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by garik

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I take some halfway decent photos and have been asked by a family friend to photograph her daughter's christening. I have a Canon EOE350D camera, a 50mm f/1.8 lens and an 18-55mm f/5.6 kit lens, but no flash other than the one that's built-in to the camera. I've also got a tripod and a remote release cable.

I don't want to let my friend down; nor do I want to spend the afternoon taking photos only to have a mere handful that are actually of any use.

Given my limited equipment, are there any tips and/or tricks that I can use to make sure that I give myself the best chance possible for getting some good photos on the day?

ETA: there are some great suggestions below - I can't accept them all as the 'correct' answer and I don't have the rep to upvote them all either. Thanks though!

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

For tips you could start with the generic: What are your easiest beginner tips?

Specific Event Tips

For your specific situation, I would recommend scouting the location at the same time of day that the christening is. Do this so you can have an idea of the lighting conditions and also give yourself some ideas of possible locations to shoot. Take some shots and get an idea of the shutter speed/ISO/aperture requirements of the location. The ambient lighting may differ on the day of the event, but this will at least give you a basis.

I wouldn't spend too much time with a tripod or shutter release. The subjects will be moving and you will want to move as well. You might use it for 1 or 2 shots but I wouldn't unless the rules of the event location require you to sit at the back the whole time anyways.

I am guessing that due to the limited lighting in most churches and the fact that you won't be using a flash - it will be a necessity to use the wide aperture of the 50mm f/1.8. Be careful not to use it for group shots at f/1.8 though, you will lose focus on quite a few people unless it is a very small 1-2 person group. You can narrow the aperture to f/4 or so to help with group shots.

I've been to two different types of christenings. Ones that take place during the mass when the church is full and ones that take place after. If you are doing it during the mass, it will be significantly harder, due to the limitations likely put on you. This might be why a longer telephoto lens would be needed, but that you don't have. But if it is after the mass and church is over, it is usually very easy to move around and get the angles you desire. This way is usually much more laid back.

Additional Info

You may also find topics for shooting wedding photography useful, although I would consider taking them with only partial consideration as I do not think a christening is nearly as big of an undertaking:

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"a very small 1-2 person group" ;) Maybe make that "a very small 2-3 person group"...I'd call 1 person an individual, 2+ people a group. –  jrista Feb 21 '13 at 3:40
    
@jrista Well I don't consider the newborn a person since they aren't standing and taking up space. So 1 person + newborn is very common. Whatever. –  dpollitt Feb 21 '13 at 15:03

One tip would be to use second curtain flash, which is available on your 350D.

Second tip, shoot in raw and jpeg.

Third tip, it is better to underexpose than to get a blurry photo. You can bring it back a bit in post.

Fourth tip, take control of the situation, insist on posing them, so that you can get your photo. No one likes photos of people's backs.

Fifth, try talking it over with your friend to determine what photos are most important for them.

Sixth, ensure the people from the church are ok with you taking photos and acsertain what you can and can't snap.

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A lot would depend on the lighting conditions at the ceremony. If it is practical and you can gain access a few days before the event, visit the church and test your equipment and skill in getting good photos in that setting. Many churches do not allow the use of flash during a religious service, so be aware you may have to use existing light. Take a volunteer model if possible.

Take plenty of photos before and after the actual ceremony. Try do do these in more ideal lighting conditions. These will help fill out the ceremony if your keeper ratio there is not as high as you would like.

Just because you are in poor lighting doesn't automatically mean you should use the widest aperture on your EF 50mm f/1.8 lens. Stop down enough to get enough depth of field to include everything you need to be in focus.

While noise from using a high ISO is not desirable, it is better than blur from too slow a shutter speed. Shoot at the ISO you must to get the shutter speeds you need and deal with the noise in post processing.

Save your photos as RAW files. You will have much more latitude to adjust White Balance and Exposure in post processing. In a pinch you can also under expose a stop or so and then push the exposure back up in post.

Use the correct metering mode for the shooting conditions. Evaluative works well for many situations, but if there is a large difference between your subject and the background, consider using partial or even spot metering if available on your camera.

If the lighting conditions are beyond your gear's capability, consider renting a high quality lens. If the EF 50mm f/1.8 is not the focal length you need get a fast lens that is. If there is no camera specialty store in your area that rents lenses, try LensRentals.com or borrowlenses.com. Both are reputable and offer fast delivery when needed. The earlier you order, the better the shipping rate will be.

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In addition to the other answers:

You don't say what your camera is, which can make a big difference, nor how much light is available.

If there is good daylight present it may be usable without flash.
A well lit area, using eg tungsten halogen or even good levels of fluorescent, will allow a f/1.8 lens to acquire some very reasonable results at high enough ISO. If you can tolerate results at 800 ISO or even 1600 it may be enough for what you want - lower ISO's will be too motion prone if lighting is not superb.

If you have a Minolta or Sony the 2+ stops of in body stabilisation will allow usefully lower shutter speeds in this sort of task - so subject motion then becomes what matters most.

On-camera flash can often have a cheap (even $0 DIY) diffuser or spreader added which greatly helps overcome the on-axis point source bright spot of the flash.

A f/1.8 lens is marvellous with respect to light gathering and low depth of field capabilities but very inflexible in accommodating a dynamically changing scene. It will be much easier to get images that include what you want to across the course of the ceremony using the 18-55mm than using the 50mm.

Many 18-55mm kit lenses will not disgrace you in this sort of context if you are not expecting miracles. Used well they can usually turn out results which all but professionals or close equivalent think look like they were taken by professionals. If you can afford to hire a superior lens you may wish to do so, but I'd expect to be able to produce photos that were as good as all but photographic perfectionists wanted using the 18-55mm kit lens. This will of course mean good lighting or flash or lots of skill and luck is needed with exposure times.

Knowing in advance what sort of result you are liable to get is key in getting what you expect. If you know you can achieve what you want to achieve you can still fail - but if you have no good idea of what the results are going to be like then you can not reasonably be disappointed when they are disappointing. It should be quite easy to set up a test shoot of an equivalent situation and practice a little.

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Sorry, I should have mentioned that my camera is an EOS 350D. A bit long in the tooth, admittedly, but there's no reason it shouldn't get the job done if I do mine properly! –  Dermot Williams Feb 21 '13 at 12:04

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