A few months ago a good friend and colleague asked me if I would photograph her twin daughters Christening. An excuse to take photographs? Of course I jumped at the chance. Her brief was that she wanted a record of the day, a few formal shots but mainly reportage. This gave me a lot of latitude to experiment with styles, shoot some candids and try out a new camera and lens combination. I had intended write this blog nearer the time but an unfortunate encounter with a white van had me focused on other matters for a while, so better late than never.
The date was late August and the weather was fine and sunny. The church was next door to the pub where the party was to take place, a perfect setup. On arrival I found one of the twins was still asleep in the back of the car and took this first photo through the open hatchback. It was an ideal picture for conversion to black and white as it removed any distracting colours.
This second B&W image shows Beau already in the pub and getting into the mood ready for the service helped along by her mum and numerous other guests. What I like about this shot is that you can see both faces and the great connection that's between them.
Somewhat refreshingly the vicar was happy for us to snap away as long as we didn't get in the way. It's always respectful to hold fire during the solemn bits but so nice that it be at my discretion this time. This next picture shows said vicar at work.
Churches are rarely well lit and when the sun shines through stained glass windows the contrast between shadows and highlights can be extreme. If possible, don't use flash, use a wide aperture and high ISO speed and then meter on the subject if you can. If you are feeling confident, use manual settings. Once you get the exposure right you can then recompose your shots without the camera being fooled by the lighting. In this next photo the subjects are standing in front and below a bright window, a good example of the above. It was not intentional but the backlighting has added a lot of atmosphere to the image which I like.
Outside awaited the event photographer's nightmare, the bar! In retrospect outside the church would have been the best chance for a group shot of everyone but I was too slow to realise and once I did, half of the guests were already in the pub. Sorry Gemma, I'll should have known! I was photographing a friends wedding once where the guests had to pass through a bar to get to a balcony for the photos. You can guess how many didn't make it. On the up side they did eventually get there and with a drink in hand they seemed happier to be snapped.
Back outside the church we managed to get some great family shots including one B&W that I printed A3 for their nursery wall. When photographing people outside on a sunny day, I like to add a bit of flash. I set the flash exposure compensation to be minus 1.5 stops. At this level the flash is hardly noticeable over the natural light but any deep shadows under chins etc. get filled in and the eyes gain a twinkle or catchlight. In this case the dappled light under the trees will have been softened a bit by the fill in flash. This is mainly why wedding photographers use flash outside.
Back inside the pub I tried to get as many group shots of the guests as I could without becoming too annoying. No doubt I did irritate a few people who insisted on not being photographed but I did have a mission to full fill, so in retrospect, sorry to them. The bright window light and the darker interior of the pub did create some great opportunities for moody candids. The gent in this next picture was playing with his children and took a brief moment to relax in this arm chair. Another B&W but actually I like it in colour too. In many ways it captures the mood of the afternoon, a happy time spent with friends and family.
Children are great subjects for candids. They are far more interested in other more important things than having your photo taken. I particularly like the far away look on this young girls face. Again, I like the softness of the light that adds to the dreamy atmosphere of the moment. This was taken with a short telephoto lens on my newer compact camera and certainly shows it is as good as the big DSLR camera for this type of work, (indeed I have since taken a number of images from this lens and camera in situations that would challenge my other cameras, including candle light). Using the widest aperture available (f1.8) means that the background is nicely out of focus.
Another child photo but this time he knew I was there. It didn't matter because he was determined to pot the yellow regardless. I love the lolly stick projecting from his mouth, a bit like a character in a spaghetti western. Again a wide aperture helps to throw the background out of focus. If you own a DSLR or a camera with interchangeable lenses and only have zoom lenses, you might want invest in a fast prime, or fixed focal length, lens. Zoom lenses are great for most situations but they tend to have relatively small apertures. This means that they don't let through so much light and their depth of field is greater. In low light a prime lens, wide open, will allow you to isolate your subject from the background by putting it nicely out of focus and avoid the need for flash. Prime lenses can also be a lot cheaper than their zoom cousins especially if you are looking at the pro end of the scale. This particular prime is a 45mm f1.8 (90mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) and was under £200. By comparison an f1.8 lens allows about 6 times more light through than a typical f4 zoom.
