RLJ is a corporation that found me through another client that I've done work for. I've covered their party in the past and this year I had the honor of being called back to cover their holiday festivities at the International Spy Museum in DC.
A black-tie event, it fit the venue. Everyone was dressed to the nines and looked amazing. It truly felt as if a bunch of spies gathered in a speakeasy to discuss world events and happenings. It was definitely an interesting feel and I decided to choose a more retro look to my final images in order to help capture that sort of retro mystique that the venue and attire offered.
I arrived and plopped my rolling bag down in the main dinner room and scoped out the venue. A bit cramped, low light and lots of brown/black colors surrounded most of the rooms on the second floor. I decided that the XH-1 and primes were the way to go with the majority of the event, however the 50-140 would see some action during the dinner and speeches. I pulled out my Billingham shoulder bag so as to be more mobile and filled it with the 23/1.4, Zeiss 12/2.8, 50/2, XH-1 and a small Godox 350F flash. Since not many people had arrived when I did, I had time to scope the other rooms of the venue and see what they offered for future reference. While scoping the rooms I was able to get a few shots of the environment without outside interference for some cool detail shots.
Environmental Shot - XH-1, Zeiss 12mm @ f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/8th sec
Environment Shot - XH-1, Zeiss 12mm @ f/3.2, ISO3200, 1/2500 sec
As guests began to arrive, they congregated around the second bar area and hallway. It was a tight fit with everyone in there, it must have been around 80 people in one small area and hallway and I decided that the 50/2 would be a good choice to capture some incognito portraits and use other folks' heads and bodies as framing devices. You can see this in action here with a shot of the first woman looking rather sly and the second smiling while talking with her colleagues.
Portrait - 50mm @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/30 sec
Portrait - 50mm @f/2, ISO3200, 1/60 sec
The third shot was another opportunity to capture the ghostly feel of spies, moving through the packed crowd that imbues a sense of movement, of ghostly transition. I slowed my shutter speed down dramatically and moved the camera around whilst actuating the shutter to capture the smeared movement and used the Godox flash to freeze the subject, ever so slightly. During the final edit, I went back and forth trying to capture a certain feel for this one, trying black and white, a warmer more inviting tone and also tried more of a cool color spectrum and in the end, ultimately ended up cross-processing it to be both warm on bottom where the subject lay and cool up on the top portion of the shot where the less important bits, the ceiling, was. This one really reminds me of the Bourne series movies during Jason's flashbacks.
Portrait - Zeiss 12 @ f/3.6, ISO3200, ¼ sec, flash
I also captured some employee mingling during this cocktail hour time, trying to capture a sort of "secret meeting" feel to keep up with the theme I had going.
Portrait - 50 @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/30 sec
Portrait - 50 @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/60 sec
Portrait - 50 @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/60 sec
Another cool thing about this venue was the cramped, detail packed hallways that littered the secondary area. The Spy Museum definitely has that authenticity thing on lockdown, with little cabinets that displayed old cathode tv sets, medical supplies and knicknacks, all harkening back to the history of spies and covert operations.
Detail Shot - 23 @ f/1.6, ISO3200, 1/250 sec
Detail Shot - 50 @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/60 sec
As folks finished up cocktail hour, they funneled into the main dining area. I too, made my way to the main area, looking for opportunities for photographs. As I stood on the walkway across from the frosted glass panes of the dining room, I saw another opportunity. I was probably about three to four meters away from the glass.
I really wanted three people in this shot to add context to the photograph and it was simply one of those times where patience was a virtue as I waited to get the framing and context just right, the way I saw it in my head. Eventually though, it came together and this image perfectly captured the mysterious retro spy-vibe I had going for the first portion of the event.
