Low Light Event Photos

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by wind_walker, Aug 6, 2017.

  1. I am mostly a wildlife and landscape photographer. But I sometimes get asked to photograph events at my church (charity concerts, etc.). The last few days, I was asked to photograph a vacation bible school event that was a "camp out" theme, and done from 6 - 8:30PM. The outdoor photos with a D7000 and N17-55 worked great, and most came out fine. But much of the shooting was indoors, in rooms with no windows, and the mood they wanted resulted in only a few incandescent lights. So was REALLY low light. I have a Nikon 17-55 and Nikon 24-85 VR. I shot mostly at 24MM, so opted for the 24-85 to get the VR. Almost all my indoor photos were terrible. I cranked the ISO up to 6400 on a D800, but the kids never stop moving; so I could not get the shutter speed up high enough to stop motion. What do you folks use in this situation? I have a 50 f1.8, but 50mm was not wide enough in the smallish rooms I had to shoot in. Maybe there is no solution, but thought I'd ask what others try.


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  2. Mike Irish

    Mike Irish

    Jun 14, 2008
    Hi Mike. A flash is your only option. If you could get a couple of them all the better. The nexthing you will need is stands and umbrella for the flashes to bounce out of them the bigger the better depending on the size of the group.
    Hope this gelps.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  3. Well, in my opinion flash is not what you want, as that destroys the ambience, so your choices are:

    1. Only shoot when the kids are completely still, so you get 1 shot every 8 hours, not good.
    2. Tell the kids to move REALLY slow, and only when you ask, see #1
    3. Improve your panning techniques
    4. Use a faster wide-angle lens

    Personally #4 would be my choice. The 24-85 you have is the f3.5 version? Nikon does make a series of f1.4 lenses from 24-35mm, as does Sigma, their 20 and 24mm f1.4 are very competitively priced as is their 24-35mm f2.
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  4. You're really limited by your lenses here if you can't use flash. There are four lenses I use regularly for concert shoots - Sigma 18-35 Art and 50-100 Art on a D500 and Tamron 24-70 and 70-200 on a D810. I've used a 14-24 now and again for effect but in general those four are all I use on their respective bodies.

    If you're shooting indoors and the light is steady and even and you can't use flash, then #4 on Bills list is really going to be your best option. A good fast wide prime (1.8, 1.4) is your best bet.

    I have been experimenting with flash in low light ambient rooms lately and cranking down the power really works well in a lot of situations.
  5. Mars_Hill.
    In most of my low light events f2.8 and my D4 will get the shot. But I have one event I shoot regularly where it is not enough. It is a youth music event with stage lighting on the musicians and the audience is only illuminated by spill from the stage. My job is to photograph both the musicians (relatively easy) and the audience which tends to get pretty active during the performance (hard). My solution is to use low levels of ceiling bounced flash. I run the ISO up to maximize whatever ambient light is available and the bounced flash provides just enough additional illumination to preserve the ambiance of the scene. Looking at the images you cannot tell flash was used.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  6. Can't argue with this advice, but I'm sure you realize that your depth of field will be very shallow. Thus this will only work well if you are photographing only one person, or if the kids are all bunched pretty closely near the focus plane.
  7. mnp13


    Jul 19, 2010
    Rochester, NY
    I would use a flash, set as low as possible and bounce it off the ceiling. If you can put a filter on it to mimic the color of the ambient light that could help as well. You just want to add enough light to get the pictures but not remove the ambiance. And a 1.4 would definitely help.
  8. A couple of flashes bounced off the ceiling should give enough light at the higher ISO you were using and yet still give the ambiance of the incandescent lights. Shooting wide open is not an acceptable solution when you are taking group shots due to the limited DOF. If you don't have two flashes I suggest you use one with a frosted dome to spread the light.
  9. You folks are giving me an education on the "multiple flash not killing the ambience" idea. In the situation that Mike has, how would you go about figuring out how to set up lights and such before the event? It seems to me that the biggest problem in this case is that there is probably no "dress rehearsal" where Mike could practice.

    Part of the reason I am asking, sorry for the partial hijack of the thread, is that we may have need of someone to take some pictures at a venue that may have low light, hey Tim are you listening???
  10. I have been asked to photograph just such events and have used three or four flashes "hidden" around the room behind couches, etc. I trigger them with a SU800. This leaves me free to roam around the room taking pictures relatively unencumbered so to speak. There are those that will tell you that the SU800 is line of sight but don't believe them as it will bounce off of walls, etc. I often use this setup to photograph the interior of new houses for advertisement purposes. The average person will not have this kind of setup so must rely on bounce flash off the ceiling.
  11. My solution is a Cheetah Light (AKA Godox) CL-360 camera mounted beside the body on a A-S rail. Battery on a belt. I use a parabolic reflector to keep the light fairly focused since the ceilings are very high (16-18 feet).
  12. gryphon1911


    Mar 20, 2017
    Central Ohio
    For this situation, bouncing off the ceiling or using larger light sources is probably the least desirable way to go. You want moody, directional lighting that would mimic a camp out.

    So, this is how I would go about it.

