Artifacts belonging to the Binghamton Township Historical Society, photographed for use in the "Featured Artifact" section of the BTHS website.

It’s too damn hot, even for photography, and has been for the past week.  A real heat wave that’s reduced most of us to hanging around the A/C at work or sweating into little puddles.  Even the string of (big!) thunderstorms that moved through this afternoon didn’t do anything to knock the heat down – just added some more humidity to the mix.  So in light of all that, I’m going back a few weeks to a project I shot for a non-profit, where I almost skunked myself and had to rely on technology to save me.

The images above – and the rest in this post – are artifacts belonging to the Binghamton Township Historical Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Town of Binghamton, NY.  Like most non-profits, the Society is struggling to meet its goals.  It has a museum filled with incredible artifacts, but lacks the money and help to effectively organize and display them for the public to admire.  Their biggest problem is that not enough people know about them – hence my joining in to build them a website, complete with photos.

As I’ve mentioned before, much of my family is from Binghamton, especially my mother’s side, the Maxians.  (Yeah, that’s their apple crate and brand in the photo up top.)  My grandmother is a board member in the Society and I’ve always done what I could to help them out, so the website and photo work is all donated.  My way of contributing to historic preservation.

We were up at their museum a few weeks ago, like I said, to shoot a few different elements, including a dozen artifacts for the website’s “Featured Artifact” section.  The plan was to setup a small, environmental-style studio in the museum – no backdrops, just a speedlight on a stand with an umbrella.  Good lighting is, after all, the key to making just about anything look good.

Artifacts belonging to the Binghamton Township Historical Society, photographed for use in the "Featured Artifact" section of the BTHS website.

Well, guess who the moron was who got to the museum, got it all setup, and then (and only then) realized that, gee, you can’t trigger the lights without a transmitter!  I thought I was being real careful when I packed the kit, but it never even dawned on me to think of the transmitter.  And since the E-M5 doesn’t have a built-in flash, I couldn’t use the speedlight’s optical trigger as a backup. (Note to self: start bringing the E-M5’s accessory flash to all shoots.)

So no lights.  In an old church, which is dark just like every other church, lit mainly by stained glass windows and some weak overheads.  Pretty dark.  So we’re talking about ISO 1250, f/4, and as much shutter speed as that will get me, which is usually about 1/40 or so.  The only saving grace here was that I had remembered to bring my white balance target with me, so I was able to nail the WB in camera and no lose any exposure that way later on in post.

The E-M5 is the technology that saved me, although nearly any modern camera could have done the same.  These days, high ISOs aren’t nearly as scary as they used to be and, when properly exposed, the resulting images don’t show hardly any noise degradation.  This is doubly true when the images are used online at low resolution, instead of in print.   Image stabilization, and especially the Olympus IBIS, definitely helped as well.

Artifacts belonging to the Binghamton Township Historical Society, photographed for use in the "Featured Artifact" section of the BTHS website.

Want to hear the worst part?  I had my tripod with me but forgot about it entirely until days after the shoot.  It was in the trunk of the car the whole time.  And I’m damned embarrassed to have just admitted that, never mind the rest of this.

Here’s the wrap to the whole thing – everything worked out fine.  The images look good and I’m relatively happy that they don’t have an overly studio-ish look to them.  They are environmental, which was the original intent.  They’ll look good on the website too and will hopefully help generate some interest in the museum and Society as a whole.  And perhaps most importantly, I was able to keep shooting and make the gig work, without looking like a fool in front of my grandmother.

Skunking averted.  Tech saves the day.  And the photographer went home and wondered if he should get a CAT scan for being such a lame-brain.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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