Low Light Photography – Tips and Tricks Part I
This is the first of a two part article about low light photography. A longish two part article may not appear to be the essence of minimalism but knowing this stuff could provide enough information to save a lot of expense and will enable the photographer to make good decisions. In the world of minimalist photography the most expensive gear does not automatically equal the best possible shot.
This series is aimed at a level above Point, Shoot and Pray but below that of professional. If you are making a living from photography you need to buy an expensive tripod and a very fast 50mm prime lens at the very least – but if you are professional you already knew that!
Low Light Photography
Being able to take a sharp photograph in low light really expands the range of possibilities open to the photographer. Of course a tripod is the ideal solution to low light photography situations but how many of just happen to have a tripod with us 24/7 ? The other technically correct way to address the low light issue is to possess a dSLR and a fast lens but with a f1.4 (very big) maximum aperture 50mm prime lens costing in the region of $300 this is an expensive solution. Granted an f1.8 50mm lens can be purchased for around $100 but that is still a fair chunk of change, especially for someone not making money from their photography.
I want to look at some solutions that do revolve around throwing large amounts of cash at the photography industry monster. Today’s post will deal with Image stabilization and photographer stabilization (purely in the physical sense) while tomorrow I’ll address ISO settings, cropping to reduce required shutter speed and will describe a couple of techniques that enable the camera to be held much more solidly than is possible conventionally.
Most cameras, whether dSLR or compacts now have some form of this wonderful technology – use it, I know that with my one camera that has it, it makes a huge difference. I can basically shoot macro hand held under normal lighting conditions. This makes a huge difference as it means that, even if I want a top quality iso 100 tripod shot later I can take a perfectly usable image quickly to get a very good idea of how the set up one will work. The big difference with the shot taken on the tripod is that a much larger depth of field is possible due to being able to use a much smaller aperture.
(Related note: throughout this post i’ll be giving examples with shutter speeds – those numbers will be with image stabilization off unless otherwise stated)
These images were all shot using a compact camera with Image Stabilization - shutter speeds around 1/15th EFL 35mm
Breathing and Posture
This can make a huge difference yet it is an area that never seems to get enough attention. A gun owner at any level will learn about these aspects yet photography treats them as optional. Maybe it is because there is no profit to be made – much more lucrative to have someone dump $300 on a new lens spend a few minutes learning how to stand and how to breath.
Regarding stance, best advice is get comfortable and don’t strain. If you are off balance or your center of gravity feels wrong the result will be a blurred image unless you are shooting at 1/500 or 1/1000 shutter speed which you will never ever be doing hand held and in low light. If the position doesn’t feel right -readjust and after awhile you will automatically adopt the best position.
The following is proven to work:
Standing – legs about two feet apart, feet at ten to two position
Crouching – front foot planted, back foot on ball, front shin perpendicular to ground.
Elbows always in tight
Lean against something, ideally a wall, if possible
As for breathing, I find that pressing the shutter towards at the end of the exhale gives the best results and anywhere on the inhale the absolute worse. I think that this is pretty general especially the not pressing the shutter on the inhale part. Of course, breathing and relaxation cannot be separated and any technique that utilizes one or both will improve the steadiness of your body.
The dreamy feel was created by taking picture through semi transparent storage bin
To digress slightly, think of a biathlon competitor. These athletes have to go from fully stressed physically to the complete level of relaxation required to hit a very small target with a bullet from a rifle. To function at this extreme requires years of specialized training including breathing, relaxation and loads of visualization work. I am not for a moment suggesting that the photographer put him or herself through this level of punishment but I do think that there are lessons to be learned here. I suspect that any of these athletes wouldn’t have much trouble holding a camera with a 100mm efl lens absolutely still at 1/10th of a second for example. The textbook minimum for such a lens would be around the 1/125th of a second mark. That represents a lot of extra stops! I am going to brag here and state that, by really getting to know my cameras and lots of practice I can generally hand hold between a stop and two stops below the recommended so I would expect to be able to hand hold and get a sharp image at around 1/30 for the same efl 100mm lens.
Bonus Trick – the second shutter press
Here is a little something that I discovered myself that seems to produce very consistent results and that is to press the shutter twice, the second time immediately after the first and with as little thought as possible. I find that at very low shutter speeds there is always a little movement but fire off a second shot and it is as if the nervous system is working with information gained from the first shot and correcting any errors. This process is purely subconscious and the only thing that I focus on is pressing the shutter smoothly The shot must be taken before the inhale part of the breathing cycle starts – this shouldn’t be a problem. This always works – no exceptions and the difference is noticeable. I have had reasonable success at 1/12th second (again with efl 100mm lens) using this method and at 1/30th the shot is always nailed so I can recommend this with confidence.
In Part II (Tomorrow)
- ISO Settings – more flexible than you may thing
- Underexposure – a potential get out of jail free card
- Cropping to reduce shutter speed
- Strap as a steadying device
- How to hold a compact camera for better stability
Part II can be found here