Portrait - 50 @ f/2, ISO3200, 1/250 sec
Dinner was a buffet style meal and during this time people took the opportunity to play some games that were available, mingle some more with friends and coworkers and grab some more drinks. This was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the Zeiss 12mm to really draw the viewer into the scene and imbue some context into the games. When grabbing some of the more distant portraits, I snapped on the 50-140 f/2.8 and enabled the XH-1's IBIS for some further shake reduction on my end since the light basically amounted to candlelight in the main dining area. I was able to lower my ISO here due to street lights streaming in from windows lining an entire side of the venue which was welcome. The color cast of those yucky yellow lights however, wasn't playing in my favor. Here, I simply used custom white balance with a full-CTO gelled flash to correct the yellow street lights and left it as is for the remainder of my time in this room. Easy peasy since the light was so constant.
Portrait - Zeiss 12 @ f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/15 sec
Portrait - 50-140 @ 50mm f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/30 sec
Portrait - 50-140 @ 140mm f/2.8, ISO2000, 1/50 sec
Portrait - 50/140 @ 90mm f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/15 sec
Portrait - 50-140 @ 129mm f/2.8, ISO1600, 1/30 sec
After dinner, speeches were made and gifts were handed out via a raffle system. I ended up switching to the 16-55 for the versatility. I situated myself near the raffle area and expected folks to walk towards me when they were called to claim their prizes, and I handled this more or less like I typically handle a wedding procession. I popped the XH-1 into continuous AF, enabled medium burst mode of 5 frames per second and bumped up my ISO again to retain shutter speed and it all worked as expected. I also lowered my flash power a bit to compensate for the distance that was lost due to my movement closer towards my subjects. We didn't want to blow out those beautiful faces now, did we?
During editing, I wanted more of a punchy black and white more than I wanted to continue the whole retro trend I'd been on for the past few scenes. I felt as if this rendered more of a 'classy-corporate' feel to these sets of images so I went with it. More contrasty blacks, brighter more vibrant whites and less shadow tones were my focus here. I also bumped up sharpening a hair to add more punch.
Portrait - 16-55 @ 55mm f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/60 sec
16-55 @ 55mm f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/50 sec
Portrait - 50-140 @ 110mm @ f/2.8, ISO2000, 1/30 sec
At the end of the night there was more mingling and dancing with the help of an excellent DJ before everyone eventually winded down and departed. I decided to slow my shutter speed down, pop the 12mm back on and get well into the fray, much like I do at wedding receptions. Here, I pointed my flash DIRECTLY at my subject facing forward and lowered my shutter speed to ⅛ - 1/15th of a second. This essentially creates two separate exposures, one being the ambient light that the camera lets in and another that the flash creates. Balancing these in various ways can lead to different effects. Some shots I wanted a more natural feel, others I wanted super crazy blurry backgrounds so I was riding my shutter speed and aperture a lot to compensate for the effect I wanted to create.
At times, I was even standing on chairs to get a higher angle as I normally do. (Short dudes have it hard, am I right?) Luckily, these guys are a festive bunch so it only added to the action!
Portrait - Zeiss 12mm @ f/2.8, ISO3200, ⅛ sec, flash
Portrait - Zeiss 12mm @ f/2.8, ISO2000, 1/15 sec, flash
Overall, it was a great event and I'm happy they called me to cover the event again. Always a pleasure covering their parties because they always have such interesting themes and decorations that only help to add to the feeling of being immersed in an environment.
I'm happy with the results my gear was able to provide for sure, but I've recently sold the 50mm in favor of the 56 f/1,2. The idea is to cut weight and leave the 16-55 and 50-140 at home unless a job absolutely calls for it. I want to be able to cover events with at MOST, three lenses. The ideal bag for me right now is the Zeiss 12mm, the Fuji 23mm 1.4 and the 56 f/1.2.
The added weight and bulk of the pro-zooms can be a bit of an annoyance when I'm trying to work fast and travel light. They're definitely excellent lenses and I won't be parting with them, but in my opinion they are best reserved for those times where I may not have ANY time to change glass or need the superior flexibility to cover everything from 16 to 140mm with two pieces.
I have a birthday party at a brewery to shoot next weekend and a wedding in Charlottesville the following weekend so I'll definitely be putting the 56 1.2 through it's paces soon!
Thanks for reading!