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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
- Low light is the kind of thing that photographers wake up in the middle of the night screaming about because it just makes everything so much harder, it can ruin so many shots. And of course, the problem with low light, even though you might be able to get a good exposure, is you're fighting hand held shake and you're fighting subject motion, all of that can end up blurry. So a lot of times if you're finding that you just can't get the shot that you want in low light, stop fighting the low light and just work with it. Slow your shutter down even more and start playing with what happens to lights and smears and things when you drag the shutter and really move things around.
So Dani and I are gonna do a little experimenting here. We've got some Christmas tree lights and other things hanging back here that are making cool lights behind her. And rather than just leave them as these points I'm gonna do a bunch of camera movements and zooms to make the elements of the frame that are more interesting. I'm also gonna use a flash to freeze some motion at some point in the frame. But I'm gonna start without the flash so you can see the difference. So I'm gonna figure out what my camera is saying at first for metering.
So normally my camera's calling this at F, close down a lot. If I go to F4 my camera's saying a fifth of a second, so that's gonna be hard to handle. And though I've got a stabilized lens, even if I'm holding steady that means she has to be sitting perfectly still for that fifth of a second, so I'm just not even gonna try. Instead I'm gonna slow my shutter down, I'm gonna put it on a quarter of a second. I'm gonna set my ISO at 200. And I'm gonna start zooming the lens really fast and somewhere in the middle of that I'm gonna press the shutter button down.
So the idea is while the shutter is open the camera will be zooming. So all right Dani, here we go. And so what I get is this. So the lights are really cool, they're doing this zoom effect that I really like, it's like she's going into hyperspace or something. Unfortunately, so's the rest of her face. With my flash though I can freeze her face at the beginning of that shot and still get my cool zooming effect. It's not that bright in here, I'm not that far away from her so I'm dialing my flash power way back.
And I'm using a lot of flash here, you don't need this. The pop up flash on your camera will work just fine, it's just this camera doesn't have a pop up flash so I had to go with an external. It doesn't take a lot of light in a situation like this to freeze her face and give me this. A nice shot of her face oh, and there's this cool ghostly you here. (mumbling) Plus all of these streaks. So let's just try a few more of those. It can take practice to get used to the coordination of starting the zoom first and then firing the shutter.
And depending on what shutter speed you're using you may have to zoom at faster or slower speeds. And some of these don't work, not because of anything she's doing wrong, but because it's just really unpredictable how the framing is gonna end up. So that's one approach. Also, I don't have a whole lot of exposure control here these are all coming out a little bit bright. I could do some work to dim it down a little bit, that's something I can easily fix in post. So now I'm gonna try something else. Instead of zooming forward, I'm gonna frame her shot and now I'm gonna try and rotate the camera.
With the rotation, whatever's in the center is going to be held still the longest. The flash is gonna give me a boost with that. But I'm gonna try and rotate it just right around the bridge of her nose. So, yeah I don't think that worked. Oh wow, that's not bad actually. (mumbling) So now she's got these things of lights swirling around her face. It's hard to hold the camera right on axis while you're doing it. But that's working okay. And it's cool, the lights are actually staying around her face.
Okay, let's try something else Dani. Lock your eyes on me but can you rotate? Yeah, there we go, but can you do it really fast? - Okay. - Okay. - You tell me when. - Okay. All right. Uh, go. (laughs) That's interesting. (laughs) That one's hard to get going. There's a lot you can do with smearing motion and smearing light. What actually got me thinking about this was I was with a friend in a Mexican restaurant one night and it was really dark but they had decorated the whole place with lights and so I started doing this.
It's a great thing to do in a low light situation like a restaurant, or obviously a holiday. At times if you're out on the street and there's lots of streetlights around, that's a cool time to be doing the zoom thing, it's something you can do anywhere. Again, you can do it just with your pop up flash so you don't need to be carrying a lot of gear. It's a great way to take advantage of a situation that normally would be a deal breaker for getting a usable image.
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