A Comedy of Errors

No, not “The Comedy of Errors”, but a comedy of my own errors.

For those with short attention spans, let me fill you in on what errors I’m going to cover:

  1. Camera Settings of having both RAW (14 bit) and JPG writing to your memory card for each shot during a sporting event instead of a single RAW 12 bit only. Huge slowdown in the camera speed.
  2. Shooting with flash and a shutter of 400 when my flash sync speed is 250. It produced and area of darkness on my frame that was hard to figure out during the shoot.

Error Number 1:

There was no quality effect on the photos, I just couldn’t take as many as I wanted.
Nikon D700 1/2500th F4.5 ISO 360 105mm (Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII)

The really could have been two articles, but I decided to stick it into one article since its the same topic to me. Bad camera settings and not paying attention. Simply forgetting at the time of a shoot to go down the full mental checklist.

I had two shoots planned on this Saturday. One in the morning, one in the evening, but I should have realized bad mojo was in the air. It was a pretty tough Saturday overall and not ending until way past midnight.

When I went to shoot the Children’s Museum of NH 5K race my plan was like normal. Get near the starting line, spray and prey as all the runners pass by trying to focus on select runners.  I also wanted to get some panning shots and other interesting shots. No surprise here. I sat on the curb, dialed in my manual race settings (Manual with a fixed shutter, aperture and a floating ISO so the camera would manage exposure for me). My shutter was fast enough that I also turned off Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization on my camera. This was going to also be a one lens shoot since I was simply using it for skills development and I chose my Nikon 70-200 VR-II.

Everything was going swimmingly as the herd of runners came around the corner.  I started snapping away until I pushed my shutter and nothing would happen.  My buffer was full and I was waiting for my camera to write to the memory card. It was painstaking slow as hundreds of runners were passing by.  A soon as the buffer emptied by one, I fired another shot and had to wait again. I was shooting at the write speed of the card.

I distinctly remember trying to figure out what was wrong. I remember saying to myself that I remember my D90 being faster. The d90 is a great camera, but my D700 is know for its ability to shoot sports. Then it dawned on me, I had left the camera in 14 bit lossless compressed RAW with a medium resolution JPG also being written to the card.   Oooppphhhh! I was committed at this point, no way out. I couldn’t stop for the 45 seconds it would take and simply get into the menu systems to change it. Crap!  But really, could that be the problem that was making it this slow?

I got through the pack of runners and had time to work towards the finish line.  I changed the settings to 12 bit lossless RAW compressed with no JPG file.  I started shooting again and it was blazingly fast like I am accustomed to.

So what happened? I think the second JPG copy is what actually happened as opposed to 12 bit vs 14 bit.  The 14bit is about 15% larger file wise, but the addition of a medium jpg file also requires the camera to process and build a new jpg with whatever settings I have it cooking into it.

Moral of the story? Check you settings before an event, then recheck them. Now to give myself some credit, I don’t normally shoot RAW and JPG, but I do flip back and forth between 12 and 14 bit RAW files.

Error Number 2:

Notice the horizontal dark area starting right around the horses nostril and extending to the bottom of the frame.
Nikon D700 1/400th F5 ISO 800 112mm (Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII)

Watch your sync speed.  My D700 has a max shutter speed of 1/250th with a flash. Read my article with photos showing the effect. In a nutshell, imagine your shutter is a slit that runs across your sensor. At speeds of less than the sync speed 1/250th the slit is larger than the sensor. When you exceed your shutter speed the slit is narrow and only exposes a part of the sensor for the time you have set your speed to. Meaning that at any given time part of the sensor is covered with part of the shutter and the open part will only last for the shutter speed you set. When your flash goes off it exposes the entire sensor all at once for a very short duration (ie 1/8000th of a second) including any part of the sensor covered by the shutter. Ambient light on the other hand is on the entire time, so for ambient light the entire sensor will will eventually get exposed. Make sense? If not read up on it, its important if you are going to use a DSLR and a flash.

Look at the example below of the flowers. You’ll see that at 1/400ths only the top 3/4ths of the frame is exposed by the flash. The bottom 1/4th is exposed by ambient since it was covered when the flash went off.

Now imagine in my horse picture that my flash is only exposing the top 3/4ths of the image, while ambient (not flash) is exposing the entire image. If you compare the flowers and the horse you’ll start to see exactly where the flash wasn’t working.

Manual Flash – 1/400th f6.3 iso400 (Exceeding Sync Speed of 1/250th)

In the case of the model and horse it was not obvious to me while it was happening. I knew something was wrong, because on several of the shots in my LCD I couldn’t seem to manage the darkness of the horse in the shadows. There was enough ambient that it wasn’t an obvious black bar, but it was missing that special splash of light on the lower section.  Though wasn’t able to put that line of thinking together at the time of shooting.  It wasn’t until later that I had that duhh moment. Sigh… So there you have it. Nothing like experience.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reduce Spam, fill out the math question below to post your comment. This keeps me from needing to require you to register as a user first, thus making it easy: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.