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Thread: Question about low light images.

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    Question about low light images.

    I was looking at a coworkers photographs from her daughter's ballet rehearsal. They caught my attention because I thought they were rather clear for the lighting. They even caught people mid jump. She told me they were taken by one of the other parents who had a "real good camera" so she didn't know much about them. The stage was somewhat well lit but they were taken from a decent distance in an otherwise dark auditorium. I have an Olympus Evolt E300 which I guess may not be a "real good camera" depending on your standards, but I feel like it is a respectable entry level DSLR. I feel like in low light situations I have difficulty using a fast enough shutter speed to stop motion even with the aperture opened up all the way. The ISO only goes up to 1600 and it gets pretty noisey anyway so I hate going up there. Is there a technique I am not aware of beside low f stops and high ISOs to get better exposures in low light?

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    In similar circumstances, I shoot at 1/60, on shutter priority, at !SO800, with a telephoto lens, rated at 2.8 to 4.5 minimum aperture ( I don't have a choice about the lens, It's a point and shoot!). The ideal would be to shoot with aperture priority, but I use my zoom, which changes the aperture as I zoom in and out. If you have a telephoto lens with the same minimum aperture zoomed in AND out ( and that would be a really nice lens!), you should be able to do this! You need to be fairly close to eliminate the camera wobble associated with zooming your lens all the way out. If you have a vibration reduction lens or sensor, turn that on, as it will be a huge help! And lastly, you will have to use the viewfinder, so you can screw the camera into your eye socket, which will keep the camera steady! One other tip, if you feel the need, you can increase the shutter speed which will underexpose the image a little, and bring the image back out in Photoshop later.
    Here are couple examples. I've found that,unless you feel comfortable shooting these pictures in AUTO ( it's do-able, I will explain later in another post), 1/60 at ISO800 is best for inside and stage lighting, if you want to have reasonably focused images, without the graininess, of people in motion.

    Question about low light images.

    Question about low light images.

    Question about low light images.



    I hope these are helpful!
    Last edited by Benboxer; 12th December 2009 at 08:54 PM.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Im not convinced that 1/60 is enough to freeze action, the moving limbs on benboxers images are getting fairly soft, and i doubt those kids are leaping about. Besides opening the aperture and upping the iso to get the shutter speed super fast, there are two other things you might be able to do with various success. Flash, if you have one may be able to provide the extra light that is needed to capture the dancers. Else you could try panning with the dancers, by following the dancer with the camera you can reduce the level of movement relative to the camera, this wont do so much for flailing limbs, but should help keep the torso from getting soft.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Hi Mike,

    These types of shoot are always a compromise. Depth of Field isn't usually an issue so shooting wide-open is usually a given, but after that if comes down to whatever ISO / shutterspeed combination gives you the best result.

    Personally, I usually suggest that folks don't worry too much about noise - it looks bad when viewed at high magnifications, but at low magnifications (ie the entire image on the screen) or in a physical print it's nowhere near as much of an issue - plus - there are programs like Noise Ninja and Neat Image that can lower the noise to what it would have been had you shot at 2 Stops lower ISO. Motion blur on the other hand is a lot more obvious.

    Real world options for low-light shooting are always limited when there's motion - using fast glass and/or cameras with good high ISO performance and/or flash is about all you can do. If you're ever shooting these events for the organisers, then the ideal is to have several flashes mounted near the stage, and trigger them remotely (a popular technique for sports like basketball).

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Hi all,

    I would agree with Will that 1/60 is risking blurry limbs.

    Theatrical lighting is notoriously patchy and changeable.

    I personally would go for a version of auto (probably aperture priority set at wide open) as I doubt you'll have time to assess the changing light levels and amend the manual settings, Ben's last shot sort of bears this out as I'd say it is a good stop over-exposed. Getting the exposure wrong wastes depth of field and/or increases blur unnecessarily.

    However, which method is best is very dependent upon your own camera and Ben knows his quite well by now, plus his experience stage shooting is far more recent than mine.

    A mono-pod might be worth considering to help steady the shots.

    If you can, shoot RAW, the noise reduction in ACR is good and if that isn't available, or is insufficient, then invest in something like Neat Image, then you can crank that ISO up as high as it'll go.

