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Thread: Unique Night Conditions

  1. #1

    Unique Night Conditions

    Hello All,
    This is what i'm sure will be my first post of many. I'll begin off advising all I am definately an amateur, i've been taking pictures for about a year in some special conditions. This leads to me begging all for some input on settings. A good majority of the pictures i'm taking are in low light conditions (random night times) with reflective material in the background and lots of flashing lights. I've been volunteering taking pictures of a local fire department. I'm having problems with the night time fires. A majority of my pictures show blurry firefighters (due to the reflective gear) and the nerve of them firefighters moving around! Soo, I guess the experts reading now want to know my gear...so here's what I carry with me:

    Camera:
    Canon Rebel XTi- EOS 400D
    Lens:
    Canon EFS 18-55
    Canon EF 70-300 Ultrasonic with IS (THIS ONE'S MY BABY)
    Flash:
    Canon 430EX speedlite
    I also have with me at all times a tripod, extra batteries and cleaning cloths.

    I have received SOME advice from some other amateurs on settings, I haven't been able to try them out too much. I have noticed the autofocus is not good at night in my unique conditions, I have used manual focus with some success. The programmed "night mode" or "landscape" modes have not worked out too well, so i've been using the manual modes with different settings for white balance, aperture, flash settings...etc...
    SOOO, what advice do you have guys??? oh and please don't get tooo technical with language, you'll lose me fast. Just some basic techniques, or specific settings for the Rebel would be most appreciative. I already learned a lot from some other posts...but I need more!
    Oh and the last part...i've found that a lot of my pictures I wish I had a good lens that would be around 50-80 range...sooo i'm changing between my 2 lenses often, any suggestions for a good lens (that would meet my needs between the 2 lenses I have)would be great!!!!

  2. #2
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Flashover,
    Autofocus might work better if you have an external flash. The built-in pop up flash of the Rebel has a very short range. An external flash besides having the benefit of more power, has an autofocus assist light. I believe the newer Canon Speedlites have that feature.

    That's probably not something you'd like to hear I know. Spend more $$.

    Best advice I can give you at this point is go out and buy a 50 mm f1.8 or a f1.4 if you can afford it. The f1.8 is around US $100, the f1.4 is 3x.

    The larger lens opening means you can shoot in lower light conditions. Those kit lenses you get the 18mm to 55 mm have a variable aperture f3.5 on the wide end and f5.6 on the 55 mm end. Not the best lens to use in poor lighting conditions.

    Here's why. In order to shoot at f3.5 to let in more light, you have to shoot at the 18 mm focal length. You don't want to be that close in a residential fire, do you?

    So to be safe you'll have to shoot with your longest focal length right? That means you have f5.6. That is a very small opening, even at iso 1600, so it forces your camera on automatic to use a slow shutter speed.

    Slow shutter speeds mean you can't freeze your subjects. Even if you have your camera on a tripod and you eliminate camera shake, don't forget your subjects don't stay still especially if they're firefighter's working a fire.

    Your best bet based on what you currently have is to use a high iso. If you invest in a faster lens, you will see better results almost immediately. For a comparison between an f1.4 or f1.8 lens, read this. It gets kind of technical but it may at least answer some of your questions.

    Upload some pictures and tell me exactly what your iso setting is and I'll see if I can offer more guidance.

    http://peterphun.com/blog

    Good luck Flashover.

  3. #3
    Raycer's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    wow! Let me get this right:

    1) little or no light
    2) fast action
    3) Outdoor - so I'm guessing there aren't ceiling or walls that you can bounce the flash off.

    I agree with Pixel Pete. Fast prime lens will be your best bet! 50 1.4, or 85 1.8.
    In addition to faster shutter speed, fast primes will allow more light for AF to work.

    Also, try a use mono-pod instead of tri's. It'll gives you more freedom.

    As a last resort when there's just not enough light, try to take your pictures with highest ISO and -1 or -1.5 EV. Push it in PP, use NR software and convert it to B/W.

    and lastly... do I dare say "direct flash!"

    That's my 2 pennies worth. Good luck!!

  4. #4

    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Awesome guys, I appreciate the reply's...Pete I do have an external flash. It's a Canon 430 EX SpeedLite, I'm still learning how to use it! I'm definately going to look into the faster prime lens. I've been thinking about getting an additional lens anyway, to meet the in between range my other two lenses are missing. What would be a good lens to buy, that's fast for the night shots that can be used with a teleconverter for a little better range...or is that not a good idea????

