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Thread: Help: Low Light condition photography

  1. #1

    Help: Low Light condition photography

    I have a Canon powershot I5 Is and i love photography. Not professionally qualified but treat it as my passionate hobby. Loving taking pictures of landscape, nature and people and events, excessively.

    My problem is, i am not satisfied with my camera's low light photography. Flash is the ultimate death of photography.

    Will shifting the camera to AV mode and higher the ISO to 200-400 help for taking photojournalist pics?

    If not or if you have a better suggestion then more than welcome. I also have this issue of less wider lens for landscape pics


    Thank You!

  2. #2

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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    Flash is the ultimate death of photography.
    Hmmm - that sounds like a pretty broad statement! (I use flash with just about every single portrait I shoot, and folks don't normally tell me that I've murdered the photo).

    Will shifting the camera to AV mode and higher the ISO to 200-400 help for taking photojournalist pics?
    Hard to tell - easiest way is to just try it and see what happens

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    How close to your subject, background are you during low light settings and what is the light source? Have you tried using your flash compensation feature? Any examples to share?

  4. #4

    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    First of all, thanks for prompt responses. Its a very handy website and the members here have made the forums amazing as well.

    I do not know whats a flash compensation feature is?

    I am at the office right now so don't have the access to the pics otherwise i would have attached them for your kind perusal as well.

    Generally my issue arises when i am outside at night and the light surroundings are low, capturing images of friends approx 3-6 feet distance.

    Also, how would the settings differ if am taking a pic of an object at a far off distance at light with minimum possible natural light available. Secondly, if i am inside the house with lights on but flash OFF, then the pics come out blurred and dotted, very softened images. Whats the solution to that?

    I take my words back, not necessarily the pics with flash can be regarded as "death of photography" as i myself end up using the flash because without it nothing tends to work.

  5. #5
    Momo's Avatar
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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    Well, I can tell you this much, the camera is going to need enough light in order for the auto focus to work. The alternative is to manual focus if you think you can actually see well enough through the lens. That might be why your photos are soft. If you're shooting hand-held, then you need to boost the ISO in order to get an appropriate shutter speed. Use the internal light meter to check if you have boosted it high enough. If you're using a tripod, then ISO and shutter speed are no big deal. I do nighttime photography as well, but mostly city scenes where my camera has something to focus against. I also use a tripod. I guess I would suggest using a tripod and set the camera to manual so you can control everything -- ISO, shutter speed, and aperture -- and use manual focus if there is not enough light. The workaround for that is to carry a flashlight, shine the light on the subject, use auto-focus, then immediately switch to manual to shut AF off, turn off flashlight and take the photo.

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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    Hi Snasayad,

    I tried to find the specifications of your Powershot I5IS camera but did not have any luck.

    I wanted to find the speed (aperture) of the lens as well as the ISO capability of the camera.

    However, here are some of my opinions. Although I don't know about the ISO capability of your camera, I am sure that it will be able to use AT LEAST ISO 400 and perhaps higher. I would do the following: take your camera off auto (if that is how you have been shooting) and boost the ISO to the absolute highest that the camera will accept. IMO, it is better to have a some
    what noisy, but reasonably sharp, image than to have an image blurred due to camera or subject movement.

    Set your camera on AV exposure and select the widest aperture (smallest f/number) available. Here is where not having the specifications of your camera is a problem in my recommendations. I don't know what the maximum f/stop of your lens is. I suspect that your lens has a variable aperture (one in which the maximum aperture decreases as you zoom out) so I would suggest that you make your test shots at the shortest focal length. This will most likely give you the widest (fastest) aperture.

    That is all you can do. If the shutter speed you get, with the ISO at maximum, the aperture at its widest and the lens at its shortest focal length, is not fast enough to give you a sharp hand-held image; there are only three things you can do:

    1. Use a tripod or a monopod to steady your camera. Of course, if you are shooting with a very slow shutter speed, any subject motion might be blurred. You can test this without going to the expense of buying a monopod or tripod by setting your camera on a table or some other solid rest and use the self timer to trip your shutter. Of course, the table solution would not be a permanent fix, it would just give you an idea of your camera's capabilities if tripod or monopod mounted.

    2.

    A. Boost the ambient light in the area in which you are shooting. This is probably easier indoors where you can turn on all the lights. Most of the time, this is not quite enough.

    B. You can also use flash. I agree with your statement that, "Flash is the ultimate death of photography." But, only if you are talking about using the camera's onboard flash. However, your camera has a hotshoe which will open all sorts of low light opportunities. By bouncing a hotshoe flash and modifying the light with a diffuser reflector, you can add enough light to your subject to attain a decent image.

    Help: Low Light condition photography

    IMO, flash can be creatively used so that the viewer of the image doesn't automatically think "FLASH WAS USED". This is always my aim. Bouncing flash is virtually the only way to get decent imagery when a flash is used. I will address only Canon flashes in this discussion.