    1) study images taken in actual night camp out situations. See how the lighting is directional in nature, the color temperature of it. The light will be different if you are shooting say something lit by a campfire versus something lit by moonlight, versus flashlight/torch.
    2) decide how you are going to approach the lighting from step one and practice at home, even if it is with stuffed animals or get some friends to help as models.
    3) I'd get out my gel pack and find the gels that match the kind of lighting I'll be wanting to use. The lights will be close, so you'll proabbly want a lot of diffusion or some ND gels as well.
    4) while you can get some impromptu captures, I'd recommend getting the cooperation of the event coordinators an some of the patrons and do some setup shots. You'll be able to setup the lights where ever you need to, which will be close to the subjects, possibly down low(mimicing light from a fire) or directly over head(mimicing moonlight direction).

    Even a bare light might be too wide, so a grid or snoot on the flash might be necessary.

    Here is a quick example. Speed light in the back as a hair light/accent with the light on the face coming from the phone using a "flashlight app". Light on the hand was also a speedlight shooting straight up from the floor. Giving the impression of a blue screen. This was for a point of sale kiosk project. They wanted something showing a person excited using their new cell phone and apps.

    Otherwise, you'll most likely be blowing out the whole room with light and you'll lose that "feel" you are looking for.
  13. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
  14. I love to bounce a flash off the ceiling when the situation warrants, but all too often the ceiling is too high or is a dark color so the bounce is ineffective.
  15. Ann_JS


    Feb 18, 2015
    New York State
    There is another alternative when you cannot use Flash for one of the reasons which others have mentioned but the answer is not inexpensive. The newest high-end cameras can shoot effective up to 526,000 ISO and retain excellent colour with insufficient noise to worry me up to 250,000 ISO.

    The answer to the need for covering only an occasional event might be to rent a Nikon D5 for the day?

    Ambient room lighting at night: 1/100 f/2.8 and 64,000 ISO.
    Glow from the Grill: 1/100 f/4 and 10,000 ISO.

    Smoking Elephant Dung (with only the lighting from the glowing tinder): 1/160 f/4 and 256,000 ISO.

    The Nikon D3S and D4S were also pretty good, and I believe that the D750 performs very well at night too, but the D5 is the current "King of the Night".

    The other trick, providing that you shoot RAW, is to increase your exposure by +0.6 EV (by changing the meter-settings themselves) because Nikons inevitably under-expose and Noise lurks in the shadows.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  16. Amazing Ann, I had no idea that cameras had advanced to that stage. That's what happens when you scale back your photography for a few years.
  17. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    I recognize Pepe and the smoking elephant dung location! Well shot!
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  18. Ann_JS


    Feb 18, 2015
    New York State
    Just failing to upgrade for about six years (I had the D3S but had "sat-out" both the D4 and the D4S because of their non-matching card slots) meant that the D5 was a total revelation to me — and a year later, I am still marvelling at its capabilities.
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  19. Wow, this is what I really love about this forum - LOTS of great advice and conversation. I will certainly try out some of the mentioned lighting options offered. For this situation, I specifically asked if I could use flash and was told no. For ambiance reasons, and because it really distracts little kidlings. I should have also planned ahead more - in hind sight I could have rented a Nikon 24 f1.4 for $30/day (x2 days), and at least tried that. Though I do understand the point made in the thread that the dof would be really shallow. And in the darkest venue, the little ones were spread out across the room on small mats to listen to story-time, etc. But I could have shot individual kids that were sitting close together and maybe made that work. And I also had to put these into a .ppt slide deck with a pre-formatted template they wanted to use by the next morning. So I had to cull hundreds of photos after 9PM Saturday night, get that into a slide deck no longer than 5~ish minutes (3 secs per slide) and have it there ready to go at 9:30AM on Sunday. And try to make sure every kids gets in the slide show. I'm getting too old for this!!!! But is for a good cause, I'll quit crabbing about it.

    Looks like the Nikon f1.4 glass is pricey - the f1.8 a bit more reasonable. I think I saw a N24 f1.8 used for sale on the cafe forum. Maybe that's a good fit.

    I will try these things and see what works best. When we have concerts and things like that, I use my 50 and 85 f1.8's on a tripod (and off) and that works pretty well. But in this case, I could not get far enough away for those focal lengths to work for me. I probably need to save up for a 24 f1.x.

  20. Well, Mike, after reading all of this it is quite obvious what you really need to do. I'm sure this won't be an issue at all, as it is "stuff" you need for this very worthy cause.

    1. Buy a D5. Why rent? Obviously you need one to practice.
    2. Buy a couple of different f1.4 lenses, to cover the range. After #1 what's a few more thousand dollars anyway.
    3. Enjoy living in your car ;) 

    I know what my CFO would say, she's not happy that I have to pay the deductible for my current insurance claim.

    What great advice from everyone. Taking a quick look at my favorite rental site, you can get good f1.4/f1.8 lenses for $60 or so for a whole week. It is the D5 that is a bit on the pricey side, like $250 for 3 days. Maybe getting the kids to hold still wasn't such a bad idea at all. Isn't that how they took photo's back in the 1800's??

    Thanks to all, I second Mike with the comment about great advice and info, a lot to ponder on.
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