Three weeks ago, and again last weekend, I was shooting charity evenings for Ultra White Collar Boxing (UWCB). People with no boxing experience sign up for eight weeks of free training and then the challenge of three 2-minute boxing rounds – in front of friends and family who have dressed up to enjoy an entertaining evening out. On the way, they raise money for Cancer Research UK – with the £2,000,000 landmark recently passed.
One of the big challenges as an event photographer is dealing with hugely different lighting conditions in different venues. The lighting in the two recent events couldn’t have been more different. In Exeter on Saturday night, the event took place in the Unit 1 nightclub (formerly Arena). The walls and ceilings were painted black, the background lights were dim and multicoloured, and the boxing ring itself was lit by a ring of alternately green and orange spotlights.
These conditions are a nightmare for photography, and particularly for sports photography. While the coloured lights look fun, they just didn’t give enough light to capture fast action. I couldn’t just add more light to the area, because the black walls would have absorbed it. I had little choice but to use on-camera flash aiming straight at my subject. The small size of a flash can produce rather harsh shadows, so I increased the area of light slightly using a Rogue Flashbender / Diffusion panel combination.
I set the power of the flash to 1/4 of maximum. Compared to using full power, this has a couple of advantages. Firstly, it makes it easier to balance the flash with the ambient light – in order to allow the venue’s lights to still influence the shots and add some atmosphere. Secondly it means that the flash recharges quicker for the next shot and runs the batteries down more slowly.
See all of my pictures from the UWCB October Exeter event on UWCB’s facebook gallery.
In contrast, the Bristol event at The Grand Hotel was in a large room with entirely low, white ceilings and the ring lit by bright white lights on two corners. A low, white ceiling is pretty much a gift for an event photographer. It means that I can easily use ‘bounce flash’ – instead of aiming my flash at the subject, I aim it at the ceiling. The flash light bounces from the ceiling creating a large, overhead light source. Large light sources tend to be the most flattering – eliminating awkward shadows – and we prefer to see people lit from overhead (because that’s what we’re most used to). Bounced flash also lights the whole area (although distant areas are lit less), so we automatically get to see the venue background. The light was also sufficient to allow me to shoot in the available light – so I had one camera body set up for flash, the other for ambient.
See the full set of my photos from September’s Bristol event on UWCB’s facebook gallery.
This weekend I get to do it again, but down in Plymouth; better light than Exeter but high, wood ceilings that are no good for bounce flash.