I’d like to share some tips and an 8 step exercise for shooting in low light using a beautiful wedding we shot in NY at the Sagamore.
Set the Scene…
There were two images I thought you might enjoy talking about. Both images were taken in extremely low lighting. Shades were drawn to the one- windowed room. Rain beat the window to make sure we knew it was a down pour. The main source of light was a lamp, and lamp light tends to cast a yellow glow on everything. Have you ever witnessed the yellow glow come up in your photos? If so, you know what I mean, huh!
What do you do when shooting in low light? The obvious is to think about the technical factors. Do I pop my flash? But the flash creates a different look all together. And the technical questions go on. Addressing the technical issues makes the most important question “What is the story of this moment?” addressed after the fact, and sometimes never at all.
For me the story of an image is every thing. If the image isn’t technically perfect it doesn’t matter. What matters is I served the viewer in effectively communicating the story. But I have to know the story, find the hidden stories, for my viewer to ever follow.
The story of this brief pre-ceremony moment was an old world, timeless experience that every bride feels. Shachar was waiting for the final word that said, “Okay. It’s time to walk down the aisle.” The anticipation of a bride, the one (often two) last looks in the mirror, the fresh fluffing of the veil, the nervous look at her dad, the deep exhale with eyes closed… These are the timeless steps every bride acts on in the last few minutes while waiting to walk down the aisle. The story of how beautiful, how timeless, how innocent, this moment is…this was the story I wanted to capture for Shachar.
Thinking through the story first means not holding the camera up to my eye, but letting the camera rest as I look at the situation, the subtle dynamics unfolding all around me. And then when I see that shimmer, the shimmer of an existing story, then I lift up the camera and get the shots.
This is when the technical pieces comes into play.
Now that I have my story, how do I capture it?
1. I don’t want to pop my flash so I can capture ambient lighting.
2. I know the lamp light is going to make Shachar more golden colored than I prefer, but that’s okay b/c of Step 3.
3. Shoot the image in color and later turn into BW so I can help reemphasize the old world look of the image with BW toning.
4. Meter on Shachar and use the lamp’s light to add drama and shadows to the image.
5. If I’m not going to pop a flash, I need to bump up my ISO for enough light.
Here are two images that describe the story of that pre-ceremony moment.
It’s time. Shachar’s sister helping her fluff the veil, moments before walking down the aisle.
For all my Photo Recipe lovers, here are both recipes for shooting in low light;
Image #1 of Shachar by herself:
Aperture/Fstop was 2.8. Shutter Speed was 1/200 or 200th of a second. ISO was all the way up to 4000. For being at 4000 ISO, doesn’t the image look pretty grain free? The Sony DSLR-Alpha 900 is the reason why. I also shot this image at 50mm.
Image #2 of Shachar’s sister fluffing her veil:
Aperture/Fstop was down to 1.7. I focused on Shachar’s eyes. The eyes are often the most important focal point, especially when using super low fstops. The Shutter Sped was 1/160 or 160th of a second. ISO was again at 4000. This was also shot with the Sony DSLR-Alpha 900. And I used the 85mm, f1.4 Carl Zeiss lens. (my favorite lens right now)
Metering is a big part of how these images become possible. And as our CONFIDENCE workshop ladies know, metering is not so bad after all. In fact, it’s quite easy. It just depends on the teacher. 🙂
8 Step Exercise for Shooting in Low Light:
1. How well do you know your camera’s limitations? How high can you go in your ISO before the image suffers in quality? Is it 800, 1600, 4000, 6500? Experiment with taking pictures at these different ISO settings so you can see how far your camera will go.
2. Set up a low lit situation. Don’t wait for it to come to you and catch you off guard. Practice now so you’re ready for the real thing!
3. Put your camera in Manual mode. (I know. I said the M word but go with me on this. :))
4. Go as low as possible in your fstop. If you can’t zoom in on an object and go lower than 3.5-5.6, consider taking our workshop so you can learn why a different lens would suit you better. For instance, the 50mm fixed lens will often go below a 2.0 fstop. It might be worth the $100 investment.
5. Slow your Shutter Speed down as low as possible without getting motion blur from hand holding the camera. If you have one of the Sony Alpha cameras, like the AWE-mazing Sony a7RIII, your lucky b/c you’ve got the built in Super Steady Shot feature which allows you to handhold the camera at 1/20th of a second! That’s craziness when most the world can’t go under 1/60th of a second. If you don’t have the Sony Alphas or an expensive Image Stabilizer lens, your going to need to stay above 1/60th of a second. Any lower and your image won’t be sharp b/c of the motion it picks up in your hand.
6. Now that your aperture is wide open and shutter speed is slow, take a picture of an object or person in the low lighting you’ve set up. Have them stand next to the lamp like Shachar happened to be.
7. Is the image too dark or too bright? If it’s too dark, slow your Shutter Speed down more. Here is one process of elimination: If you’re already at 1/60th of a second bump up your ISO. If you can’t bump it up any more without the image quality suffering it may be time to upgrade the camera if shooting in low light is in your future.
8. If the image was to bright, easy fix. Just speed up your shutter speed a little. Go from 1/60th to 1/100th or 1/200th. See if that makes the image a little less bright.
9. And don’t look now b/c your pretty much metering, you just don’t know it. 🙂
Now it’s your turn. Post a comment with questions or comments about today’s post topic. Was it helpful to hear what I’m thinking behind the scenes? What my settings are, etc? What are your thoughts after reading this? Or post your successful attempts at shooting in low light in our private Confidence Facebook group. Do share! Hearing from you helps me keep a good read on where you are all at and how I can continue to give to you.
p.s. A big thanks to Shachar for letting me use her as my beautiful example of shooting in low light.
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