Casino Night Photography

Last night was the company Christmas party. We did something different this year, a casino night. A full set of dealers and tables awaited us at the Mauna Lani clubhouse for the evening. Signing in at the door everyone received a stack of play money and the fun began.

It was fun in two ways… Playing the games! Everyone seemed to have a great time, particularly with no real money at stake. I noted that we were all quite conservative at the start, as the evening progressed the bets became risky and the money began to really fly about.

It was also fun because I thought to bring the new camera. I know of no real casino that would let me take pictures of the games like this. Alas, this was not real. There was the added advantage that everyone knows me and knows how I use the camera. I did get good photos of more than a few people. Photos I will have to process up and distribute over the next few days.

A full frame camera with a fast lens was just what was needed for the evening. I only brought the one lens… A 50mm f/1.8 prime, the nifty fifty. It turned out to be the perfect lens for the evening. The lighting was dim, to be expected, but it was also very hard. Small quartz spots illuminated most of the gaming tables resulting in bright areas and dark backgrounds.

To the hard lighting I added the very shallow depth-of-field that comes with a fast lens and large sensor camera. The result was perfect, very moody shots of the game with fantastic bokeh

Using the Nifty Fifty

Some photo instructors advocate using only a fifty millimeter fixed focal length lens as a creative exercise. A nice idea for an exercise, but I really did not want to do this while on an extended trip along the Alaskan and British Columbia coast by boat.

A workshop at Lagoon Cove, British Columbia
I did not get a choice in the matter.

Looking to pack light I had taken only three lenses to accompany the Canon 60D that would travel with me. This set included a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, a 70-200mm f/4 L series telephoto, and a 50mm f/1.8. The 50mm was almost left behind, I grabbed it on a whim while packing realizing that it took up very little room.

It was a few days into the trip when trouble appeared. I began to get occasional errors when using the 17-85mm, the camera complaining about a lens communication error. After a day this became a serious issue, the camera refusing to take photos with the lens. The other lenses worked fine, thus I was sure the trouble was in the lens, not the camera.

A set of tools awaiting use in the workshop at Lagoon Cove
Sitting down and experimenting, I discovered that the issue only occurred if I was attempting to stop down the lens, used wide open I had no problem. During a series of gray and dark days, this proved little issue, I just set for aperture priority and continued to shoot, with some loss of creative control.

A couple more days and even that solution failed, the lens just jammed up entirely, with the aperture stop about halfway closed.

I was down to the the telephoto and the 50mm… Time to get creative.

The 50mm lens is interesting. It is small. It feels like you have forgotten to put a lens on the camera. It is sharp! The lens may be the cheapest lens Canon sells, just over $100, but there is nothing to complain about in the performance, crisp and sharp photos from corner to corner. It is fast. The very fast f/1.8 ratio allows for photos in low light conditions as well as providing a wonderfully shallow depth of field when you want it.

Cans of nails in the workshop at Lagoon Cove
I really missed the flexibility of a zoom and the 17mm wide angle in the close confines of the boat. The ability to go from wide to a moderate 85mm telephoto in a flash was a major issue when something popped up unexpectedly, something that happens on a boat in the wilds of Alaska.

I did have my little Canon G11 along, giving me some capability with a zoom lens. But I really wanted to shoot with the DSLR and the higher photo quality offered by the big lens and larger sensor when the photo really mattered.

On an APS-C camera like the Canon 60D there is a 60% crop factor, converting a 50mm to a mild telephoto. With a fixed focus I had to control the field through positioning myself instead of adjusting the camera. I do wonder if I got better shots as I had to become more involved and plan the shot?

I did take some great shots with the 50mm. Going through the 1,800+ photographs from the cruise I am quite happy with a number of them. An unintentional creative exercise, but a successful one.