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It's easy to think a low-light shooting as only a nighttime thing, but I am standing out here at five in the afternoon and I have got a low-light situation. I want to take Heather's picture here, but we are standing in shade. There is sunlight all around us, but the shade is sunk behind this building, leaving me in what is not a really difficult situation, but still a low-light situation. I am going to do a little quick metering here and I am finding that at ISO 100 with my f/4 lens, I'm at about a 40th of a second. It's a stabilized lens, so I don't need to worry too much about camera shake.
Heather is not loaded up on coffee so I don't have to worry about her moving around too much. Nevertheless, I think I am going to bump my ISO up a little bit, and that's probably only going to get worse as the sun gets lower. So I need to shoot this quickly. The main problem here is in shade auto white balance on my camera is not going to work very well. Let me show you what I mean. I am on auto white balance, so I am just going to take a quick shot here, and it's just not quite right. She doesn't have the warmth and the glow that she normally has, even in shade.
So Heather, we are going to do a manual white balance. I think it's our only hope. I have a manual white balance card here. I have a white balance card here. This is made by WhiBal, just a little gray card, and what I am going to do is take a picture of it, of the card, filling up a good amount of the frame. And now in my camera, I can tell the camera to do a white balance calculation based off of that card. Now the way I do this will vary from camera to camera. On my Canon camera, it's pretty easy to do.
On other cameras, you can actually store multiple manual white balances for different lighting situations. So now that it has looked at something that it's knows is gray, it should be able to calculate a more accurate white balance than what it was doing when it was in was in auto mode. So let's take another shot here and see. Still at ISO 400, and sure enough, this is a much warmer. She has got a much healthier skin tone. She looks much happier. So shade is almost always going to require a manual white balance. Now I have some other options here.
I am shooting RAW, so I could always correct the white balance after the fact. If I did that, I would still want her to hold up that card and I would want to take a picture of it. I need that gray reference during my raw conversion process. So I think the real thing to take away from this is to understand that low light can happen in the daytime. Then you'll probably need, if you are in shade, a manual white balance situation, and you need to think maybe before you go out about whether you're going to encounter a low light or not. If you are shooting in an urban environment and you're expecting to be on the late afternoon, particularly in the winter, you can expect that you are going to be in a shady situation like this, and so you might want to bring faster lenses.
You might want to make a different camera choice, if you are choosing between your SLR and your little point-and-shoot camera, because maybe your point-and-shoot camera doesn't do so well at higher ISOs. So don't forget, low light can happen at any time of day, depending on your surroundings.
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