On-Location Pragmatism

June 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Mimi Cry | Live @ Rancho Relaxo - Mar 2014Selecting the right gear, when you are on-location is an absolute MUST!

I was confronted with an interesting conundrum when shooting MimiCry live and direct at Rancho Relaxo in Toronto last night.

How could i capture the essence of a high-energy live performance with a tight stage (read: one of the smallest in Toronto) with poor lighting (read: some of the worst stage lighting in Toronto)?

I had to be pragmatic. I had to push the gear to the max. And I wasn't comfortable with it, nor sure of the results. I suppose, that is one of the more difficult challenges a photographer can face. Don't get me wrong - I love Rancho Relaxo - it's intimacy creates one seriously cool vibe - and it is, in fact, one of the more popular venues in Toronto to see a live band.

I was all set to shoot with my big Canon 24-105 F4 L with a Canon 430 EX II Speedlite - when some alarm bells rang in my ear. As a musician myself, I am used to seeing flashbulbs go off when on stage - but they can be distracting. Add into the mix - that I know all of the rockers in MimiCry; I didn't want to divert their attention from the performance (they had some big A&R agents from The Feldman Group come out to scope them out) - so I had to go way outside my comfort zone as a shooter. 

The 24-105 F4 L is indeed one of Canon's best, and sharpest lenses. Problem is, in low light, you have to crank the ISO to accommodate for the slow glass. I just couldn't get it right, and felt like I was in deep trouble. But, in keeping with the notion of not distracting the band - which as a photographer, a big NO-NO - I opted to change tacts and bust out my Canon "Nifty 50", aka the "Plastic Fantastic". I opted to shoot with Canon's cheapest lens, on full manual focus (side note: the autofocus on most 50mm lenses, for some reason is not very good) - wide open, at F1.8, and at 1600 ISO. For those of you who have one of these lenses, you know just how small the focus ring is on it. It is practically the width of two coins. Very small.

This gave me a little bit more flexibility with the available light, and quickly became a task of "how fast can I focus this really tiny lens in an ever-changing" situation. Shooting with a prime is polar-opposite of shooting with a zoom - as YOU are the zoom. Quick thinking on my feet gave me the conditions I needed to conduct a fairly good and productive shoot. 50 selects out of 269 images. Most of them on burst mode, capturing 4-8 shots in a single burst.

The moral of the story is simple: be pragmatic. Sometimes, you have to compromise to achieve a (more) optimal shooting situation. Always bring an alternate kit with you in case you need it. In this case, a $119 dollar lens, beat out a $1799 lens in its practicality. While not the best lens available, by any stretch of the word - it DID do it's job, and changed my opinion of how you need to adapt to the situation regardless of how much you know the location, or how much planning you do.


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