Canon DSLRs are designed to give photographers the ultimate in flexibility and one of the prime ways that they can be adapted to suit individual shooting situations is by utilising their extensive custom function options. Richard Goldsmith talks to wedding photographers Eamonn O'Boyle and Donovan Torres about how they have personalised their Canon DSLRs to give themselves that extra advantage on 'the big day'.
Every photographer is an individual and, thanks to the custom functions that are built into the current range of Canon DSLRs, the cameras they use can be every bit as unique as they are. The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III offers no less than 57 Custom Functions, each one of which can be set to deliver exactly the overall performance that is required. It's possible to select a particular autofocus tracking method; to expand the autofocus point; to adjust the point of focus for up to 20 lenses or to set white balance. As a photographer it's your call, and these intelligent user-adjustable settings are designed to expand functionality and greatly enhance camera usability.
In the world of wedding photography all kinds of challenges get thrown up: if you're working in a reportage style you'll need to be able to capture action with all the speed of a sports photographer. There's also every chance that you'll find yourself working in next to no lighting at times and you have to adapt to pushing ISO speeds and coping with rising noise levels. Add to this the issues of white wedding dresses in bright sunlight and dark suits in shadowy churches and the technical headaches are clear. Given the time pressures that so many wedding photographers work under there is a need for a little help at times.
After studying art and design at college Eamonn O'Boyle started his own photographic business in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland in 1986. Originally offering commercial and industrial photography Eamonn graduated towards wedding photography and this is now his main area of specialisation. His skill as a photographer who can capture the moment, while still delivering the traditional images demanded by wedding clients, has been recognised and he has been named as the Fuji Photographer of the Year on three separate occasions.
Eamonn's incisive style is based around his ability to capture the fleeting moments that define the event he's covering. Loath to set up situations, he's always looking for incidents that show those in front of his camera relaxing and acting naturally. "I always try to meet with my clients before the day so that I can gain an impression of them and a feel for their personality," he says, "which then allows me to reflect and portray this in the resulting shots. I may even arrange a pre-wedding shoot with them, which helps me to get to know them even more and to understand the kind of things I might expect during the wedding."
Eamonn uses a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and made his investment after five years using the original EOS-1Ds Mark I and then the Mark II model. The abundance of custom functions provided by the 1Ds Mark III is one of the key reasons he maintained his allegiance to the system. Another major factor was the quality of the fast EF lenses that make up his kit, and he usually takes the EF85mm f/1.2L II USM, the EF35mm f/1.4L USM, the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM and the EF200mm f/2.8L II USM lenses to his wedding shoots.
A typical shot that demonstrates Eamonn's approach and the value of custom functions is the impromptu portrait of a bride and groom larking about on a beach following their wedding. Full of vitality, this was very much a 'grab shot' as the couple relaxed before gathering themselves together for the photographs - Eamonn saw the situation developing and realised that he had just moments to take his shot.
"As luck would have it I had my EF85mm f/1.2L II USM fitted to the 1Ds Mark III," he says, "and I shot this at 1/8000sec at f/1.4 using an ISO of 100. I knew I just had to react to what was going on in front of me: had I been fiddling around with settings the moment would have been gone and it would never have been the same had I tried to set it up again."
While the location was fabulous, it also posed its own problems: it was a sunny day and the bride's white dress was reflecting the light while the groom's dark coat also needed to have some detail registered. The situation was eased by setting the 1Ds Mark III to Custom Function C.Fn II-3 (highlight tone priority), which expands the dynamic range of the highlights by one full stop, giving that vital extra bit of leeway to enable the full range of tones in this image to be properly recorded. "In a situation such as this I have that particular function enabled all the time," says Eamonn, "and when the crucial moment arose I was already ready to take the shot."
Eamonn also finds himself regularly working in low light situations where he is reluctant, or unable, to use additional lights. Once again his style revolves around his ability to shoot in a natural and relaxed way, and this often means upping the ISO speed and working with long exposures.
