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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera's ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
So I have gotten into the theater early. It's time to choose a place to sit down. We got performers already coming in, getting ready to start rehearsing. I've got some time to do this because of the access we have had. If you're walking in with the crowd, you are going to have to make this decision pretty quickly. Obviously if you've got a predefined seat, you don't have much choice. So where do I begin if I have got the whole auditorium to choose. Where am I going to sit? Well, I have got a lot of different options. First of all, obviously I've got these poles in the way, which are a drag. I don't want to be behind them. You might think, well, I am going to be right in the front row so that I can really see.
Well that is one choice, and I am probably going to do some of that. Bear in mind that when I am right down here and looking up at the performers and that's not always the most flattering angle, particularly with stage light behind them. I think it's going to work okay in this situation just because the stage is really deep and I am going to be able to reach back as they move towards the back of the stage. That said, I also need to worry down here, because I can't get really wide. I can't necessarily see the whole stage picture. So I might want to go back here. If I come back to the middle of the stage, then I am up a little higher, which is good. I am shooting more level. I have got a nice wide shot.
I could of course go even further back and shoot down. But there's another consideration that I need to make, and that's my lens choice. I have got a number of different lenses with me, and they all have different focal lengths, and they all shoot at different speeds, meaning they have different maximum apertures. Now by now, of course you know that because this is going to be a low-light situation, my main concern is going to be motion stopping. And I have got actors that are going to be actively moving about the stage, so motion stopping is going to be especially critical. I have on my camera right now at 24-105 millimeter lens. That's a really versatile lens. It can go pretty wide.
As I sit right here and look, I can see that it actually goes wide enough to catch the whole stage, and 105 is a good amount of reach. That's going to allow me to get some nice one-shot head-and-shoulders kinds of things. The problem is it's an f/4 lens. I can't go wider than f/4. And a little metering ahead of time with my camera shows that even at 1600, if the light is like this, my shutter speed is coming out too slow to stop much motion. So I might think, well, I am going to switch to a faster lens. I have a 50 mm f/1.2 lens with me that I could put on in here.
That's going to buy me two or three more stops of exposure, give me a lot more motion-stopping power, but I don't get the reach. It's going to be harder to get those close-ups. I also don't get super wide-angle. I am not going to get shots of the entire stage with that lens. However, I'm shooting with a 23 megapixel camera, which means I've got a lot of cropping latitude. So the 50 millimeter might be okay there because I can crop out of the middle. But let's think about some other options. I have a 16-35 mm lens with me. That's an f/2.8. So that's a nice fast lens. It's really wide.
That means that it's not going to do me much good from back there, but it's going to be a great lens for down here. I am not going to get a lot of close- ups of it, but I am going to get some nice stage picture shots, and I am probably going to have a fair amount of motion-stopping power. Now I have also got a 75-300 mm lens, which is going to give me tremendous reach from the back of the hall. It's an f3.5-5.6, meaning at its full telephoto, it's at f5.6. That's pretty slow, so I am going to be fighting a motion-stopping problem there. So what I'm finding from all of this is I don't have the perfect lens for this situation.
So I think what I am going to try and do is move around, not during the show of course--I don't want to disturb anyone else in the theater--but there's an intermission. So what I'm thinking I am going to do is sit here at the beginning and work with my fast 50 and my very versatile 24-105. Later, I'm going to, during intermission, move and take a seat further back in the hall. I have already checked. The show is not sold out tonight, so I have got a couple of different options. I am going to be able to move around. The important thing is whether you can move around or not, you need to understand how the speed of your lens and the reach of the lens can affect where you might want to choose to sit.
A couple of other things I want to do to my camera before I get going. I am going to turn off the beep. It makes a lot of beeps when it auto-focuses and things like that. I don't want to disturb anyone else around me. This is an improv show. It's not like an opera, but still, I don't want people feeling distracted by the sounds that I am making. I'm also turning off the image review. Image review means that every time I take a picture, the screen lights up with the image. That might be disturbing to other patrons here, but it's also going to bother me because when I'm shooting, I don't want this bright light coming on in my eyes. I will need to do some image review with a histogram to check my exposures and things like that, but I can do that manually by playing back my images after I have shot them. I don't want them turning on on the fly.
I have got all my lenses set to auto- focus because I am going to be needing to work quickly and I think I am going to have enough light in here to pull that off. I've also got my stabilizers turned on on the lenses that have them. That's going to be critical to reducing handheld shake. Finally, I really know how to work my camera's controls in the dark. I don't need to be able to look at the labels. I know right where the ISO control is. I know right where exposure compensation is. I'm probably going to be switching back and forth between aperture priority and shutter priority and I know how to do that by feel. I know that's one notch on my mode dial.
It could be dark in the house. I don't want to have to be looking. Worst-case scenario, I know where the light button is for the display on my camera. I can cut my camera to keep from disturbing other people and check out my controls that way. So these are some of the things that I am thinking about before I go in. I don't know if my overall strategy is right or wrong, but it's at least a starting point and I'll have intermission to think it over and regroup, and we'll talk about that then.
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