    Hope that helps,

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    I would agree with Will that 1/60 is risking blurry limbs.
    For what it's worth, I like to work around a minimum of 1/640th to freeze sports action.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Thanks for all of the prompt replies. Unfortunately for some reason on these computers here at work Ben's example photos aren't showing up so I'll have to look at them later. You guys definitely brought up some concepts that I hadn't considered. I like the idea of underexposing with a faster shutter and editing later. I just began dealing with RAW but from what I understand, that file format should make that reasonable. I am definitely a hobbyist at best and I haven't invested in much other than CS4 so far so using the built in flash isn't really an option over any distance. I guess my main concern is that you don't really get the chance to practice with the described cicumstances until your in the situation where you have to make the photos count. I definitely plan on investing in a mono-pod and some some noise reduction software at some point in the near future. Thanks again for the help folks.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Quote Originally Posted by mikeyg View Post
    I like the idea of underexposing with a faster shutter and editing later
    If you have the option of under-exposing (and then correcting in PP) or using a higher ISO then you'll get less noise by using a higher ISO.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    For people moving fairly slowly, e.g. playing music (in a not overly energetic manner), I usually find about 1/100s to be OK. Even then you can get a bit of motion blur on a bow hand or something like that, but overall it will usually be acceptable. For people jumping or otherwise moving quickly it needs to be faster, 1/400 or thereabouts. As a general rule, to me:

    - Motion blur is much worse than either noise due to high ISO or some overall softness due to noise reduction, so go for high ISO if you need to in order to get the exposure time down.
    - Softness due to heavy noise reduction is worse than a bit of graininess in the output, so don't overdo it.
    - Colour blotchiness looks worse than graininess, so emphasise chroma over luminance noise reduction.

    Threading the optical needle through clutter is likely to be a problem, so you need a fairly narrow field of view (unless you are right up at the front). You will also want a fair bit of reach. All this means medium telephoto. And you want as much speed as you can get, and reliable autofocus. For me this is 100mm (160mm equivalent) F2 wide open practically all the time. Be prepared to take the shots that you can get rather than agonise over precise framing. In these situations there's often no particular reason to prefer one picture to another one anyway, within reasonable limits.

    The other thing is always to record raw images. You can accomplish significantly better noise reduction by letting a computer munch on the data later than the camera can do in a few milliseconds. You can also address white balance issues much more easily and effectively. (Warning: I'm only talking as an amateur here, and not an especially experienced one).

    Will

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Quote Originally Posted by mikeyg View Post
    Thanks for all of the prompt replies. Unfortunately for some reason on these computers here at work Ben's example photos aren't showing up so I'll have to look at them later. You guys definitely brought up some concepts that I hadn't considered. I like the idea of underexposing with a faster shutter and editing later. I just began dealing with RAW but from what I understand, that file format should make that reasonable. I am definitely a hobbyist at best and I haven't invested in much other than CS4 so far so using the built in flash isn't really an option over any distance. I guess my main concern is that you don't really get the chance to practice with the described cicumstances until your in the situation where you have to make the photos count. I definitely plan on investing in a mono-pod and some some noise reduction software at some point in the near future. Thanks again for the help folks.
    As Colin has suggested, to freeze the action of moving people on the stage particularly in low light is a problem, unless taken on HIGHER SHUTTER SPEED

    To some extend it also can me improve with some PP. but best is with fast shutter speed

    My improved version. with PP in PS

    Question about low light images.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    There are a few issue to consider, some already mentioned.

    Firstly for these shooting scenarios a Prime Lens is often the better choice, simply because of the leverage of at least one stop over any fast zoom . . . many Prime lenses will give two stops or more advantage.

    This aperture advantage can be translated into using a lower ISO and / or a faster shutter speed – using a lower ISO if possible will allow for more leverage should you wish to crop the image later.

    As a practical example, on your camera if you had a choice of using the EZ 40-150 mm F/3.5 – F/4.5 or the ED 50 mm F/2.0, it might well be that using the 50mm lens would be better to get the ISO down and the Tv up – and crop the image later to emulate the FoV of the 150mm lens.

    The second point to consider is the lighting (already mentioned is patchy) – so IMO the best general method to address stage / theatre lighting is to use a spot meter function (or centre weighted average) and exposure correctly for the key subject’s face and let the colour and the rest of the lighting fall where it may.

    One important point to remember is that the resultant noise is also a factor of exposure - UNDERexposing is your very worst enemy when working at HIGH ISO, and the face of the actor is usually the most important feature.

    The third point is anticipation of the shutter release to coincide with the moment of minimal Subject Movement. There will always be a point of least movement, as an example when walking it is when the arms are at full swing and the legs at full stride.

