Miss Matlosana 2012 Pageant

On 10 March 2012 I was contracted to do photography at the annual Miss Matlosana 2012 pageant held at Rio Casino in Klerksdorp. The event was organised by Talent Africa with proceeds going to Cancer Research in South Africa in remembrance of the late Joubert Barnard of the Your City Newspaper. The event was held in The Barnyard Theatre at Rio Casino.

The Barnyard theatre is high ceilinged theatre with high stage lighting which is mostly set up for lighting the stage, not ramps where the contestants would be walking. The front T-section of the ramp had more back lighting than front which, from a photography point of view, would require fill flash to light up the contestants properly. Since I did not really want to use on camera flash since it would cast nasty background shadows, I opted for twin flashes on high stands on either sides of the judges. The flashes were set to 1/4 power which would be enough to light up the contestants at f/4, ISO400 with a shutter speed of 1/80-1/125 without filling up the ambient light. At the back of the stage the lighting was still poor and reaching that far with the flashes meant killing the ambient light, so I pretty much avoided long range shots.

There were four categories with age groups ranging from 5-7, 8-12, 13-15 and 16+. When you are a spectator at such a pageant it seems as if things flow along at a fairly slow pace, but when you are there to do photography time seems to speed up. You know you need to get a number of great shots for the contestants and the parents and the pressure is high. Getting good photos which are in focus with no blur and correctly lit and exposed becomes a challenge with the constant motion of the contestants. If you have done photography at such an event where the lighting is very subdued you will understand how hard this becomes! It seems at times as if the contestants rush onto the ramp and rush off and you always wonder if you got enough shots.

Even with a shutter speed of 1/80 there is so much “slow” light which may be caused by strong back lighting that blurring on the edges of you subject is inevitable on some shots. “Slow” light is light which is equivalent to or stronger than the light produced by your flashes. When you have slow light motion at a slower shutter speeds (slower than 1/160) tends to add a blurring on the edges of your subjects. Since the object was to get some ambient light into the scenes the shutter speed could not be raised too high as the backgrounds would fade to black. The alternative of using the flash on the camera is unappealing as this would effectively destroy the ambient light and light up ugly backgrounds and cause strange harsh shadows in the far background.

Since the contestants are in virtual constant motion you need to keep an eye on background for “slow” lighting caused by stage lights and know where your flashe “sweet spots” are (points on the ramp or stage where your flashes fill up the light without having to compete with other light sources) and time your shots accordingly. Even with hair and dresses flowing I managed to catch great shots by timing the shots to fall within the flash sweet spots. If you are are a photographer planning on doing a ramp shoot with subdued ambient lighting then it is strongly advised you practice this with a photographer who has done it before so you can learn how the contestants move and what settings work best for your camera model. It is also advised that you use a “fast” lens.

Using an on-camera flash is an option, but this kind of photography can be done by anyone with a newer generation dSLR camera, and really flattens the look and adds harsh background shadows. Invest in a set of wireless transmitters for your flash or flashes and a set of stands to put them on and a good “fast” lens and you will soon discover the joy of light and how you can capture a scene in a whole new way.

Once you learn how to combine ambient and artificial lighting (from your flash units) you discover what photography is really all about.

Equipment used:

  • Sony A55 body with Sony 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens
  • Sony a230 body with Minolta 50mm Prime f/1.7 lens
  • 2 x GN42 flash units with remote flash triggers

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