    Mini flashes such as the 270EX: this would be the logical size flash for a camera the size of your Powershot. However, the Canon engineers in there ultimate lack of wisdom decided to allow this flash only to bounce and not to rotate. This makes it rather difficult to bounce this little flash on camera when the camera is in the vertical position. All is not lost however; using a Canon Off-Camera Sync Cord will allow you to hold the flash with your left hand (off the camera) and shoot with your right hand. Using a Joe Demb Photo Journalist FlipIt will prevent raccoon eyes in your subject. Shooting, in the horizontal position, you can leave the 270EX on the camera and just bounce it using the FlipIt. It will not have the power to cover vast areas but, the results can be fairly decent. This was shot with a 270EX on a Canon 30D camera.

    Help: Low Light condition photography

    Full size hotshoe flashes: The Canon line of full size hotshoe flashes include the no longer produced 420EX, 430EX, 550EX, and 580EX. Canon's present line of flashes includes the 430EX ii and 580EX ii. Any of these flashes (although somewhat large for your camera) will provide bounce capability both on an off camera. The 420EX, however cannot be used in the manual mode. But, it's advantage is thatt is the least expensive of all full-size Canon hotshoe flashes suitable for your camera on the used market.

    C. Get a DSLR camera, which should have better high ISO capability than your Powershot, and combine this with a fast lens of at least f/2.8 and preferably faster aperture. This may or may not provide you with the capability to shoot in the areas you desire to shoot. It would also be the most expensive of all the remedies.

    This would probably be the best solution if you are shooting outdoors and if your present camera at highest ISO cannot do the job. It is difficult to bounce flash outdoors since there is no ceiling off which to bounce. However, using a hotshoe flash and the Flash Diffuser Pro ( www.dembflashproducts.com ), you can tilt the FlipIt portion of that unit to 45 degrees forward and get fairly decent light outdoors...

    Help: Low Light condition photography

    For shots around the house, bouncing a flash can give very nice resuts. If I had attempted to shoot this image using just available light, I don't think that it would have come out as well. I also don't think that this image screams "FLASH WAS USED!"

    Help: Low Light condition photography
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 22nd March 2012 at 04:14 PM.

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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    First of all, thanks for prompt responses. Its a very handy website and the members here have made the forums amazing as well.

    I do not know whats a flash compensation feature is?
    You'll have to check your manual on how to set this, it allows you to control the intensity of your camera's flash.

    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    Generally my issue arises when i am outside at night and the light surroundings are low, capturing images of friends approx 3-6 feet distance.
    The farther away your friends are from both the flash and the camera's sensor, the less likely of either being effective.


    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    Also, how would the settings differ if am taking a pic of an object at a far off distance at light with minimum possible natural light available. Secondly, if i am inside the house with lights on but flash OFF, then the pics come out blurred and dotted, very softened images. Whats the solution to that?

    I take my words back, not necessarily the pics with flash can be regarded as "death of photography" as i myself end up using the flash because without it nothing tends to work.

  8. #8
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    Re: Help: Low Light condition photography

    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    I have a Canon powershot I5 Is and i love photography. Not professionally qualified but treat it as my passionate hobby. Loving taking pictures of landscape, nature and people and events, excessively. My problem is, i am not satisfied with my camera's low light photography. Flash is the ultimate death of photography. Will shifting the camera to AV mode and higher the ISO to 200-400 help for taking photojournalist pics?
    I suspect that the camera you have is a Canon Powershot S5 IS – but you do need to confirm the model.

    I have found the S5 IS adequate for 10 x 8 prints for Available Light Candid Portraiture when used between ISO200 and to and including ISO800:

    Help: Low Light condition photography
    F/3.5 @ 1/25s @ ISO200 FL=72mm Manual Mode


    Help: Low Light condition photography
    F/3.5 @ 1/40s @ ISO800: FL = 42mm Manual Mode

    For landscape work, ISO 80 is very good:
    Help: Low Light condition photography

    Help: Low Light condition photography
    Both ISO 80

    And the dynamic range / noise floor shooting at ISO 80 to ISO200 is adequate for difficult direct light / open shade shooting scenarios:
    Help: Low Light condition photography
    ISO200

    ***

    You can choose to use the camera in Av mode if you wish – but fundamental making good at Low Light shooting is to:
    NOT UNDEREXPOSE.

    In this regard the FIRST element of the camera’s functionality you must learn and fully UNDERSTAND is the METERING MODES (p78).

    In this regard the FIRST element of the camera’s functionality you must learn and fully UNDERSTAND is the METERING MODES (p78).

    That sentence is written twice, because of all the students I have taught and the comments I have made about Available Light Shooting – although that is one of the first sentences I state – it is very rarely acted upon.


    I suggest, for these shooting scenarios you experiment with SPOT METERING on the ILLUMINATED SIDE of the FACE of the MAIN SUBJECT and the OPEN UP ONE STOP for Caucasian Skin, make no adjustment for WELL TANNED SKIN and CLOSE DOWN ONE STOP for DARK BROWN SKIN.

    I use Manual Shooting mode.

    Using Av mode and then making Exposure Compensation is too fiddly for my style of shooting.

    This outline is not the only metering and shooting method for Low Available Light Portraiture.

