How To Shoot Zombies

The Toronto Zombie Walk is coming up and it can be a great day of street photography if you make a few preparations.

Photos of the Toronto Zombie Walk 2012 held on Sat. Oct. 20 will be posted at Peter West Photo soon.

First, the weather this time of year is unpredictable. It can be hot. It can be cold. It can be sunny and it can be rainy.

You must dress appropriately and you must be able to protect your equipment in inclement weather.

Regardless of the weather, it’s really smart to wear heavy-duty hiking boots.

Why? Why not running shoes? Remember this is a walk.

While the zombies gather and there’s lots of great opportunity for standup shots there’s nothing like shooting the actual walk and you’re going to need great footwear to keep up. Also you’re going to be running and gunning and good boots will make a difference in how long you can keep taking photos.

If can take a water and chewy bars as once the walk starts, it’s none stop shooting.

You must minimize the amount of equipment you’re going to carry for the day. The walk isn’t for a couple of weeks and already I’m playing with lenses and flashes and looking at images from previous years.

I have a choice of whether or not to shoot with the Nikons or the Olympus system. The Nikons are heavy and both cameras have accessory battery packs and after a few hours they weigh a ton. However, the Nikons will fire continuously whether shooting JPGs or raw and I’ll almost never miss a shot.

The Olympus cameras are 1/5 of the weight and I can carry two cameras and six lenses in one shoulder bag. But and it’s a big but, the Olympus cameras won’t shoot as fast or focus as quickly as the Nikons.

So the overall winner is the Nikons. Look you don’t want to fool around with zombies. This is a day for the big guns.

Remember most of these zombies are young people. They’re going to be full of beans and unlimited energy. Your cameras are going to need to be able to keep up.

So if it’s the Nikons, what lenses?

If I had an 18-200 mm (which I used to own) or an 18-300 mm (which I wished I owned) I’d shoot with the one lens all day long. But, on the second camera body I’d add on my 14-24mm wide zoom.

The wide zoom pushed into the face of a zombie or a group of zombies makes for dynamic images.

So on my main camera since I want a zoom I’m dusting off a 30-year-old full-frame 24-50mm zoom which on a DX camera is a 36-75 mm lens. I don’t care that it’s a slow lens (f/3.3-4.6) as I’m shooting outdoors at likely ISO 500 to ISO 800 and I don’t need tons shallow depth of field.

So I’m planning on carrying the D-300 with the 24-50mm and D-90 with the 14-24mm. Add a couple of memory cards and I’m good to go.

But what if it’s an overcast day. The images could use a blast of flash. With the super-wide zoom there will be some light fall off in the corners but remember this is the zombie walk and not a wedding and I don’t care.

But carrying the flashes (I’ve got two.) adds complexity and will slow up the shooting so unless it’s serious dark out, the flashes are going to stay in the car. I’ll brighten images in software.

Next decision is raw of JPG images. Raw will allow me to manipulate the images a lot more than if I shot JPGs. But experience tells me, that if I get my white balance correct (likely daylight or shade) I’m better off shooting JPGs.

Why? First all these images I shoot that are any good go online and are freely available to any of the participants. Most people who download my images use them on their websites or Facebook pages. They don’t need mega-big images.

When it comes to shooting JPGs on the day, my cameras can shoot at higher rates of speed.

I’m not a huge fan of machine-gun photography where you set the shooting rate at six or eight frames a second and you hold down the button until the buffer fills but again when it comes to thousands of zombies walking toward you it’s not a bad idea to fire in bursts of three or four frames at a time.

If I’m on my game, the only work I’ll have to do in Lightroom is pick my images (I’ll probably shoot a couple of thousand frames), crop them individually and then add batch filtering (I’m very likely to use OnOne’s gritty effects in mild, medium or heavy depending on the image).

I’m also considering setting one camera up to shoot HDR because if I can get three images shoot quickly enough, the NIK HDR software will fix any small alignment issues and the HDR effect might be pretty neat. We’ll see.

If it turns out to be a really dark day I might change the 24-50mm with a 35 f/1.8 and tuck the 50mm f/1.8 in a vest pocket and if I do that it’s likely I’ll be packing an SB-900 flash with auxiliary (Chinese-made for $55 and not $300 from Nikon) flash battery pac. But that’s more weight and complexity.

Don’t forget to consider turning some images into black and white.

Do this in the software. Shoot in colour (where you’re getting the maximum information onto the sensor) and using something like NIK’s Silver Efex Pro to make the conversation.

When it comes to street photography don’t be squeamish about shooting zombies 🙂

These young people didn’t spend all this money on makeup and take all this time to get into costume and character not to be photographed. The big trick is to direct and be friendly.

If somebody for some obscure reason doesn’t want their photo taken (and this has never happened on the zombie walk) I don’t bother to shoot them. I can. It’s legal. But it’s not fun.

What I do is carry a bunch of inexpensive business cards and I hand them out to anybody I shoot (when I have time. You won’t be able to do this easily during the actual walk.). This is especially true if I shoot somebody’s child. I want them to feel comfortable and to know that the photo is there for them to download freely.

By being open and non-secreative I get tons of great shots and lots of zombie-like poses.

Two years ago one young woman (photo on left) in a group of three had a makeup induced gash from her throat and across her chest.

She was very very pretty but very very bloody and I asked her if she would be comfortable in opening her blouse more so I could get a better shot of the wound. Never had a girl open her shirt in public so quickly and easily before 🙂

She was a really great sport and our interaction made for one of the best images I got that year. I would never have asked her to open her blouse if I was in my 20s or 30s but I was in my 60s and I was open and direct and friendly and we all had a good laugh and the photo was terrific.

In order to get as many people as possible comfortable with the fact that I’m going to be shooting them, I arrive early and shoot a lot of images during the pre-walk setup.

I talk to as many people as I can and I will offer to shoot photos of them with their point and shoot cameras.

What this means is when the walk actually starts I’m likely to get a whole bunch of people who are ready to pose for me and do the zombie thing in front of my lens.

One nice thing about a zombie walk is everyone shuffles.

This slows down the walk but remember we’re talking a couple of thousand participants and it gives us an opportunity to pick and chose who to shoot.

Finally tip: Shoot from inside the walk. Don’t stand at the side and try and shoot into the walkers. Get in front of them and walk backwards while you’re shooting. Be careful not to step on anybody and keep smiling and thanking people for posing.

You’ll have a a great time.


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