Talking of prime lenses, another prime that I used on the day was a simple, fixed aperture (f8) 8mm body cap lens, so called because it's about the same size. It costs less than £70 an yet it produces some great images. At 8mm it is a very wide angle lens (equivalent to a 16mm on a 35mm full frame camera) and allows you to get shots like the whole church and congregation. One feature of wide angle lenses is that straight lines tend to curve around the centre of the image, this can also make the image more dramatic.
Back to the twins now and there lots of opportunities to capture them looking over shoulders as they got passed around. These next few shots were Photoshopped or altered on the computer to fade the backgrounds and create a softer more abstracted picture. When softening a picture like this it is important not to affect the eyes.
For the group shots most people were happy to be interrupted a pose spontaneously for the camera. Although slightly staged, these shots will be all the more important in time to come. The twins will be able to look back and see who was there to share the day and how different they look now compared to then. This next picture of a lovely, energetic girl and her mum, makes me smile when I see it. Moments after it was taken the little girl zoomed off and promptly disappeared in to the gents loo. Fortunately a guiding hand was there to show her the right door.
Every event like this requires preparation. Hours spent in the kitchen, shopping for decorations, designing details that make the day special. All too often they go unrecorded and fade from memory. It is important then to capture these things too. This Christening was no exception so I quickly grabbed some shots of the cakes before they were scoffed and all trace of the hard work was gone for ever. With close ups like this it is best to use bounced or diffused flash. Close up, camera shake becomes more of a problem so the very short burst from a flash gun, typically 1/1000th of a second, is fast enough to stop most wobbly hands. Close up though the shadows from a flash become more defined and obvious. This is because the flash emanates from such a small source. If you can point the flash at the ceiling or a wall and assuming it is a white ceiling, you should get a nice soft light. Another approach is to use a diffuser in front of the flash gun. There are many forms but on this occasion I used a Sunpak DFU-01 soft box. Very simply it is a sheet of white, semi translucent plastic about 6 x 8 inches held a few inches in front of the flash and It is held in place with Velcro. The softer light it gives is also good for quick portraits as it is kinder to ageing skin and helps to avoid nasty shadows around the nose.
Another group shot but somewhat more posed this time. I converted it to B&W partly because I thought it would look good but also because some of these ladies were wearing very colourful dresses which tends to draw the eye away from the more important faces. Now the dresses are reduced patterns the faces seem to stand out more. B&W pictures generally look better if the contrast is higher than for colour, so when converting them try adjusting the brightness and contrast so that you get the full range of black to white. If you have a photo editor on your computer you can also try adjusting the colour balance before converting. This will allow you to differentiate between parts of the image that would otherwise end up being the same grey. For example, in the days of B&W film you would use a yellow filter to darken the blue in the sky to make the clouds stand out. Some editors, such as Lightroom, allow you to adjust the colour channels while viewing the B&W image. I have also found that the 'edit' feature in the iPad Photos app has a similar function. When you select the B&W button you can also slide it up and down. As you do so, different colours in the image become darker and lighter greys. It's not clear what it is actually doing but you should find a point that gives the effect you want.
So to sum it up, it was a great afternoon spent with lovely people while taking photos, couldn't be better. I was very pleased at how the new small Olympus camera (OMD-EM10) and prime lenses performed under some challenging lighting conditions. I hope Gemma liked the pictures and that I fulfilled the brief to record the day with a mixture of formal and reportage style in both colour and B&W. The big lesson for me was that I should have had someone outside getting everyone organised for a group shot before they made it to the pub.
I hope you found this blog interesting and maybe a little informative. Please leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you.