We often want to take photos in low light situations but don't want to use flash. It can be done and your ISO rating is a major factor in how successful you will be.
I've already discussed ISO ratings in another blog, see What is ISO. Now I'm going to discuss a real life situation and how I handled it, which may help you.
The event was a showband concert in Shanagolden Hall, about 15 Km from where I live. The hall doesn't have it's own stage lighting system and the lights were set up by the band. There are no lighting bars to the front of the stage, so most of the lights were to the side or rear of the performers. The exception were some lights set up on top of the amps, a little to the front and side of the stage.
As you can imagine, there was very little light falling on the front of the performers. I wanted to use the ambient lights, to capture the colour and atmosphere of the event. Flash would have overpowered the stage lighting.
The most important thing in this situation was my shutter speed. Camera shake was a strong possibility and if that happened, it wouldn't matter what I did with the aperture.
The image above is the first one I took on the night. The singer was obliging enough to turn towards me, while I took the shot. This made life easier, as I could get an interesting image, while using a pillar for support.
To begin with, I increased my ISO to 5,000. I could have gone up to 6,400 but I decided not to. Why? At 5,000 I was going to have a lot of noise in my image. It would be especially noticeable where there were shadows or dark backgrounds. As you can see from the image, there are plenty of these. I knew from experience, that I could get rid of most of this with Adobe Camera Raw, at ISO 5,000 but realised that I wouldn't be as successful with a higher setting.
This is where practice is important. The better you know your camera, the less dud shots you will take. It's like using any other tool, if you don't know how to use it properly, you won't do a good job. Take your camera out and try out the different situations and settings, somewhere it doesn't count. Don't wait for an important event to experiment, do it somewhere and sometime, that you can throw away the images, if you fail.
I would like to have used F11 but this gave me a shutter speed of 1/6th of a second. Much too slow for a hand held shot. I was shooting in a dark, crowded venue, so the use of a tripod was out of the question. I didn't want to risk anyone tripping and getting hurt or knocking over my equipment.
As in many situations, compromises had to be made and I didn't get what I wanted to but had to choose a setting that would still allow me to get a shot, without camera shake and with acceptable results.
I settled for F5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. This would give me a very tight depth of field and I had to ensure that my focusing was very accurate.
You may remember that in my blog about choosing shutter speeds, I told you that your shutter speed should be the inverse of your lens focal length. I was using a focal length of 90mm and therefore needed a shutter speed of at least 1/90th. The nearest to that on my camera but faster is 1/100th of a second, four times faster that what I was using.
All was not lost. By using a pillar for support, throwing my full weight against it, keeping my elbows tight against my body and holding my breath, while I took the shot and for a few seconds either side of it, I got a very steady image.
The slightest movement of my body would be registered by the slow shutter speed. While 1/25th of a second may seem fast, it's surprising how much movement you can fit into it. Bracing my elbows against my body helped prevent shake in my arms.
Holding my breath reduced movement in my chest and anything attached to it, my shoulders and arms for example. Placing my full weight against the pillar reduced the effect of any slight movement in my legs or torso and steadied me. Of course, it's vital that what you lean against can safely support your weight.
Finally, I counted to six. On one I pressed my shutter button half way, on two I pressed it fully, the camera fired and on six I took the camera from my eye. This helps avoid camera movement, due to me taking it from my eye too quickly. It's always a good idea to allow a second or so after the shutter has fired, before moving your camera but in low light situations it's better to leave it a little longer.
The second image gives you a better idea of how dark the stage looked to the camera. Remember that your brain makes allowances and will add light to many situations, especially if you think you should know what's in the shadows. The camera records it exactly as it is.
The singer was the main subject, so I exposed for her(you've got a dirty mind). This resulted in the other band members being a little dark. Here it's no problem. Had they been as bright as the singer, they would have competed for attention.
It's important to learn how to recognise differences in light levels, so that you can choose settings to suit the most important part of the image. The audience would not be aware that there were different levels of light on the stage, they wouldn't even think about it but you have to learn to analyse the light and work accordingly.
A final point to remember. I took all these images in RAW. JPEG is fine to an extent but it involves your camera partly processing the image, before saving it. Some of the information is dumped, making it less likely that you can correct any mistakes later. Removing digital noise is much more complicated and difficult. I was able to reduce the amount of burned out highlights on the side of the singer's head, in the first shot. This would not have been possible, had I used JPEG.
For the moment I'm not going to write any blogs about using ACR and Photoshop. I'm basing my blogs on the idea that you're a beginner photographer and I don't want to complicate things. Anything that you need to do in Photoshop can be learned from videos on Youtube and the channel I find best is Phlearn
and another one is Photoshop Tutorials.tv
They have hundreds of tutorials and present them in an easy to follow format. When you open their channels the videos may look much too advanced for a beginner but if you search, all the basic stuff is covered too, just in older uploads.
