Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Low Light shooting Tips :) ... Handheld

image shot handheld Manual 1/15, f2.8, 110mm iso500 Nikon D700
Shot just last week :)

A question was asked about Low Light Shooting Tips ... on the EOH google groups ... private email group for EOH members.

Have a feeling this will be asked again ... so, since I had already typed it up ... it was easy to copy and paste here ... so, I can point to it when that questions comes up again. LOL

Things that work for me in Low Light :

1) Tripod is your best friend ... and cheapest way to get great Low Light images. (yes, I know you asked about handheld)

2) Brace yourself on something. Shake is the killer in Low light ... as well as subject movement. ... brace your camera on your Face, as well as keeping your elbows "IN" to brace elbows on your chest. ... everything tight, breathe out (hold breath) , Relax a little (I know this is the opposite of "everything tight") squeeze shutter like a trigger of a gun. (it's amazing how much a shutter "push" can mess up a low light, slow shutter shot)

* here's an exercise to do , that will improve your low light shooting :
Make a Target ... with a small line of TEXT , Laser print on a 8x10
Tape it to a wall
Make sure the light is enough that you can lock focus easy ... and a 1/100 shutter on a 70mm lens (on FF) , is very sharp. Wide Open ... f2.8 or faster if you have the lens. (longer lens, will make it more challenging, if you like)
Now, start dropping the shutter speed down , one stop at a time. (remember to keep the lens Wide Open, do not change the A, you can float the ISO to keep the exposure the same , if you want ... that would mean a start value of iso400 to iso800 probably ... and as you drop the shutter , lower the iso)
My guess you will start to have problems at 1/15, f2.8, iso200 at 70mm (with NO IS/VR on) ... and will start to see at what shutter speed you can consistently keep the TEXT Sharp.
Knowing this , and at what shutter, on what lens is "power". Knowledge is Power. :)

Shot this today 7/25/10 Handheld: 1/20, f2.8, iso3200, 100mm

3) Now for the Expensive solution to Handheld Low Light . lol

* a High iso ability camera ... D700 , and more so D3s (the High ISO King at the moment) ... so, you can hand hold at the reciprocal of the Focal length , or fast enough to stop any action or movement. normally 1/100, or 1/500 on sports/action.
note: a cameras ability to shoot High ISO is not only Low Noise ... it's Detail and Color , both just as important as the amount of noise in the shadows. "I think" every PRO will tell you it's the Detail and Color that kills a high iso image from being a paid shot , even before noise (on high end pro bodys) ... noise if even (not blotchy) , might be a nice grain ... that can add to a shots look and feel. might give it a gritty realism ... that a smooth low light shot might not have.

It's amazing what a Full frame camera can give you (and as the Nikon D3s has shown , it can also get Better! with future models) ... as far as Hand Held opportunities in Low Light. imho, there is just no substitute. (speaking of High ISO performance)

* FAST Lens ... f2.8 or Faster. (on a Full Frame body) ... High Iso body + Fast lens = more opportunities to hand hold in low light. This is the most useful and the most expensive solution. Talking Sharp, great color and FAST.

Normally, we are talking big lens here. :)

and most of the time you are talking slightly longer Focal length ... because if you are that close , you can do a lot of things to light them up (softly) ... and still make it look natural.

If, you are talking Landscape ... you can Tripod, or bean bag , or rest it on something. (I have used a trash can as a tripod . or tree ... or rail ... just crop , strait latter)

But, I will admit ... hand holding a fast wide lens ... even in very low light ... is the easiest to do.

Nikon 24mm f1.4 comes to mind ... but, I don't have that :)

* Shoot RAW , and post process Noise Reduction on the Raw file (DNG is also RAW) ... before it is output to another file type ... a D700 RAW file , noise reduction in Lightroom v3 can give you as much as a 1 Stop advantage at high ISO ... by the way, that's just the benefit from LR v2.3 to a v3 upgrade in software . Same RAW file.
RAW can give you a cleaner file ... but, can "also" give you the ability to take advantage of Future Software improvements .. or improvements on your "own" future ability to Post Process better.

note: files, I RAW processed 3 years ago ... I can go back and improve them now ... just because of LR v3 and my Post Processing skills are better.
and, a 16 bit RAW really, really helps you Color Correct (via more latitude) ... Color is the second largest issue with low light shots. (the easy way is to convert to B&W)

Here's a link on RAW and the Low light advantage ... the link is also posted on the Smugmug site: * It's all about the Details.

* "IS" / "VR" ... in lens or in body ... notice I listed this last ... because if there is any subject movement IS/VR will not be your solution. I am even talking "wind" ...
What IS/VR will totally help you with is your body and handhold/shooting technique movements.

* Shoot Sequential ... 5-8 frames per second ... this might yield a few good sharp shots. (yes, you will have a lot of throw away's ... but, you really only need one sharp one!) ... and yes, a faster shooting body does help. hmmm, and you thought a Fast shooting body only helps sports shooters. :)

Ross Hamamura /

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