Today I found myself in a very impromptu situation.
My company reserved a hotel ballroom to brief employees on the progress half way past the FY. Since it was not exactly a big event, there no was photographer officially engaged to capture the scene. Except, I happened to be carrying my digital SLR camera. It was no surprise when I was asked to snap a few pictures when our retiring area president was presented with gifts from the senior management.
Here is the problem - I only picked up photography last month after purchasing the camera from the IT Show. And my first subjects of interest had long been still objects. A disaster in the asking? Nonetheless I took up the "assignment" and made nearly 200 snaps.
The results have been less than spectacular. In fact most pictures are unusable; simply too shaky and blur. Photoshop may be able to correct colour and lighting, but there is no way to save motion blur due to my weak arms. How did they end up in this state anyway? Because I broke a basic rule of photography
The slowest shutter speed of a lens without inducing camera shake is approximately 1 / focal-length.
I fitted my Canon EOS 450D with the EF 50mm f/1.8 Mk II. It does not have IS (Image Stabiliser). So in order to get a steady shot, the shutter speed should have slowed down at most to around 1/50 or 1/60. But hey, I am equipped with the 430 EX Mk II external flash, set to a fixed sync rate of 1/200. No problem!
Here is the problem - the ceiling of the ballroom is not flat. It is highly irregular in shape and I was really facing difficulty figuring out the correct compensation at the correct angle for the position I was standing away from the people on stage. For every movement to a new angle of perspective, I had to reconfigure the settings and tilt all over again. What was somewhat close to satisfactory lighting in one photo became too dark or overbathed in light for the next. The uneven ceiling was simply bouncing light in unpredictable paths.
That was when my frustration got the better of me and I turned off the flash altogether and decided to go "natural" mode to capture the ambience lighting in its original mood. And that was the moment I sub-consciously forgot about the shutter speed dropping below the recommended limit for a non-IS lens. Why did I not notice this on the preview LCD screen? It was just too small to properly observe the finer details.
Thus the mantra: You are never steadier than your flash. Don't ever give it up in low-lighting + free-hand conditions. Especially when fast action and moments are happening.
Despite the unsatisfactory photos, I am so glad I agreed to the phototaking request. How else would I have gained these valuable first-hand lessons? (yes yes, take photography classes.) Even though I was not confident of it, the experience opportunity was right there; the only way to improve is simply to snap away; the higher my shutter count, the better. This is probably an "expensive" price to pay, but I would have been worse off had I refused to whip out my camera.
It is preferable to capture bad photos and gain experience than to not snap at all and learn nothing.