Photography in a Convention Center Florescent Lighting
October 7, 2010 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Help me take better pictures in a convention center with horrible lighting.

I run a blog about fabric and will be going to the Int'l Quilt Market at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston later this month. I will be taking thousands of pictures of (flat) printed fabric samples, quilts, and other sewn items, as well as people, with a Canon Digital Rebel xTi. I have a 50mm lens and the 18-55mm zoom that came with the body. In the past, I've set the camera on automatic/no flash, and taken .jpgs, and done my best to color correct in Photoshop. It takes forever, and I'm still not happy with the quality of the photos. I know, I need to do RAW and probably invest in Lightroom. But also:

- I'm willing to rent equipment. What would you suggest? Keep in mind that I'll be running around for three days weighed down by lots of samples and other convention swag.

- The convention center has florescent lighting and, you know, those very high convention center ceilings. The shadows are pretty strong. Any general suggestions for conquering these conditions, in terms a person of my skill set can reasonably understand and implement, with the equipment I already have, or with the suggested rentals?
posted by kmel to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When it comes to funky lighting, the most important thing to keep in mind is white balance. Your eyes and brain naturally adjust to the lighting around you, but there's always a color cast to your light that will make everything look off when the photo is viewed under different lighting conditions.

Your camera should have a method of setting a custom white balance, so you can give it a reference that says "this is what white looks like in this light", and have it adjust accordingly. Check your instruction manuals. It usually involves taking a photo of a white piece of paper, white wall, or an 18% gray card (which you can get at a photo supply store cheaply). You then set this photo as your reference.

The hardest situation for which to adjust is mixed lighting. If those florescent lights and high ceilings come with floor-to-ceiling windows that are letting in natural light, or if the booths have lights/monitors/etc. giving off light, you'll get different color casts from the different light sources mixed in the same photo. Try to avoid multiple light sources of different types wherever possible.
posted by tkolstee at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2010

Are you having problems with there not being enough light? Or that the difference between the light and the shadows are too strong?

To shoot better indoor shots without a flash:

- Make sure your whitebalance is set to Florescent.
- Shoot with as wide-open of an aperture as you can. I'm guessing your 50mm is a 1.8? Use that lens, on Av mode, with f1.8.
- Any shutter speed under 1/60 is going to be too slow to hand-hold your camera.
- Bump up your ISO, try 800 or even 1600. I know from experience that the XTi gets really grainy at higher ISO, so you might consider renting another body (a 50D or even a fancy 5D).
posted by rhapsodie at 10:40 AM on October 7, 2010

If you decide to start playing w/RAW, Raw Therapee is free. Another nice free program is Pimantec Raw Shooter. Adobe acquired and shut down the latter a few years ago, but you can still find places to download a copy.
posted by jon1270 at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2010

Invest in a tripod and a corded shutter remote (I find the electronic ones to be a bit flakey). Shoot in RAW. Also shoot in priority mode (I think that is Av on a Canon). This allows you to set the f-stop. This set up should allow you to get the best out the static shots of quilts.

Picasa also can work with RAW format and then you can export in jpg for emailing or posting to flickr. I often use Picasa on my little netbook when I travel so I can quickly post a few shots during the trip and then do the big fix and sort in Lightroom when I get home.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:24 AM on October 7, 2010

When it comes to funky lighting, the most important thing to keep in mind is white balance.
WB isn't a factor when shooting RAW.

I just did a bunch of convention-center shooting, and wasn't thrilled with it. I highly recommend (for your people shots) off-camera flash with a good diffuser, or if you can't do it off-camera, put a diffuser on your speed light.

Use a tripod for anything that won't walk away from you, if possible.

A fast lens (at high ISO) will also be a big help. I don't shoot Canon, so I don't know if that's what you're using already or not.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:22 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

- If you do end up shooting RAW, just set your white balance to Auto (with RAW you can assign the white balance during processing).
- A tripod on a convention floor is not impossible to work with but it will limit where you can shoot from and you'll inevitably have people either walking into your shot or hitting your tripod, I think maybe a monopod would be a better fit.
- Shooting wide open is the best way to get as much light as possible, but it also means your depth of field will be very shallow, so make sure the focus is on the correct object if you're using auto-focus.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:28 PM on October 7, 2010

Don't bring a tripod and a shutter cord. They will just get in the way.

Get an external flash if you don't have one and use that and put a diffuser dome on there. Or you can get a mini soft box for the flash, which actually works better for closer stuff (ie details of fabrics). It is meant to be pointed right at the subject.

Set the flash on e-ttl and dial it down 1/3 of a stop as Canon flashes run hot. Shoot in raw if you can and leave the WB on auto. I would limit ISO to 800 or so and let the flash do the work. Dial down your shutter speeds if you need to.

If you dont want to mess with raw then learn to set a custom white balance on your camera, and take a picture of a bright white piece of paper or put two white coffee filters over the end of your lens set your exposure and use that as your white balance.

Keep in mind that it won't be ideal and there will be some variations but the color should be pretty consistent.
posted by WickedPissah at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2010

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