the center of the section, making it impossible to get any clear images of her. So I turned my attention on the group, already finishing its first song.

Cranking out more images as they performed, I had to stop shooting as the second song was done. And I was happy with the results:

All the images taken were shot at ISO 500, using the Nikon D2H and the 17-35mm Nikkor lens at 17mm. The contrast setting is usually set on low, while the sharpness is set on high. I also usually set the camera to "CLOUDY."

The first image (at top of the blog post) was shot at 1/13th second at f 2.8. Notice how all the ambient light is all over the place? It looked nice, and I was going to use one of these images, but...

...suddenly, the lights went dark! I couldn't see anything, but I simply used the thumb dial and cranked open the shutter a few clicks. But my finger also hit the f-stop dial. This image was shot at 1/4 second at f/ 3.5. See how turning out the light switch made the glow sticks look like fireflies?

Cheetah Girls glowsticks

OMG, when I saw what happened, I just started banging frames off in the darkness, hoping to get a good frame. It's cool how the light from the stick hit the face of Nora's mom. And the late-comers walking through the far entrance added to the energy.

I just kind-of shoot things and watch for something better to happen. If you shoot something and you're happy with your first shots, just hold your camera ready (keeping your left hand below the body and lens while holding your right hand on the grip and with your finger on the trigger) and watch for something else to take place. Usually, things unfold even better than your first images, because people tend to go back to being spontaneous. They wind up ignoring the camera, especially if you simply tell then to ignore you.

As for the HVX-200, we got the same CitiDisk HD drive returned to us. I had plugged it into the Firewire port and turned the drive and camera on, but the same problem happened: the drive started blinking between red and green while the camera couldn't recognize it. So over I went to Dudley's office, explaining that we had a problem.

Calling Chris at Shining Technology, Duds put the phone on speaker, and I tried explaining what was happening. Chris then says that a future update needs to be developed to allow the drive to write in the MXF format. And that was the whole problem! The HVX only writes in MXF format. Since the drive doesn't write the file, we were sold a product we couldn't use. Chris finally acknowledged that we could return the $1,200 paperweight back for a full refund. The bone of contention? Shining's website claims that the drive writes the P2 format and can be mounted onto the HVX200. Well... not so. Not yet.

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