Low Light, No Flash

Discussion in 'General Technical Discussion' started by cmpalmer, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. cmpalmer

    cmpalmer

    301
    Jan 27, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    OK, I know that long exposures = more noise and higher ISO = more noise, what I need to know is which one is worse?

    I'm going to be taking some pictures during a choir concert and a band concert and, obviously, do not want to use flash. The last time I tried this, I just bumped the ISO up just enough to take a handheld shot (at about 1/125 or so). The results were OK, but I forgot the zoom rule (1/focal length for handheld), so I zoomed in a blew a few shots due to shake.

    I would like to avoid a tripod for the most part, but what I'd like to know is if I should really crank up the ISO pretty high (800/1000) and use as fast of an exposure as I can, or shoot for a certain shutter speed (what? 1/250? 1/300?) and adjust the ISO and aperture to get a good exposure?
     
  2. PJohnP

    PJohnP

    Feb 5, 2005
    Chris :


    Another part of the debate is "fast glass". If you're shooting with a 24-120mm AFS/VR, you'll get smoked on a lot of shots by some guy with an 85mm f/1.4. That's one piece of nice glass and it will tend to get shots at better shutter speeds (but a lesser DOF).

    The other piece of this is that landing the shot's more important (to me) than noise, for the most part. Blurred images are, for the most part, less "useable" than shots with noise. Noise can be addressed in certain cases with various noise reduction SW items, or by exposing quite carefully (we won't go into the more protracted discussion here of accepting a lot of blown highlights off-subject to get a cleaner subject without noise in the shadows).

    I shoot with a D100, and I find the noise at higher ISO settings pretty much acceptable for many items. I shot this

    [​IMG]

    and this

    [​IMG]

    last Christmas Eve at high ISO [Canyon Road, Santa Fe on the Christmas Eve Walk, a long tradition in SF]. Note that the "noise" in the first shot is a spray of hot sparks and embers from the fire ! Photography does have its risks...

    The 28mm f/1.4 worked darned well handheld in these circumstances, allowing the shots to land where a "slower" lens would have been ineffective. I'm planning to shoot with that lens and the Noct this XMas Eve for the same reasons. In this sort of case, I usually aim for at least 1/30s, but as you'll note for the second one, I shot at 1/5s to get the faralitos as well as catching the front of the man lighting them and the colour off of the ice in the street gutter. But those were the circumstances of that moment. I'd generally agree with your speed of 1/125s for concert efforts, as, say a violinist's bow won't be stopped well with a longer shutter setting. OTOH, you might want a touch of blur on a bow in that circumstance. < shrug > You'll notice a touch of that on the figure in my second photo, but to "freeze" him, I'd have a shadowed figure, and the farolitos would be dimmer.

    All of that said, my advice is to bump the ISO to whatever the shooting situation dictates for desired DOF and shutter, and accept the noise.


    John P.
     
  3. Chris, for what it is worth, I took all of these shots at ISO 800 and handheld with either the 17-55mm or 70-200mm lenses:

    http://www.pbase.com/greyflash/heritage_choir

    The VR on the 70-200mm helped a lot and I also took advantage of natural braces where I could find them.
     
  4. cmpalmer

    cmpalmer

    301
    Jan 27, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    Gordon and John,

    Thanks for the help. I should have pointed out that I'm shooting with a D70 with a Sigma 28-300mm (no VR). I don't know the exact vantage point that I'll have, so I'll just have to remember to decrease my shutter speed if I have to zoom in, but I think I'll try setting my ISO to 800 and see what happens...
     
  5. PJohnP

    PJohnP

    Feb 5, 2005
    Chris :

    Hmmm... That's a variable minimum aperture of f/3.5-6.3 depending on the zoom you're using. f/6.3 doesn't give you a lot of room at the long end for low light, to be sure, and I'm unaware of what the sweet spot for aperture (usually more than the minimum) is on that lens. I think that you're in for some high ISO settings to address this.


    John P.
     
  6. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    I think, sad to say, it is going to be very difficult for you to get many keeper shots with no flash and that slow of a lens. Try to avoid shooting at the extreme tele end.

    some suggestions from one who takes hundreds and hundreds of these types of photos each year:

    With concert attire, your white shirts will be blown out, don't worry about that, spot meter and spot focus on the faces. You might need to bump EV +.3 Another option is to Matrix meter and bump EV down -.7 or more due to the dark background on the side or above the ensemble causing the meter to read darker than needed. I use ISO 800 and sometimes 1600 to keep the shutter speeds up over a hundred and I tend to use aperture priority to keep the f speed as fast as possible. On very good lighting days I can use ISO 400, but I am shooting with f2 and f1.4 aperture lenses. huge difference. I did have some success with my 24-120Vr too.

    Under stage lights metering and focusing this way the faces will turn out pretty good, Your curtains and black areas will be extrememly noisy, don't worry about it. It is all about clear sharp faces during concerts. You will also get blownhighlights from the flutes, and brass instruments unless you meter on them, particularly if they are under stage lights.