  5. #5
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    So much good advice it's hard to add much else. As summarized by Raycer, you already have the three requirements of (1) little or no light, (2) fast action and (3) outdoors. If you can avoid it, I would definitely try to be in positions where a telephoto focal length is not added to that list of requirements. Fast telephoto lenses will up your costs (and weight) considerably. As mentioned, I think that the 50 1.4/1.8 or 85 mm 1.8 would be your best bets. The 85 mm focal length should give you a decent amount of "reach" on a camera with a 1.6X crop factor, such as your Canon Rebel 400D.

    Beyond this, just make sure that you are not unnecessarily overexposing your shots. The auto exposure mode will usually do this for the kind of shots you describe. The earlier advice of potentially using -1 EV or more could ease your lens requirements considerably, if this is indeed a problem.

  6. #6
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Hello Flashover,

    Nothing to add, as it's all been covered as expertly as usual. Just wanted to say don't forget to show us the results!

    Mark

  7. #7
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Flashover,
    If you have an external flash then I would suggest you use your camera on a tripod. Since you're a volunteer firefighter you have accessibility and you should use that to your advantage.

    Painting the scene with your flash on manual.

    Here's what to do:
    1. Meter the scene say at ISO 100. Supposing you get a reading of 1/8 sec at f2, then set your aperture to f16 and set your shutter speed to 4 full seconds for an equivalent exposure.

    2.From your owner's manual, here's a chart of the Guide Number for the Canon 430EX.
    Unique Night Conditions

    3. Calculating aperture to set.
    From the Guide Number chart at ISO 100 for a 50 mm lens, you can see the Guide Number is 14.1. That means if your flash is set @ 1/64th power at 10 feet away, you divide 14.1 by 10' so that your aperture to set is f 14. Not exactly what is set on your lens but close enough about a 1/2 stop difference.

    4.Figure out how to change the zoom setting on your flash to 50 mm. And also how to reduce the flash out to 1/64th power. (The lower flash output means your flash can recycle fast, you want to be able to pop the flash more than twice if you can to paint let's say 2 firefighters in different parts of the scene in front of you).If you're using a zoom lens like 18 mm to 55mm, then set the focal length of your lens accordingly at the 50 mm setting.

    5. Enlist the help of someone to trip the shutter as you get to at least 10 feet of your firefighters in the scene. If you can't find someone, setting the self-timer to 10 seconds would be an option.

    Having a person there will minimize the chances of your camera and tripod walking off on its own, if you know what I mean)

    . If you have a cable release even better. Just because you have the camera on a tripod, you will see that the mere act of pressing down on the shutter release can jar the camera and ruin the picture.

    6. When you're in position, approx 10 feet from the firefirefighters, tell you assistant to trip the shutter.

    Press the "OPEN FLASH" button on your flash and paint the scene with your flash. Keep the flash shielded from the camera by your own body so that the "muzzle flash" can't be seen. Proceed to paint the important parts of your scene with your flash while the shutter is open for the 4 seconds.

    Mentally keep track of where you've painted. Where there is overlap, you'll get over exposure, hopefully your lens aperture setting of f 16 will compensate for these areas.

    Best of luck Flashover. With practice and good note-taking you will be a master at this.
    Upload some pictures when you get a chance to try this.
    Last edited by pixel pete; 10th November 2008 at 10:23 PM.

  8. #8
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Hi flashover,

    As McQ said, so much good advice, especially pixel pete's really helpful guidance on painting with flash. I must try it one night in the garden (trust me; it's better in the dark )

    One minor note of concern, it occurs to me that too great a use of flash (from 10 feet) may not endear you to the firefighters if they happen to look round just as you're 'painting'. Although I guess 1/64 power is going to be pretty short flash.

    I'm sure you must be considerate (i.e. not getting in their way, etc.), or you'd have been asked to desist by now.

    I can see where your forum name came from now.

    My attitude is probably why I'll never earn a living from photography though!

    Pete, I hope you don't mind me raising this

  9. #9
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Rustyshutter,
    Thanks for your input .Especially the bit about blinding the firefighters. Those are very valid points. The technique I suggested is tried and proven. I used it over the years and never had a problem with firefighters working precisely because it's 1/64th power and not full blast.

    I was a staff photographer on a newspaper. Firefighters are way too busy to be bothered by your little burst of flash. Besides, most of the time, their backs are to you and they're facing the fire.

    Of course, if you're working at an active crime scene with police, flash is not going to be well-received at all precisely because the cops' night vision will be ruined.

  10. #10
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Thanks Pete, you've obviously "got the T-shirt" unlike me

    I visit your site often to learn more, thanks for sharing - and of course the gems you post here.

  11. #11
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    @rustyshutter; yeah I would echo that.