Until next time, enjoy your life and take good care of yourself and those you love.
Slan go foil,
PS; Feel free to comment, ask questions or suggest subjects for future blogs.
All other things being equal, composition makes the difference between a good photo and an ok photo. No matter how well an image is exposed, even if it's technically perfect, a badly composed image will not work.
A number of factors need to be considered, when composing an image. The first one is the crop. Your camera can not record everything you see and so, when you compose the image, you must select what to include and exclude. Sometimes this is obvious but not always.
In this first image of busts at UL, I've focused on one bust, the green one, the only woman's bust in the image. This was taken with a long lens, 360mm, from a balcony, about 100 meters away.
This is a fairly cluttered image. For one there are four more full busts and one partial bust in the image. It also includes a piece of rock and the stands that they were all displayed on, plus a large white metal frame, a glass frame, reflections on the frame and the large windows behind and distant trees and buildings. So, why does the main subject stand out?
Proper composition. First, there's the selective use of depth of field. I give more detail on this in my blog "Taking that photo". I used F10 for this, knowing that at the focal length I was using that it would give me a narrow depth of field. See my blog "What are F numbers?" for more details.
Only my main subject is in focus but with all of the clutter in the image, you may still not find her. So, where I placed her is also important. There are several rules of composition and the one I use most often, the easiest to use, is the rule of thirds.
Imagine dividing your image in three equal parts vertically and then horizontally, see the red lines in the image on the left.
This forms a grid on the image. If you place your main subject along one of these lines, it has more of an impact and stands out better. By placing your subject close to where the lines cross or at the exact point where they cross, you increase the impact further.
As you can see, my subject's face is placed along the right hand vertical line, just above where it crosses the bottom horizontal line. This is one of the most powerful positions in the image, along with the three other crossing points.
Because she is facing right, it is more common to place her on the left vertical line. This gives her space to walk into, if she could walk and the area she is facing is called positive space. The space behind her is called negative space. It is better to provide more positive space than negative but not always. This is something that you will have to learn with experience and is why it's a good idea to analyse your own and other people's images, to see why they worked or did not work. You can gain quiet a lot from doing this.
In this case I decided to use more negative space for two reasons. It is now obvious that the busts are part of a much bigger display and not just four busts.
There was a pillar close to the busts on the right, which would have split the image, making it look like two images combined. Even though the pillar would have only taken about 10 - 15% of the right side of the image, it would have looked like it was added in. Being white, it would also have attracted the eye away from the subject.
I could have cropped in tighter and not include the bust on the left of the image, which I also did. That image is posted below. Both images work but in different ways.
You will also notice that the top horizontal line runs just over the top of the head of the highest bust, the horizon of the image. It's better to place the horizon on one of the two horizontal lines, the image is more dynamic that way. You will see this in the images I've placed below.
I've also used a leading line, the green line. Often leading lines are actual lines in an image but more often than not they are imaginary but your eye will follow them all the same. By composing the image so that the line of busts appear to be one slightly forward of the other, I've created an imaginary leading line.
Had the white lines in the background been sharp, they would have pulled the eye away from the main subject, another reason to use a shallow depth of field.
I chose this point of view for a number of reasons. One was that this was the least distracting background and because it was a long way away, it was easier to place it out of focus.
Had I shot the bust head on, the background would have been much more cluttered, more busts and rocks would have been included and competed for attention. The wall behind all of this had a very colourful mosaic and a model airplane hung in front of it.
Another reason for not shooting head on was that it would have placed four busts on the same plane. They would all have been in focus and competed for attention. I could have zoomed in on one and excluded the others but I would then have lost the context of the image, which I think is important.
The blue lines between the tops of the busts indicate imaginary triangles in the image. These are especially useful when posing a group of people. Flat lines in an image hold the eye in one place, while sloped and curved lines encourage the eye to move about the image. When your eye moves about an image, you see it as having more life and being more interesting.
Below you will see some images, with the "rule of thirds" grid marked on them, along with leading lines. Notice how I've created circles, ovals and triangles, where possible and not just lines.
What you should do next is look at my galleries and see how I've used the information above to compose my images. Then look at your own images and see where this information applies and how you may have improved your images using the above details. Finally, look at other people's images and see how they have composed their images. Ask yourself what you may have done differently. Always analyse your own images, ask yourself why they work or don't work. This will help you improve constantly. No one is ever so good that they can't improve.
Until next time, enjoy your photography and take good care of yourself and those you love. Feel free to leave comments, ask questions or suggest topics for another blog.