It was on last Monday night that I received an unexpected call from a friend, John Wong (who blogs regularly using Olympus gear too), inviting me as the photographer for his second wedding anniversary dinner with his beautiful wife, Aarynn, the following Tuesday night. I hesitated in the first place because I would not want to be the "third person" while the lovely couple were having their romantic dinner, but once John explained that I will be joined by two more friends, a professional pianist and a female vocalist, I immediately agreed to the invitation.
The dinner was held in a really cosy and fully private dining place called the Art Cafe in Petaling Jaya. I have not been to the dining venue before, hence I did not know what to expect in terms of lighting and other shooting conditions (space/constraints). Therefore, I decided to just go with the flow, and brought along my primary shooting gear: Olympus DSLR E-5, together with 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, 50mm F2 and the external flash FL-36R.
It was quite a challenge for this particular shooting session. Lighting wise, the entire dining room was lit with only two primary source of light: the tungsten wall light, and a floor-stand lamp, both producing very warm, incandescent colors. It was very dim, and to make matters worse, the strong uneven orange color cast from the lighting was not favorable for my shooting.
Initially I intended to shoot everything with available light only. However, after a few quick trials, I decided that the available light was not the best solution for the night for the following reasons:
1) Even at F2.8 and F2 large apertures, boosting ISO up to 1600-2000 (I do not intend to stretch too far beyond 1600 on my E-5), the shutter speed required was still below 1/20-30 seconds, not sufficiently fast for my usual comfortable shooting, which would need at least 1/60 seconds or faster.
2) The strong warm color cast was disastrous to the skin tone. Even when I customized the white balance setting, the skin tone was not really looking as pleasing as what I wanted to produce in mind. Worse, the lighting was uneven, casting strong shadows in some direction which can be quite ugly.
Therefore, I decided to employ the external flash to counter the unfavorable shooting condition. With the flash, I pointed the head upwards to the white ceiling, allowing full bounce flash, providing very even illumination to my subjects. I did not use any diffuser on my flash, I used direct bounce off the ceiling, and the overall outcome was a lot pleasurable to look at in comparison with shooting with solely the available light.
Shooting at ISO1000-1250, at shutter speed varying from 1/60 to 1/100 seconds (at widest aperture of course) I managed to accomplished good balance between the ambient lighting with the fill in bounce flash. It has always been a challenge to blend in the additional/artificial light from the flash with the available light. If the flash output came out too heavily intense, the ambient light would have been killed off, rendering a very unnatural looking photograph. It was crucial to ensure that the exposure from both flash and ambient light were blending in together at just the right amount, thus the only way to fully accomplish this is to either slow down the shutter speed, or increase the ISO sensitivity. I dare not pull the shutter speed lower than 1/60 seconds in fear of motion blur due to the subject movement or even my own hand shake. ISO1000 seems to be just right for this situation.
I understand that such simple bounce flash technique and pulling the shutter were nothing fancy or special, but it worked well, and it was suitable for this session. Professional photographers would suggest the use of extra strobes, or multiple wireless flashes placed at different locations of the room, fired through large softbox or umbrellas to provide that glowing, flawless and glamorous studio lighting effect. I cannot argue that using such lighting setup would have accomplished far greater image quality, because you have full control of your light. But surely, you must admit, for a personal wedding anniversary dinner, such complicated setup is an overkill. Being too intrusive is not really something preferable for on location shoots, and working with minimal equipments is a very important trait to be mastered.
Joy (Pianist), Celine (Vocalist), Christian (owner and chef), Aarynn and John
The Art Cafe, the location for the dinner was a hidden gem in Petaling Jaya !! Operated by the charismatic Christian Lai, who single-handedly run the show the whole night, serving and preparing everything from start to finish, including preparations and cooking of all dishes served that night. I cannot help it but marvel at his capabilities of making everything happen. The food that was served that night, was one of the best European food I have had in a long, long time. Seriously, if you guys want to have quality dining experience, and some great quality European food, please please give the Art Cafe a try. I assure you will surely love the food and the private, comfortable dining experience.
The Art Cafe
97, Jalan SS2/74, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Contact: Christian Lai (+6 010-2045295)
To John and Aarynn, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to be your photographer for the dinner. I have enjoyed myself thoroughly. I wish you both abundant happiness and never-ending blessings, always.