Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Shooting in Low Light Places - Tips

I had a request to post a tip on shooting in low light. There are a few ways to approach this.  Depending on level of photography skills and your ability to use your manual settings, it can be a lot to take in.
Let’s look at some examples.  These were taken in my basement. The lighting isn’t that great, so I definitely have to manipulate my settings. 
So we’ll start with the beginners. My suggestion to you when shooting in dark places is to find all the natural light that you can. Make sure that you subject is facing the light source (i.e. the window).
These first two photos will show you the difference. In the first one, our subject has her back to the window. Her face is shadowed and has noise or grain (more explanation below) that you’ll notice if you zoom in. In the second shot, she is in the exact same room but the window light is shinning on her face. Makes quite a difference, huh?
So your first goal is to get to the natural light! It is your friend.

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Still for beginners: If you have no natural light source then you are just going to have to use your flash. Stinks, but it’s true. But birthday memories are more important than not using a flash.
Ok, for the more advanced photographers out there. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are what we are dealing with.
Let’s define a few things. Have you ever heard someone say that a photo is “grainy” or that an image has “noise”?  Well this photo below was taken in the same room and has lots of noise in it. The photo almost looks like there is sand on it. It’s noticeable pretty much everywhere, but most noticeable in the dark areas. Some photographers embrace it, while others avoid it at all costs. Me? I avoid it. But on the other hand, I have seem some incredible images that incorporate noise. I guess it’s not really my style.
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There are three different camera settings that affect the outcome of a picture taken in a dark area:
ISO: To capture an image in a low light area you need a fast shutter speed. The way you accomplish this is by adjusting your ISO setting. It’s kind of like tricking your camera into believing that it’s capturing something in a well lit area. So the higher your ISO the faster your shutter speed can be.  The trade-off, of course, is that the higher the ISO, the more grain and noise you will get.
Aperture (“F stop”): This number will look like 2.8, 4.0, 5.6 and on. The higher your f stop the bigger the hole in your lens gets and the more light is allowed in. So if you are shooting in a dark area just put your f stop to the lowest number possible (it’s the highest f stop). Confusing. The smaller number is, the higher f stop. So if your lens has a f5.6 as the smallest f stop then put it there.
Shutter speed: Your camera will tell you the best shutter-speed setting for the aperture setting currently being used.  Most of the time, I like to shoot one or two stops (settings) higher than recommended by the camera. This is a personal preference. When shooting in dark places you should try shooting a few stops higher than normal, exposing the face, and that will help you get more light too. .
Ok, Did any of that make sense? I can do full tutorials on ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speeds if there is interest. Just let me know. And let me know what questions you have. I’ll try to answer them for you.
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First photo above: ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/60.  Second photo above: ISO 1250, f2.8, 1/80. Photo below: ISO 1600, f2.8, 1/60
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And who knew that I had a cow girl! She is such a funny little thing.

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