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Monday, April 20, 2009

••◊ I see fit people

This was one wild weekend. I'm still recovering. I spent Friday and Saturday working at the Emerald Cup Bodybuilding Championships in Bellevue Washington. My job is to run the audio for the show, so my freedom to roam around and take pictures is quite limited. I've been doing the live audio production for Brad and Elaine for over 15 years now and managed to survive every show somehow. I do most of my work when the bodybuilders are on stage, so lucky for me I have more time to take pictures when the fitness/figure/bikini divisions are doing their thing. We basically play background elevator music for them, whereas each bodybuilder has their own custom music.

Since I didn't want to bring my SLR to the show for logistical reasons so I was relinquished to borrowing my mom's point and shoot. Warning: rant coming on. Normally I refer to point and shoots as point-n-pray or piece-o-... you get the picture (pun intended). I've been so spoiled by my SLR with nice glass that it's difficult to go back. I thought of this self-assignment as a challenge. How can I use a cheap camera and get reasonable shots worth showing

After many failures I found a few techniques that seemed to work OK. The first problem with point and shoots is that they are really, really terrible in low light. For this first shot I stabilized the camera against a hand railing and used the other railing to frame the woman's face. Even at ISO 400 I was shooting at 1/10th f/2.8. She already had nice cross lighting coming off the stage (random bonus) and an interesting expression with her eyes. I didn't notice this until later, but the white stripes on the stairs point to her because they converge at the middle of the frame. The color rendition in this shot was quite ugly so I just desaturated and called it "film grain."

Since the framing with the railing worked well I decided to try to use the athletes' bodies as framing figures. From my seated position in the production pit this is how I see the show...yes, for *both* male *and* female competitors. The two ladies were standing and waiting to be introduced before going on stage and the person onstage was perfectly framed between her legs. The legs shadows also act as leading lines. I was able to make a trade off of exposure and get reasonable color as well (metering on P-n-S cameras will typically make the wrong choice in high contrast situations), but gave up detail of the woman on stage as a result. This is a point and shoot so the exposure latitude is lacking and the woman on stage was probably going to get blown out no matter what. Since I was at a low angle I used a railing for stability and a wide angle lens to accentuate the length of their legs - which works well for this purpose, wouldn't you agree?

Next up was the use of "dutch" angles, meaning pictures taken at off angles. The heavy weight bodybuilders were waiting to be introduced so I had a second to catch their nervous anticipation. I aligned the camera with the athlete on the left so as to highlight him and used the railings and lighting at leading lines since he was looking off in that direction. The color (unintentionally, but gratefully) came out quite saturated. The EXIF data says I was using -1 stop of exposure compensation - I was mainly working between -1 and -2 all night and most of the time don't remember which picture was taken with what setting.

Since backstage at just about any show is controlled chaos, I wanted to capture some of that energy. For this I used long exposures and allowed the shots to be quite blurry, but detailed enough to represent motion. The first picture is of the guest performer climbing the stairs onto the stage and the second are a group of women competitors coming off stage. In both cases I really like the beautifully saturated backgrounds, which typically occur with long exposures in darker environments.

Lastly, I was walking behind the curtain and found a little gap that was just large enough for a point and shoot lens. During our guest performer's six minute routine, which I was quite familiar with from years of working with Russ Testo, I ran over behind the curtain and took a couple quick shots. I knew from looking through there earlier that I could get some beautiful backlit-type shots, but there was no chance of that during the competition portion because I have to be in one location. The trick was to wait for Russ to stand still for a second because my shutter speed was still lacking and use the stage as a virtual tripod for camera stability. As a side note; guest poser routines also double as run like mad bathroom breaks for the crew.

I need sleep. Peace, out.

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