    I am NOT implying mine is the best method – it is just one method and the one I use the most often, because for me it is the quickest and the most reliable in MOST shooting scenarios when using a camera with TTL Metering.

    I encourage you to research and understand why this method works - if you understand how the TTL meter works and why – then you will be able to adapt that knowledge to other cameras and other shooting scenarios.

    ***

    Quote Originally Posted by snasayed View Post
    I do not know whats a flash compensation feature is? I am at the office right now so don't have the access to the pics otherwise i would have attached them for your kind perusal as well. Generally my issue arises when i am outside at night and the light surroundings are low, capturing images of friends approx 3-6 feet distance.

    Also, how would the settings differ if am taking a pic of an object at a far off distance at light with minimum possible natural light available.

    Secondly, if i am inside the house with lights on but flash OFF, then the pics come out blurred and dotted, very softened images. Whats the solution to that?
    I take my words back, not necessarily the pics with flash can be regarded as "death of photography" as i myself end up using the flash because without it nothing tends to work.

    The first concept to understand is that when using FLASH there are TWO exposures you must consider: The AMBIENT EXPOSURE and the FLASH EXPOSURE.

    Research this to find that in simple terms - the AMBIENT exposure will be determined by the SHUTTER SPEEDand that is the very first element you must control.

    This is one other reason why I like using MANUAL MODE – because I can very quickly control the SHUTTER SPEED when I am using FLASH with a PowerShot Camera

    ***

    The S5 IS has a PuF (Pop Up Flash) BUT it also has an hot-shoe.

    If you are seriously considering Flash Photography with this camera, then you should consider buying a dedicated Canon Flash Speedlite (e.g. 430EX) – one with a tilt and swivel action.

    The Powershot S5 IS is compatible with the modern Speedlites and the FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) and other functionalities are explained in the User Manual pp93~95.

    An Off Camera Cord is useful, if you want to use a Canon dedicated Flash more creatively.


    ***

    That said, the PuF can be used for Flash Fill OUTSIDE, on a sunny or lightly overcast day and is suitable for Subjects at about 1 to 2.5 mtrs, depending upon the amount of Flash which is required for Fill.


    ***

    Also the PuF can be used INSIDE for fill, from window light for example and also OUTSIDE if one uses the ambient light creativley (by controlling the Shutter Speed)

    But this requires finesse as the PuF on this camera is very crude.
    The camera allows only TWO levels of Flash Compensation when using the PuF.
    However, with a dedicated Flash in the Hot-shoe, there are Flash Exposure Compensation, from Full Power to 1/64th Power, in Third Stop increments)

    ***

    Here is are examples of Flash Fill indoors using the PuF these are three JPEGS SOOC.
    The Subject is stitting 1mtr form a white-cream wall and the window is 2mtrs camera left with a light shear white curtain diffusingbthe afternoon sun:
    Help: Low Light condition photography

    1/13ths @ F/4.5 @ ISO400 Manual Mode (metering as per description above using Spot Metering)

    Note the SHUTTER SPEED used to suit the AMBIENT exposure.

    The first frame is NO FLASH
    The second Frame is FLASH at the LOWEST setting (“⅓ Power”)
    The third Frame is flash at the intermediate setting (“⅔ Power”).

    Note that the camera is held Vertical Format and with the PuF to CAMERA RIGHT – such that the FLASH FILL is directed to the SHADOW SIDE of the face.

    As can be seen the PuF is rough tool, but it is not impossible to control.

    The second frame reveals adequate Flash Fill to soften the cheek bones, the shadow on the neck and top of clavicle and fill the right eye nose area and provide a little added crispness to the eyes.

    The gross disparity between what the camera thinks is ⅔ Flash Power and what it provides as Full power is evident – as there is little difference, if the camera is used in this more sophisticated manner.

    If you want to use Flash to make the ”Kodak Instamatic” pictures, then it is best use the green rectangle mode – it works very well with the PuF for most shooting scenarios.

    ***

    There are probably two issues about the dotted and blurry images – the first is Subject Movement and the second is shutter delay.

    Now there could also be camera shake, but that is less likely as the IS on that camera is quite good.

    Addressing Subject Movement - this is arrested by using an adequate Shutter Speed.

    Now the problem is that when people are sitting still, they are NOT sitting still, so even though the IS will allow you to make Portraits at Shutter Speeds of 1/8s without any appreciable camera shake, you cannot ensure the Subject will be still for that duration – unless you put their head in a vice.

    The other element to learn and anticipate is the shutter delay – and that is real – the image is taken quite a few milliseconds after the shutter button is depressed, so you must anticipate the stillness of the subject, in advance.

    ***

    All this stated, it is important to realise that the PowerShot Range of Cameras are not the best tools in the Canon Stable, realistically it is far easier to achieve Good Quality Available Light Portraiture, with an entry level EOS DLSR and the 18 to 55 kit Lens – and easier still using an entry level DSLR and fast Prime such as the EF35/2 or EF50/1.8MkII.

    But the question is not about those cameras or lenses: it is about how to do it with a PowerShot.


    WW

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