Sunday, August 3, 2008

Low Light Photography Part 1

I have the opportunity to shoot many events each month in little to 'no' light. Most of the events I shoot do not permit the use of a flash. Over the past seven years of shooting in low light venues, I have learned many tricks, tips, and techniques.

  1. I heard a famous, experienced photographer say, "You are taking a picture of light with a subject in it." I forget who stated it but the phrase stuck in my mind. Especially when I am shooting in low light or almost no light events.
  2. Use the 'fastest' lens you can afford. My suggestion is to purchase a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4. Currently, I use my 50mm f/1.8 as my main lens in a low light situation. However, this image was taken with my Tamron 17-50 f/2.8.
  3. Study any available light and determine if you can use it as fill light. If you are shooting a youth event and the light is 'moving' the key to success is to pre-expose the shot and 'lock' it in by using 'M' manual mode. The reason I use manual mode is to avoid the moving light from adjusting my exposure when I do not want it adjusted. If you shoot in aperture priority, then you run the risk of the shutter speed changing which could cause you to get an overexposed or underexposed image. Typically, I find if I can get the shutter speed at least to 1/30 or 1/60 of a second with my lens wide open most of the shots will not appear 'blurry'. This shot was taken at 1/50 and f/2.8. I exposed the shot on the upper left of the image to ensure the face of the drummer was not blown out. This caused a dimensional look and added some impact to the image. The drummer's left had has some blur in it but it shows 'action'.


Ginnie Geater said...

questions...what does pre-expose mean and how do you do it? also, when you said you exposed the picture above the drummers head, how did you do that? i understand how to use the red lights to focus the subject, but how do you set the exposure? that still confuses me. How about a lesson on exposure!! Or 2, or 3, or 4!! Thanks for your teachings, dr. frank!

dr frank said...

Great question!

To pre-expose the shot; I push the shutter half-down and the exposure meter in the camera will indicate if I am over or underexposed. Since I am in manual exposure, I can adjust both the aperture and shutter speed until the meter indicates the image is exposed properly. On both my cameras, I am able to adjust the aperture and shutter speed with dials near the shutter button. Hence, I can make the adjustments without the camera leaving my eye.

There are times when I leave it underexposed slightly [line on the meter to the right of center] if I know there might be another light source 'heading' toward the subject. [e.g. moving light from a spot light]

My goal is to get an exposure of at least 1/60 second. This will not freeze all the action but if I time the shot accurately, the subject's face is in focus. [Which is my primary goal in most shots.]

Typically, since the light is very low the aperture will be f/1.8 and the shutter speed 1/60 with my ISO pushed to 800 or 1600. However, there are times when the light is so low that I need to shoot as slow as 1/30 of a second. At this shutter speed, the subject usually 'blurs' some.