I've been asked to take pics of the 2nd annual Youth Film Festival in a tiny town. There are only 4 entrants. I've advised my friend/organizer that I have no experience (I almost always shoot only macro). There will only be one other photographer, also an amateur, he has no flash and a 14-45mm. I do have an SB-700 speedlight and plan to use it on-camera as I do not have a PW. But should I use my 90mm F2.8 macro lens and concentrate on half length portraits or should I duplicate the other photog and use my 18-55mm F3.5 kit lens or my 55-300mm F4.5.

What scares me about this is that there will be no opportunity to think through the composition, (although I can get access to the red carpet award area for a short time before the contestants and parents arrive). The other thing that is scary is that the only other 2 times I attempted anything remotely similar - one housewarming and one cultural festival - everything was underexposed and there was way too much "noise". This time the ceilings will be high again and the walls wood so I'm not sure how much help the flash will be.

  • Maybe you can use your camera's auto-bracketing function if you are concerned that exposure may be incorrect. – RedGrittyBrick May 9 '15 at 23:18

What lens you chose really depends on two things; what composition you desire and the space you have to shoot in. I can't tell you the answer to either.

Since you have a bit of time to adjust your shot before the guests arrive I think that the best answer is to simply take advantage of that. Bring a friend along who can stand in position and try out your lens options for a few minutes. Make sure to dial in your desired exposure parameters at the same time and take a mental note of what works well with your selected lens.

If I personally was shooting something like this I would choose a 24-70mm lens to start out with but would likely also bring something like a 16-35mm and a 70-200mm in case the situation required them. I shoot with a full frame camera and you might shoot with a crop sensor that requires a crop factor so keep that in mind. (See: What is crop factor and how does it relate to focal length?)

As for the flash yes I would certainly plan on using it on camera or if possible with an off camera cord and a stroboframe type bracket.

Finally, if you have had issues with too much grain in the past, what ISO were those shots at? I'm not sure what camera body you have but to reduce noise you should add lighting(which it sounds like you plan to) and also shoot at the lowest ISO that produces the exposure you desire. Something in the range of ISO 100-800 is a good place to start without more info. In the 1600+ range on some recent DSLRs can be an issue.

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  • Thanks for the suggestions. However, I don't have the lenses you mention and no one to borrow them from. Neither do I have a full-frame camera - mine is a Nikon D3100, (which is a crop sensor), nor an off camera cord or bracket for the light. I do have an idea of what works well for my macro shots which is what I mainly do but these candid type of shots had me worried. – Schrodinger May 6 '15 at 16:23
  • The point of my answer is not to only answer your narrow situation but rather to share information that can be used and applied to both you and others in a similar but different situation. You may need to do some simple math to take the focal lengths I suggested and apply them to your situation for example. You may also need to consider the equipment I mentioned that you don't own, and why I would use it to see if you can achieve similar results with equipment you do own(why a flash bracket? For example). – dpollitt May 6 '15 at 17:05
  • Overall, I want you to know why I answered like this and am looking for you to apply a bit of knowledge to the situation. I think you can do it! – dpollitt May 6 '15 at 17:05

In general, fixed focal length lenses are critical, if you are unsure about the distance to the subject you want to capture.

So if you cannot choose the distance arbitrarily or if the subject is moving fast towards the camera, you are likely to have trouble using your 90mm F2.8 though it is the best lens for bad light conditions.

If you want to shoot portraits, then your focal width should be around 90mm (but keep in mind the crop factor of your camera (which is 1.5x for your camera I guess). Though a focal length in the range for 55-65mm would be sufficient for portrait photography.

If you are going to shoot full body portraits, I would go for the 18-55mm lens, since a focal length in the range of 30-40mm might be good.

As conclusion: Given your three lenses, the 18-55mm would be good for the most purposes since F3.5 is not as bad as F4.5 and if you can get close enough to your subject, you have enough flexibility due to the zoom.

Mostly, light conditions should not be that bad at such events, but if so: Maybe you want to use a light bouncer or light former for your flash to soften the light without having walls or a celling.

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  • I'm so confused by this answer. Why is a fixed focal length lens critical for this type of shot? Why would a red carpet style shot have the subject moving fast? – dpollitt May 3 '15 at 12:00
  • Not fast, but in some cases faster than the photographer is able to move. As I said: If the photographer is able to choose his distance to the subject arbitrarily, i.e. if there are no constraints, a fixed focal length lens might be fine since the photographer can move himself freely in order to choose the perfect image composition. Otherwise, a zoom lens provides much more flexibility to choose the field of view. – TobiasMende May 3 '15 at 12:40
  • Ok maybe I'm just confused by your grammar and word usage. Even so, I am doubtful a 90mm lens(especially on a crop sensor) is going to be all that useful at a small event such as this. If there was a crowd of photographers it would be useful, or if the "carpet" was long and you wanted shots of guests moving across it, but this event doesn't sound like that. – dpollitt May 3 '15 at 12:43
  • Thank you both for your observations. I think it was more a panic reaction by someone/me who is used to and likes having total control over the shot and lots of time to arrange things the way I want them. Fortunately the organizer has a solution. She got two other people to help - one woman with a smartphone and one with a Pentax DSLR (which he only knows how to shoot on auto) and he has a 14-45mm lens. So those two will take care of group & full-length shots on the red carpet and I will be free to move around for half-length and head-shots and food etc. Everyone's happier. – Schrodinger May 6 '15 at 16:57

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