Evening Photography: How to Avoid Flash

Here is a piece I wrote (and then edited by the wonderful word-smiths in D.C.) while one assignment for National Geographic Traveler Magazine. It appeared on the Traveler Web site….. It is just one of the many assignments I’ve shot and few that I’ve been asked to assist in writing for the magazine that I love!

by On Assignment

There are very few things that make me panic more than taking my cameras out in open water unprotected. This was one of those shoots. The request was to document a moonlight SUP (stand-up paddleboard) tour in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. This was going to be an interesting assignment because I hadn’t been on a stand-up paddleboard before, there was boat traffic, and it was dark, making it very hard to see and focus a camera.

Before starting out, I knew I wanted my photo to show the paddleboards glowing (they’re equipped with underwater LED lights for the nighttime tour). Because of the dark, I brought my fast lenses and placed them with the cameras in a waterproof Pelican case. With my inexperience on a paddleboard, I opted to sit and paddle, more kayak style, with the camera case in between my legs. This position worked well. I was more stable and it was easier to bump over and through the wake of the passing boats.

I knew that the use of flash would probably be necessary, but I really didn’t want my images to look overlit. Another problem was that everything was moving—I’m paddling, the subjects are paddling, we’re avoiding boat traffic, the river is flowing—and I was working up a sweat, elevating my heart rate. Normally, the way to make good evening photos is to remain still, using longer exposures and a tripod. That wasn’t an option while on the SUP tour.

The tour lasted a little over two hours. It was an out-and-back route from the downtown water taxi dock, through an exquisite neighborhood with gorgeous estates and massive yachts lining the seawalls. For my first pictures I used a flash, and while previewing them, I just wasn’t excited. The strobe diluted the glowing effect of the boards. So I put the artificial lights away and used the light coming from the estate homes and docks, making those lights my main source of illumination.

On our way back, less than 15 minutes from the end of the adventure, we passed under a bridge and rounded a corner, and there it was—the light, the glow of the city, Fort Lauderdale at its finest! Since I had decided not to use a flash, it was necessary to frame this young girl as a silhouette against the lights of the city. Her dark figure is recognizable, but the eerie glow of the under-board lights provides the primary visual point of interest.

I was sitting down with my Canon 5DIII and a 24mm f/1.4 lens around my neck; everything else was in the Pelican case. This shot was made with the lens wide open, at ISO 3200 and 1/50th of a second.

See more photos by Steven Martine on Instagram at @StevenMartine

More of my work from my adventures around Florida can be seen here: Travel Florida