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.