    One reasonable low light lens I used for concerts for a while was the 180mm 2.8 AF-D Prime from Nikon. A great buy and good price used from Keh or other sources and it is a great concert lens for use from the audience. I still use mine even with the new lenses. At f2.8 and ISO 800 you should be able to get many nice keeper shots.

    Other tips: Take several quick photos right before the director starts each song and at the end of each song. The groups are usually frozen and not moving at this point and you can get non blurry shots. Avoid taking a photo of bows, they seem to never turn out, get shots with the director indicating congratulations to the groups with his hand indicating to the group, generally the ensemble will be standing.

    Take photos of individuals as they enter and leave the stage. go up to the front of the stage for good closeups at that time, no one will care since they are entering the stage, use you built in flash at this point then go sit down before the director enters. Turn off your flash.

    Now for my concert etiquette rant:
    Be polite to your audience and don't take DSLR photos during the music around others. Even though everyone is using Point and Shoot cameras, digtal camcorders with bright screens (one of my pet peaves,) and camera flashes are flying everywhere, don't do it, be professional. Comment to others politely how there actions are disturbing your enjoyment of the music when the concert is over. When some converts. The shutter noise of SLR does disturb others as much if not more than flash.

    Good luck and keep us posted.

    Cheers,

    Wade
     
  7. cmpalmer

    cmpalmer

    301
    Jan 27, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    Thanks! Thankfully, as my kids get older, performances are less of a photo event. When they were in pre-school and elementary school, every PTA performance was ruined, for me, by the huge crowd of amateur paparazzi crowded down the aisles and in front of the stage. I refused to videotape any of these events for two reasons (1) everyone else doing it was distracting enough without me doing it, too, and (2) I couldn't enjoy watching or listening while also trying to get shots or fiddle with a camcorder.

    Most of the time, I restrict myself to shots before and after the performances or during warmups.

    You are all right about one thing, though -- I need some faster glass...
     
  8. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    elementary, Oh boy, you are right, It is CRAZY. Things generally are better at the other grade levels.

    I just shot my wife's elementary musical today, my daughter's band concert (middle school) two nights ago, and my staff's HS and Middle choral concerts, It was crazy at all venues with the flash bulbs. At the high school and Middle school our concerts are in the auditorium, and we require them to video tape from the back or sides. Anyone gets up in the aisles we ask them to sit, and if they don't I go get the district security or School resource officer who attends every event. One of my more fun jobs as an administrator!

    you will love this story:

    once during our orchestra concert we had a parent leave the audience, walk up onto the theatre stage (elevated, accessed by stairs) and video tape right along side the players performing. He was walking through the orchestra, around it, everywhere. He also had a very bright aux light which was like a giant spotlight roaming around the stage. As soon as he got up I moved to the front of the theatre, asked him to come down, he ignored me I began tugging on his pant legs trying to get him off the stage and he was just ignoring me, a tug of war was about to begin, (and I WAS going to win) when the police officer on duty that night saw me attempting to get him off the stage and came down, (meanwhile the Orchestra is still playing along) and then and only then could I drag him off the stage, He was pissed, we went out into the hall, he cussed me and the officer out and I got to assist in helping him get into the police car for a little ride to the station. unwillingly. :eek:

    No problems like that since then (5 years ago) but people are crazy. My parents told me the odds were 10-1 in my favor I was going to win the tug of war because they could see me getting pretty upset.
     
  9. Chris, one word, rent the faster glass. OK, I know that was 4 words, but I wanted to emphasize.....:biggrin:

    Check locally, and find what you can rent. Our local rental:

    70-200 f2.8 AFS VR - 25.00
    85 f1.4 - 20
    85 f1.8 - 15
    180 f2.8 - 15
    200 f2 AFS VR - 45

    I'd probably rent a couple, probably the 70-200 and the 85 1.4 and if I was close enough, the 85 1.4 would be super. Or find a friend in your area with the lenses and beg :wink:
     
  10. heiko

    heiko

    May 15, 2005
    Israel
    Hello Chris,

    In addition to what's been said above (fast lens! if possible, exposure, etc.), I wouldn't be too concerned about increasing the ISO. It's important to get the exposure right. An ISO 1600 shot with correct exposure on the main subject (faces, e.g.) will produce visible noise in the darker areas, but the main subject will show relatively little noise. On the other hand, if you have to increase exposure in post processing, you will introduce lots of noise in the subject, which will be much harder to remove, and the results will be less pleasing.

    There are a number of noise reduction programs out there. I use Neat Image, and it works quite well. It also works much better on well exposed shots than it does on underexposed ones. If you haven't got noise reduction software, you can download a free version of NeatImage that only writes jpg files. This should be OK to see how it works for you. ACR and RawShooter also have noise reduction capabilities, which you may want to try.

    Good luck!
     
  11. moffo

    moffo

    576
    Oct 20, 2005
    Central TX
    Chris, did you know your D70 can be set to automatically boost the ISO if the aperture setting (in aperture preferred mode) causes the shutter speed to drop below a user-specified setting? The menu choice is ISO Auto (number 05 on the 'pencil' menu.)
     