    @McQ; Needed; A "we are not worthy Smiley".NoNoNoMaybe

    Mark

  12. #12
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    guess what guys? In my elaborate explanation. No one checked my Math. At 1/64th power with a Guide Number of 14.1, the aperture should be 14.1 divided by 10 feet = f1.4 not f14. So it's time for everyone else reading this to provide the correct technique.

    Hint: instead of setting the exposure for 4 secs @ f16, what should I be doing on scene to successfully pull this off?

    I'm in a rush to go pick up the kids after school. I'll provide the answer when I get back.

    I thought of editing my original post but thought against it because it only shows I'm human.

  13. #13
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Sorry to be answering my own post and sounding like a know-it-all.

    Take a look at an updated graphic of the same Guide Number table
    Unique Night Conditions

    Why use a shutter speed of 4 secs @ f16 for ISO 100?

    1. 4 seconds allows you enough time to paint

    2. It also allows your flash more time to recycle. Depending on the freshness of your batteries, this may or may not be an issue.


    If you look at the 3rd row with flash set to output 1/4 power at a distance of 5 feet, you'll get an aperture of f11. I know you're thinking that's going to underexposed by 1 stop. You're right.

    So what you have to do is fire the flash twice at the same spot and you'll get an increase of exposure from f11 to f16. Remember the effect is cumulative since you're firing the flash at the same spot.

    If you can't get closer than 5 feet, then adjust accordingly according to the chart which comes with your particular make and model of flash.

  14. #14

    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Thanks again Pete, I was going to correct you...but I'm glad you did....haha! Yeah right! I don't think any of us caught it. I'm really looking forward to the next night call. I will definately post pictures and try out the different techniques listed. I might just take some pictures of the trucks at night time and see how they come out. I'm gonna be saving up for the new lens...hopefully soon. THANKS!!
    p.s. this site's awesome!

  15. #15
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    You almost made me miss the chirping, alarm and tones of the fire department that I routinely heard when I monitored the police scanners. NOT!

    http://peterphun.com/news_pages/waterDrop.html

    http://peterphun.com/news_pages/evacCheck.html

    Those were taken October 2003 during the worst of the fires here in Southern California.

  16. #16
    shreds's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Would back up a lot of what has already been said, though one thing that I don't think any one has commented on is the reflective material on the firefighters uniforms mentioned in the first post.

    I personally find that flash and reflective material are a no no. When it does occur I inevitably find myself toning it down using post capture software, but prefer to avoid it in the first place. Therefore I try to use available light with a high ISO and a tripod or monopod.

    If you are using flash, then setting a number of units around the scene to fire off as slaves to the main unit may well give you more 'even' lighting of the scene, if your flash unit accommodates such features.

    On the subject of lenses, get yourself a 50 mm f1.4 or f1.8, as has been said, no doubt there are loads of detail shots that you can grab in such a busy scene, telephoto zooms at night are not ideal and you will get problems of 'flare' (light bouncing around inside the lens barrel) that will show as circles or strange bright spots on your shot, which generally you don't want.

    If there is a fire, then no doubt there will be more light than normal around the scene, but you certainly have picked an interesting yet enormously challenging introduction to photography.

  17. #17
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    The conditions you face are quite challenging. One thing not mentioned is the high dynamic range required to show the dark and light areas in this kind of shooting.
    You might want to consider using your camera in raw mode. You could then process 2 versions of each shot, one for the shadows and the other for the highlights. You would then combine them in photoshop. There is a good explanation of how to do this at Russell Browns website. Here is the link http://av.adobe.com/russellbrown/MergeAndPlaceSM.mov.
    You can do this with any image editor that lets you make layers. Use either highlight or shadow processed raw file and paint in the opposite with a soft brush with low opacity.
    Mr Brown's movie is self explanatory.
    Good luck.

  18. #18
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Poljazz,
    Thanks for posting an alternative solution. I'm not as well versed in the ways of photoshop. I guess I'm old school in that respect. Take the picture as if it was in the film days with sound camera technique and not have to deal so much in post production.

    I'll definitely have to see that movie to learn more. Thanks.

  19. #19

    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    All I can say is THANK YOU ALL! I've gotten a lot of really good information. I've been practicing the night shots with the fire trucks and the gear. I'm getting much, much better pictures. I haven't bought photoshop yet to try out that last advice...but I will as soon as I can afford it. I'm actually looking forward to the next big night call. THANKS!!!!!!!!!

  20. #20
    pixel pete's Avatar
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    Re: Unique Night Conditions

    Flashover,
    If you're uncertain about coughing up so much for the full version of Photoshop. Photoshop Elements will do a lot of the things mentioned Poljazz.

    If you know a teacher or a full time college student, they can get academic pricing for Photoshop. 2 places that come to mind:

    http://creationengine.com
    http://academicsuperstore.com

    Post some of your fire pictures...

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