The shot of a wedding party celebrating with a pint of Guinness is full of the trademark O'Boyle life and exuberance and, again, it had to be grabbed in an instant. "I was shooting using the illumination that was being provided by some video lights," says Eamonn, "and I had the 1Ds Mark III set to its Tungsten pre-set to cope with this and used it in combination with my 24mm lens. The exposure here ended up being 1/140sec at f/4 and I was using an ISO setting of 800."
Because he works so regularly in low light situations Eamonn finds that Custom Function C.Fn II-1 (long exposure noise reduction), which reduces noise and improves gradation in low light environments, is a major help in his workflow. By enabling this when the action moves inside or the evening is drawing on it takes a lot out of the worry out of using really high ISO speeds. "The 1Ds Mark III delivers great low noise performance in any case," he says, "but it's always good to have that extra bit of help when you know that your client is going to be looking for the best quality in their wedding album. It's part of the process of photography moving from being an art to a craft and photographers are no longer the poor relations of those working in the traditional art forms."
He originally wanted to be a professional footballer but Donovan Torres moved into photography by chance after shooting pictures for a friend's wedding. He studied Audio Visual Technology at Stevenson College Edinburgh followed by a course in Film, Television and New Media at the University of California, Los Angeles. Finally he returned to his home of Gibraltar where he set up a photographic design studio. He now covers assignments from photojournalism to fashion, with wedding photography one of his main areas of expertise.
Donovan Torres loves the thrill of the big occasion and the chance to get involved with his local community. "It is a privilege when someone entrusts me to be their wedding photographer," he says. "At the end of the day when the food is eaten, the champagne is drunk and dresses have been put away, they will have their photographs to relive their moments of their special day. If I can do this and, for a second, make them relive those memories then I have done my job and I am happy."
A regular Canon SLR user over several years, Donovan is currently working with an EOS-1Ds and a 30D, with a 20D as back up. "I started out with Canon film SLRs such as the AE1, the EOS-1NV, the EOS 600 and the EOS 5," he says. "Over time it was a natural progression for me to move into the digital arena with Canon equipment and I've felt totally at home with the 1D ever since I first used it and, together with the 30D, these cameras offer me the best combination of resolution, colour accuracy and low noise that I could possibly wish for."
The style Donovan works in revolves around the use of available light wherever possible, and he uses fast EF lenses such as the EF50mm f/1.2L USM, the EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM, the EF24-70 f/2.8L USM, the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. "I use these lenses for their pristine sharpness, their build quality and reliability," he says. "They allow me to work unobtrusively and with the light that's around. I usually set ISO speeds between 100 and 1600, but if light starts to become scarce I can go faster than that if I need to."
Over the years Donovan has come to rely on Custom Functions to make sure that his love of available light is fully catered for by the cameras he's using. On the EOS 30D he uses the C.Fn 08 setting to expand his ISO range so that it can rise from the default setting of ISO 1600 up to 3200 if required, and he leaves this on all the time so that this safety net is available whenever it's required. "I hate to use a flash unless I really have to," he says, "and at times the really high ISO speeds are the only way to go."
The second custom function that is used regularly on both the EOS 30D and the EOS-1Ds is C.Fn 16, which is a Safety Shift in Av or Tv. This essentially means that if you've selected a shutter speed in Tv mode or an aperture in Av mode and the light isn't right to get a correct exposure with that setting, the camera will be 'smart' enough to change your chosen value to get the right exposure. For example, if you've selected a fast shutter speed and the light is too low for even the maximum aperture to provide a correct exposure, the camera will adapt and select a slower shutter speed rather than give you an underexposed image.
"Once again I keep this enabled on the camera at all times," says Donovan. "Sometimes the light levels during the first dance will change as the DJ decides to use a spotlight and then change to another source, and using the custom function means that I'll still be able to find a suitable exposure."
Wedding photography is one of those full-on, fast moving areas where every ounce of concentration needs to be expended on capturing the moment, not deliberating over technical matters. By having the ability through custom functions to fine-tune an EOS camera by using custom functions to meet their precise requirements wedding photographers can give themselves an advantage that could ultimately prove to be crucial.