Blog 9: Low light photography

July 07, 2014  •  Leave a Comment
It happens to us all. You get an assignment or are asked to photograph during an event. Arriving on the scene, you realize that the only available light you get is candle light. Furthermore, the room is crowded and small. You think: no problem, I will use my flash. The result: gone is the atmosphere, the front row is too light, the back row too dark. What now?
 
Lenses
The first thing you should make sure is that you always bring a “fast” lens. Fast lenses are lenses that have small aperture values (i.e. F1.4 or F1.8). The smaller the aperture value, the less light you need for a good photograph. A 50mm F1.8 will cost you around 99 euros. There is a reason why they call it the “plastic fantastic”! For the photographs in this blog, I used a Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art. Remember to use wide angle lenses instead of tele ones. The minimum shutter speed for hand shot photographs is 1/shutterspeed which means that, when a 135mm lens is used, a shutter speed of 1/135s is necessary. In contrast, when you use a 35mm lens, the minimum shutter speed only has to be 1/35s, much longer! A disadvantage ofcourse, is that you have to get close to the subject.
 
 

Figure 1: Fast lenses will save you!
 
ISO
Don’t hesitate to increase the ISO on you camera. Normally, I never go above ISO400 on my Full Frame camera. However, in difficult lighting situations, ISO400 is not going to cut it. Not even when using a fast lens! Most photographs in this blog were taken using ISO800 or ISO1000. Modern software is perfectly capable to reduce noise in your photographs without a significant setback in sharpness. Keep in mind that noise is more apparent in dark areas of a photograph then the lighter ones.
 
 
Figure 2: ISO1000, well lit parts of a photograph suffer less noise then darker parts

 
Focus en composition
Because you will be working with a wide open aperture, your depth of field will be narrow. Even on a 35mm lens. This means that you don’t want to try making group shots with everyone in focus. It is not going to happen! Instead, focus on the individual. Not only will this make the atmosphere seem more palpable, it will also enhance your composition because the viewer has something that stands out to look at.
 
Figure 3: focus on the person in the middle
 
Figure 4: Focus on the candle
 
Flash vs tripod
If you do not own a fast lens, or if you don’t want to increase your ISO value, you have to choose to use either your flash or a tripod. I strongly recommend NOT using your popup flash because you do not have control over it. It just flashes. If you own a Canon Speedlight 580 EX or equivalent, you have far greater control over the situation. Use as little flash as possible. Aim the flash towards the ceiling or, if that doesn’t give you the desired effect, behind you. This will diffuse the light and make it look softer and you will keep most of the atmosphere.
 
Figure 5: flash towards the ceiling. ISO200, shutter speed 1/100s
 
If all the above fail, you might be able to use a tripod. Using a tripod however, might be tricky since there is not always enough space. Remember you can use tables and chairs as tripods as well! In addition, using a tripod (and with it, slower shutter speeds) will result in a sharp environment but blurred people! This might be cool as an effect, but it will create a rather one sided impression of the evening!
 
So, to summarize:
-         -  Use fast lenses
-        -   Up your ISO value, the software will sort it out
-        -  When using a flash, make sure to aim for the ceiling or behind you
-          - Focus on the individual instead of the group (because of the wide open aperture)
 
Well that’s it for today. I hope you had fun reading this blog and I hope you can use these tips to your advantage!  
 
For more blogs, or to see my photography work, hop on over to www.photojitsu.nl or like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/photojitsu. Until next time!
 
 
 
 

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