Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fire Dance! Tucson Celtic Festival

Photographing without a flash outside at night is always interesting.  I wrnt the the Celtic festival here in Tucson to see what it was about, I hadn't been before.  I got there late, about 6 PM, so I knew I'd be shooting in low light situations, I brought a fast lens.  At first I though I'd bring my 70-200 f/4L lens because it has very good image stabilization but then I thought I'd probably be shooting people performing so the image stabilization wouldn't help with moving subjects.  Then I thought I'd take the 85mm f/1.8 which is a nice fast and sharp lens, one of my favorites.  But, shooting performances means that I want to be able to reach into the scene and capture details of people's faces so I needed a longer lens.  Also, I wanted to use the 5D mk II because I know I can shoot it at ISO 1600 with good results.  I have a 40D too but it gets noisy at  ISO 1600.

Given these considerations, I took my Canon 5D mk II with my 135mm f/2L lens.  A problem with the 135mm lens is that it has no image stabilization and is long enough to require a fast shutter speed.  However, it seemed like the best choice in this case so I needed a strategy to keep the shutter speed fast enough to get sharp photos in low light conditions.  I decided to put the camera into shutter priority mode with the shutter speed set to 1/200 second and hope for the best.  I could have tried a slightly slower shutter but experience tells me that, for me, I need a 200th.

When I got to the event the place was flooded with light from a huge lighting system used for the horse races at Rillito park, I took a couple of photos, at f/2 and they looked fine.  When I discovered they were having a "Fire Dance" at 7 PM  I looked forward to it.  I figured that I could probably get some photos if the fire was bright enough.  What I didn't know was that they would turn off the bright lights for the fire dance.  I'm certainly glad these lights were turned off because it make the fire dance much more fantastic than it would have been with them on.  However, I didn't know how well my camera setup would handle the situation.  Well, it worked out fairly well.  Here is a photograph of one of the dancers blowing fire.  This was so bright that the camera stopped the aperture down to f/7.1 giving me more depth of field than most of the other images.

A dancer blowing fire,  1/200, f/7.1, ISO 1600
I tried to get photographs where the fire the dancer was handling was shining light on their face.  This worked out fairly well in most cases.  There were examples, however, where the dancer was facing away from me and I got a silhouette.  I shot about 250 frames, of which, I quite like about 18 of them.  This small percentage can be ascribed to a number of factors.  The camera focus sometimes got confused (I was using the center focus point and had the autofocus set to track focus).  Also, when photographing dancers, it is hard to predict their movements and I get it wrong frequently and get photos of their backs, etc.  I'll post a couple more examples from the shoot below.

A dancer swing chains of fire, I liked the silhouette. 1/200, f/2, ISO 1600 
Dancing with fiery hoops. 1/200, f/2, ISO 1600

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