    The fourth point is use of Flash – not always an option but maybe it is an option . . at the Dress Rehearsal - so consider getting access if this type of capture is a passion for you and your family.

    The fifth point is mobility. If you can be mobile, arrange it – it makes a Prime lens more useful.

    The last point is, if you are in the audience, cannot move, using a DSLR and the theatre light is really dark – then you have what you have and what wins the day is a combination of all of the above, but mainly High ISO, Fast lenses, and good timing.

    FWIW a Rangefinder and a real fast 50mm lens . . . like F/0.95 is the very best tool to use for this job, IMO. – Rangefinders are quiet and there is no mirror slap – with practice one can get consistent shake-free images at second, hand held – (obviously only useful if the stage is static)

    WW

    This is 5D / 85F1.8: shooting F/1.8 @ 1/80s @ ISO3200. This is the limit – I could not pull slower than 1/80s, even though I could do so without camera shake – the movement of the actors prohibited a slower shutter – note I have captured both hand and foot movement. In any case I was maxed out with ISO and Aperture – the lighting was really dark – but note I exposed for the face – using the spot meter in the 5D. Also, I used Manual Mode, AWB.

    00sgrx-113915584.jpg

    (thanks for putting the image in line, Colin - I forgot the formula. Cheers)
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    Last edited by William W; 16th February 2010 at 02:51 AM.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    In low light like that, you want to use a high ISO so that you can get a proper shutter speed to freeze the action; unless you WANT to show the motion, which is perfectly acceptable. But your exposure will be much better using a higher ISO.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    Quote Originally Posted by BriPhi View Post
    unless you WANT to show the motion, which is perfectly acceptable.

    Later, in the same production, the Evil Witch gets her comeuppance – a good bash in the head fixes everything and the heroine is saved . . .

    I purposely dropped the Tv to 1/50s to capture this couplet. A fine balance, and a compromise when the series was only a split second between exposures and no time to make adjustments.


    Question about low light images.


    The same applies to dancers.

    If you watch the rehearsal, go to the classes or know the dancing teacher you will have an advantage, as you will better know what the dancers will do (well, what they are expected to do), so you can practice the timing of when you shoot to make the most visual impact - so think along the choreography and plan the timing of when the best image will be; and also plan where you need to be, to get that best facial expression.

    In this play I was limited to my viewpoint - I was static all the play – but I did have my shot timing all planned out, and also when to expect extreme lighting changes, as I had taken notes at the dress rehearsal . . . so I knew these two shots were coming and I dropped the Tv to 1/50s to make the best visual impact of the "bash" whilst still knowing I was safe to get a clean shot of the Heroine and no camera shake.


    WW
    Last edited by William W; 16th February 2010 at 03:20 AM.

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    Re: Question about low light images.

    In very difficult low lighting situations, it's best to set your camera to Manual (M) mode and dial in your settings manually (A/Sp) along with the highest ISOs; to give you the shutter speeds you will need to freeze action. If you can't get the highest ISOs that you will need (make sure you're shooting in RAW, not JPEG, for PP) then you will need the fastest glass possible to make up the difference in allowing light in. [This will often times be a prime with a aperture of f1.8-1.4.]. I do not recommend going to aperture or shutter priority because the camera will just set the aperture and shutter speeds for the "best presets", which will often times results in more blurred or dark exposures.

    For little little ones, a shutter speed of 1/125th (depending on lighting) will do for the most part but 1/250th is even better. But older girls a minimum of 1/320th-1/400th to freeze action. Again, your shutter speeds are dictated by your available ISO's and aperture settings, along with steady hand to avoid camera shake, and of course "watch your exposure meter".

    I do not recommend shooting wide open because images will appear "soft" which is a normal characteristic caused by CA (chromatic aberration). Stop it down to f2-2.8 to avoid this. Getting as close to the stage will be beneficial in getting more useable lighting, but unfortunately the trade off is that you won't be able to get wide angle shots. Using a single AF point on continuous focus on your subject while "panning" will get you better "centrally focused" results (arms and legs blurred) which can be acceptable. This image was taken at 6400 ISO and cleaned up in post.

    Question about low light images.

    Strobes or flash guns are another option if permissible. But you will need a way to trigger them (radio triggers are the most reliable, IR is only good if you're in line of site) and that's not exactly cheap either. Plus you will have to understand flash photography.
    Last edited by Amberglass; 16th February 2010 at 11:01 PM.

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