Recently I had the pleasure of capturing the talent of a Hempstead Church Family out at TJM ranch and part of the challenge was shooting in the dark. Now I wasn’t literally in the dark; I did have the luxury of a work light but it still presented a problem for not only myself but a few other photographers who were working on and in the show. A young friend of mine who is an excellent photographer had a few questions about how to shoot better pictures in the dark and these are a few ideas that I had that I would like to share with the rest of you photo enthusiast and professionals. As I am continuing to learn myself, please feel free to correct me or clarify where I may be wrong.
There are a few options to shoot better in the dark. Frankly, if there isn’t enough light to get a good shot, add more light! But that’s not always an available option so we have to get a little creative at times… If you’re shooting still images (like portraits for instance) always try to get a Tri-pod setup for this will reduce vibrations and user handling immensely. For clarity I’m going to list a few steps in a numerical order…
I. Add more light! If you can, this is your best option because it gives you the most control.
1.You can add more light with “hot lights” (or lights that are always on) like the work light we used for the Talent show).
2. You can use flashes. Now, some flashes can be a bit pricy but I encourage you to think about investing in an external flash that has an adjustable head. Especially get a flash that you can point up at the ceiling. Generally speaking, the best kind of light to use is “reflective light.” Think about it in real life; the sun is always above us and a lot of the light we see is being bounced off of walls, the floor, etc NOT pointed directly at us. So when you’re adding more light, always try to point it coming from an angle. Bouncing light also creates “difusion” which gives you softer skin tones and softer shadows. Now keep in mind that a lot of this has to do with you’re own personal style. Maybe you want HARD and DARK shadows? *shrugs* It’s totally up to you, but keep in mind that reflected and diffused light gives better results in regards to realism.
II. But, we don’t always have more light… Although it reduces your creative freedom by a tad, grab a Tripod. They’re bulky and no fun to carry around but, unlike you, they don’t rock.
III. Aperture vs Shutter Speed
Okay, so I’m assuming you already know a good bit of photography but if I need to explain anything for you in dept, please let me know.
Now with photography, there’s always this ongoing battle with all the different settings; photography is a win-lose situation.
When you exchange a narrow aperture with a wide one and a faster shutter speed, you get very shallow depth of field but sharper images. In certain situations, you’ll find that there’s just “too much” that’s out of focus… So you’re like, gosh darnit, now I have to have a slower shutter speed and a smaller aperature…
The other problem you have with slower shutter speeds is “motion blur” which I’m sure you and I share the same burning indifference for…
f/3.5 1/50 ISO 1600 Notice in this image there’s a lot of motion blur. This could have been avoided had I used a wider aperture (f/1.8) and a much faster shutter speed. Ideally when capturing motion it’s best to have a shutter speed of 1/250- 1/400. I could have possibly done this at a higher ISO (3200) and the area’s lighting a bit more balanced. Remember, there’s less focus at wider apertures. Of course, there’s an array of fancy lenses and better camera’s out there, but I’d just like to cover what I know for general users.
If you need a smaller aperture but faster shutter speed, you’re reducing the time the sensor has to absorb the light and your images come out too dark! But! If you use a good tripod and are shooting stills for the most part, you can manage to have a smaller aperture [for clarity] and a slow shutter speed [for a good exposure]. It’s a different story for capturing motion I’m afraid. Here you must try to add as much light as possible whether that be by artificial means or by having a wider aperture.
Now one last thing about aperture:
I’m not sure what kind of lens you may own but the “wider” your aperture or the “smaller” the f-stop, the more light is let in for an exposure. Having a wider aperture or an “open” iris means more light, faster shutter speed, shallow depth of field, and a good exposure. Right now I own a 35mm prime which means It’s a fixed focal length and if I want to get a closer shot I physically have to move in closer… However, this 35mm prime lens has a wide aperture of 1.8 f-stops which means the hole the light travels to the sensor is practically wide open. This affects both exposure and depth of field… Always keep that in mind: The wider the aperture the shallower the depth of fiend and less focus you will have on a given subject; however, it also means more light.
ISO standers has to do with the “sensitivity” of your sensor. The higher the ISO the more sensitive your sensor will be to the incoming light.
Now film ISO and Digital ISO are a tad different but essentially the same…
Back in the day of black and white Film, pictures were formed by silver halides which the more sensitive they were to light the faster they absorbed and expanded to create a picture… However, because of a high sensitivity, the halides would expand so fast that “gaps” were created forming what we call “grain.”
With color pictures it get’s a little bit more complicated but this is to help illustrate what is going on with ISO standards.
In the digital realm, the same thing is essentially going on except instead of grain we call it noise.
The greater the ISO the more sensitive your sensor and camera’s processor becomes. Now today camera’s keep getting better and better and we can use very high ISOs to get pictures in low lit situations… From what I’ve observed, digital noise is starting to look more like film grain which is excellent but still a problem. For instance, last night I was shooting at an ISO of 3200. Now this is an incredibly high rating, the pictures still came out decently enough to where they could be used. In some situations, you can shoot at VERY high ISO’s and then convert your images to B & W taking advantage of the noise that was created and calling it grain. This is an artistic method but it doesn’t always work out the best… Just mentioning that to give you some options.
f/1.8 1/250 ISO 1600
Notice that my image didn’t come out very clear. However, I was still able to apply some effects. If worse comes to worse, you can still use an image for creative purposes and if anyone asks, “You did it on purpose.”
Normally, if I’m outside and it’s a sunny day, I’ll try to shoot at an ISO of 100-400. Notice that the smaller the ISO number the most clarity your image will have. 100-200 is most ideal for portraits.
In darker situations (like indoors), I’ll shoot 800-1600 and that’s without a flash.
Having a higher ISO will allow you to use smaller aperture settings and faster shutter speeds.
Just remember that increasing your ISO setting will increase the amount of “grain” or “noise” in your picture. Which, btw, can be somewhat edited out in Photoshop at times if you ever get into post-production work.
I plan on giving an in depth tutorial of Adobe’s “Camera Raw” but for now I would like to keep this discussion strictly to photography.
Well I hope this helps some and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them!
Let’s learn from each other and make a difference one frame at a time.