  12. cmpalmer

    cmpalmer

    301
    Jan 27, 2005
    Huntsville, AL
    Yep, I knew about that, but I don't like that it doesn't show you the ISO value while you are shooting.
     
  13. Great thread and timely for the season.

    My .02 from my limited experience.

    Motion blur is much less acceptable than ISO noise. 800 is printable/usable. For most non-forum-people, such as soccermoms and dads, 1600 would be perfectly acceptable. A light mono-pod is very handy.

    With so many inconsiderate photographers and vidoegraphers, you are right, it is very easy to be a bit stealthy, stay back, shoot during applause etc. By your verbalized concern you are clearly self-aware as a shooter.

    Use the histogram and blinky exposure aids and experiment. The latitude needed is so great at those events. As above, get the faces right and don't worry about extremes elsewhere.
    Lens? Do not forget about a lowly 50mm or 35 prime if you get close. Get close, get one click and get out. You're, with that strategy, about 2% as intrusive as the multi-shot-red-eye-muiltiflash digi-toters and won't even be noticed.
    Heck...you are shooting non-dynamic fixed distances so I find my old MF 105.2.5 to be perfect and, at $1-200 bucks, a bargain. At the long end the 180 is the best.

    Be inventive....here I stitched 3 85mm shots done at ISO 560 f2 1/125 for a shot I'm pretty happy with. I bet the 300 digicam shots by 30 other people didn't fare so well. I stood up once back behind 90% of the audience, unknown to them. Quick click-click-click.


    http://www.pbase.com/vernix/image/51005585/original
    three 85mm shots stitched. Full size is 9200 px wide and great.
    51005585.
     
  14. Ken-L

    Ken-L Guest

    This was taken at ISO 1600 with a D70, Kit Lens, 1/60", f3.8

    49151663_a314a1214f_b.
     
  15. PJohnP

    PJohnP

    Feb 5, 2005
    Vernon :

    Excellent point !

    We can get so wrapped up in our approaches to photography that we forget that the people we photograph are not obsessed with digital noise in the shadows, specular highlights, etc. And for that matter, if we get a (undesired) blurred mess with no noise vs. a well composed/exposed shot with some noise, what's more desirable ? Granted, shooting at ISO6400 may be excessive, but that's not the range that we're talking about here.

    In an ideal world, we control the lighting of the halls, have complete and total access to any vantage point in the hall, and don't get in the way of the performance or performers in shooting from every vantage point. Let me know if you get such a gig, I'd like to shoot there, too !

    The comment that I stick with in these circumstances is, "Bump the ISO to whatever the shooting situation dictates for desired DOF and shutter speed, and accept the noise."


    John P.
     
  16. heiko

    heiko

    May 15, 2005
    Israel
    Vernon, you really showed us some good example, and threw in some great advise.

    Your suggestions doing manual focus is also a good point. There is one more thing not mentioned: the D70 has a search light to assist focusing, which can be annoying when pointing it at performers. I usually have it off (via menu settings). In low light situations I often use MF as it's faster than waiting for the camera to find the focus point, especially when I'm NOT using an AF-S lens. I usually pre-set the focus distance on the lens according to the distance I estimate, and then fine tune to get the little green dot in the viewfinder. However, with enough light/contrast and an AF-S lens it will be easier & faster to use autofocus. Just my 0.002 (Euro) cents.
     
  17. heiko

    heiko

    May 15, 2005
    Israel
    Nice shot, and it really proofs the point.
     
  18. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    Great points by others above, and the comment about the 50mm or 35mm pimes is also great and one which I totally forgot to mention.

    you could even sit near the front with a 50mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, or 35mm f2 or something similar and have some great shots. All are fairly low cost, especially the 50mm 1.8, $90.00! A great idea.

    good post and threads here!
     
  19. Noise and ISO

    All you experts probably are aware of this. I wasn't and felt really annoyed with myself that I had been using my D70 for a year and still goofed. I decided to take a picture of my Christmas Tree in order to possibly use it on next year's Christmas Card. The pictures looked not too badly on the view finder. I downloaded used my graphic programme, blew them up and the noise was horrific. I noticed the ISO was 1600. Now I wished to take the picture without the use of a flash and had made the mistake of leaving ISO on Auto. I set it at 200 took the picture without a flash just a low lamp blew the picture up and absolutely no noise. I had always thought it was essential to raise the ISO in low light but I found at low ISO even with low light the picture came out beautifully. Maybe you can take a good picture in low light without a flash. You could probably try it out under similar circumstances in your own surroundings before the big night,
     
  20. The lens you use depends on how close you sit to the action and how big of a scene you are shooting. My experience has given me a preference for a 70-200 or 80-200 f/2.8 and shoot at iso 800 or 1600. A band/choir concert may allow you to use a much wider lens, but I'm sure you'll want to zoom in some also. I like to go early and get my optimal seat.
     
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