Covenant Service at Christchurch – Lighting Notes when shooting an event

Andy    January 5, 2020

A few weeks before Christmas Christchurch approached Hitchin Camera Club asking for some help with a photo of the entire congregation as part of their Covenant Service. So on the 5th January, I attended church to take the photo for them.

As with any photographic assignment it’s always worth checking with the person in charge. So on arrival I sought out my contact, and then spoke to Val Reid who took over as Minister on the 1st September last year. Val was happy for me to take some images during the service, so long as I didn’t use flash and didn’t shoot the taking of communion, which I was happy to work with.

Working with available light

Available light photography indoors is always a bit tricky and although I could have asked for the stage lights to be put on (again always arrive early and talk to the DJ, sound engineer or lighting engineer – they can be really useful contacts) there was enough light to get by, and if I shot at ISO 1600 I was able to get f5.6 at 1/45th which was just enough, however I’d given myself a couple of helping hands…

Using a Monopod
I’d brought a monopod with me so even when shooting “zoomed-in” I knew I’d be able to hold the camera steady.

Using a Fast Lens
When I was choosing my kit I’d chosen an f2.8 standard lens, but had a f1.4 30mm prime lens in my bag as a back-up. The 2 extra stops would have been really useful if the light was poor.

Taking the formal Group shot
Once it came to the formal photo of the congregation I was able to use flash, so I used 2 speedlights with shoot through umbrellas. With 2 powerful flashes even shooting a really large group (130 people), I was able to drop the ISO to 400. I kept the other settings more or less the same but closed the aperture to f6.7 to give me little more depth of field and sharpness out of the lens since I knew detail would be important. Although shutter speed is more or less irrelevant for flash photography a 1/45th second allowed me to capture some of the ambient light reducing the starkness of the flashes without risking blurring due to camera shake.

What was unusual was that the church provided me a “step-ladder operator”, to make sure I was safe while shooting the group, which was a nice touch, especially since I needed to move the ladder back 3 times! Even with a 17mm lens (equivalent to a 24mm) getting everyone in was a struggle.

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Using 2 off camera flashes

The Story of the Silver Birch
The final part of the event was a tree planting ceremony. Even though we were now outside the light was quite poor, so I used one of my speedlights off-camera as the key light. This way I avoided having a plain white sky by under exposing for the ambient (day) light, and then used the flash to get not only the exposure I wanted on the subject but some modelling from the lighting as well.

Mixing flash and daylight

After the event I was chatting to one of the parishioners who told me the story of the Silverbirch.

When Christchurch was formed 50 years ago, it came out of 3 separate churches who decided to merge, and one of the old church’s was built where BM is now, in Brand Street.
Before the church was demolished someone noticed a Silver Birch sapling growing in one of the roof gutters. The builders retrieved the sapling and planted it in the grounds of the church, where it stands to this day and gives the Silver Birch part of the church it’s name!

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Val Reid with the old and new Silver Birches