Shooting people in poor light

Discussion in 'Digital Discussion & Q&A' started by piksells, Oct 14, 2007.

  1. piksells

    piksells TPF Noob!

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    I was shoting the celebrations at a relative's wedding using Nikon D200 with SB600 flash unit.

    I ran up against several issues affecting the result:

    1. In the poorish light the camera had difficulty autofocussing and with people dancing about manual focus in poor light was difficult too. What do others do in this situation?

    2. I tried bouncing the flash, and had to manually increase the flash output up to 2 stops to get a good exposure - I was under the impression that the SB600 was able to compensate when bouncing without intervention.

    All suggestions for coping with these issues in the future gratefuly received!
     
  2. Patrice

    Patrice No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Focussing in poor light is a common challenge. A lens with a large max aperture, f1.8 or f2.8, helps a lot. As far as the sb600 lighting properly on a bounce depends on the settings. Did you have your flash set to TTL and not TTL-BL ?
     
  3. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    On a D200, make sure that you use the option to activate the small light to aid in focusing.

    To get crisp pictures in low light... there are not many options:
    - High ISO (D200s are not great with this above ISO 800)
    - Big apertures of 2.8 or less.

    If you are permitted to use a flash, that helps a lot.

    Also, please note that D200s are known to underexpose about 1 stop to preserve contrast and shadow details. Proper technique or using the D200's exposure compensation OR increasing "exposure" post process are all viable options.

    The SB-600 *can* compensate, but it has to be set to it's default of iTTL-BL and you should be able to take advantage of Nikon's Creative Light System (CLS). Of course, no flash can do everything, and the SB-600 does have limits in terms of flash distance, and what you were bouncing off of also makes a HUGE difference. Bouncing off a white ceiling that was 8-10 feet tall all should be fine. Bouncing it off a brown or grey chapel roof thats 25 feet was a waste of battery power.
     
  4. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Flash compensation is a much trickier algorithm than image metering. Take for instance a subject is 2m from the camera and 1m from the wall. The flash illuminates the entire scene. But if the subject is still 2m from the camera and now 10m from the wall the background will be back. Not many flashes can cope with such large variables. Bouncing only adds to the problem, now the subject and background still 10m away are both lit up. And I think you get the idea of just how complex this really is.

    Anyway there's a few ways around this. a) use a bounce card, a big one. The SB-800 metres much better when it blasts light forward as it does up, I imagine the 600 does the same. b) is the flash running out of power when bouncing? this could also cause a problem. c) use Fv-Lock and spot metering.
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    That's one reason why have FEC...so that we can compensate for when the flash metering isn't giving us what we want. Knowing when and where to use FEC, and how much to use...comes with experience. Of course, having a quick peek at the histogram/LCD doesn't hurt.

    As mentioned, faster lenses (large aperture) will give you more light to focus...but it also helps to shoot at a smaller aperture, so that your DOF is deeper and you don't have to be as precise with the focus. Keep in mind that the smaller your shooting aperture, the harder your flash will have to work. So if your recycle time is too long, and/or your batteries are dieing quickly...you can use a larger aperture to save power.
     
  6. harkain

    harkain TPF Noob!

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    All ceilings are different. The height, color, and shape of the ceiling affects your flash in many ways, sometimes unpredictably. As a wedding photographer, it isn't uncommon for me to bump up my on-camera flash at the reception. For a large reception area that is poorly lit, I set up two strobes fairly far apart and switch between them using different channels on my pocket wizards. I hate direct flash. Sometimes the reception hall ceiling is too high and its too dark and my on-camera flash recycles more slowly than I like, even with a battery pack.

    As far as focusing in the dark, there isn't much to do. Even with the little red light that the D200 fires when it focuses, it isn't enough in very dark situations. I would recommend getting closer to your subjects if you can, so that the camera can see the red light. Something we've tried is using a video light and that has produced some nice effects.

    However, I couldn't get the quality of images that I wanted with the D200 in low light no matter what I tried. Experimenting with the equipment and talking to other photographers with similar gear is the best way to figure out what works best. But in this case, for me, what worked best was using a different camera.

    I've been shooting with a 5D w/580EXII this past year and my wife has been using Fuji S5's, but last year we were using D200's with SB800's. So I'm very familiar with the problems you are facing. With any camera, it can be tough to get great images in low light. The D200 is a good camera but the sensor isn't great at high ISO's and I don't recommend it for weddings because of this one reason. The Fuji S5 is in the same price range as the D200 and it uses the same Nikon lenses. The S5 captures beautiful images, has that awesome Dynamic Range setting, and has a great sensor in low light. The S5 just has a painfully slow buffer, but you get used to it.

    With the 5D, my images from darker wedding receptions look awesome. I can't stand looking at my old D200 images.
     
  7. piksells

    piksells TPF Noob!

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    many thanks for all the helpful hints - very useful
     
  8. FidelCastrovich

    FidelCastrovich TPF Noob!

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    Doesn't your flash have AF assist? The red beam-me-up-Scottie?
    When i go shooting in the dark, like in a No-Electricity-Festival, held a few weeks ago here on the streets of Jerusalem, i take the flash with me just for the AF assist. I set the flash custom function to "doesn't fire", and just let it "assist".

    Other route would be setting your lens to a wide angle setting, closing up the aperture a bit, maybe 5.6 and shooting MF at a fixed distance setting of 2-4 feet, or whatever suits your needs.
     
  9. nossie

    nossie TPF Noob!

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    hehe funny another thread talks about should we be using the flash in the church at all... this one reminds me of the time when I was in a church\cathedral that had 100foot high ceilings and the nearest walls were 50feet away so I was bouncing the flash off the Priest's lovely white garb. I think the technique is called "Foofing". Amongst other things I also fired direct on the subjects but used ISO1600 so that the ETTL would use the lowest power on the flash for the ambient light. It was a bit like being in the middle of a field in the middle of the night.

    I'm under the impression that the flash has no idea how far away the bounce surface is so it just gives it 100% and it's up to you to +/-.

    Again I'm really enjoying this guy's writings... http://planetneil.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/1-natural-looking-flash/
     
  10. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Flash does not work on distance but on a pre-fireing. Distance does help just like it does in every matrix metering system. But for the most part the TTL system still applies. Fire a preflash metre the resulting light, fire a full flash. Some people can't see it but if you ever have a problem with people who blink for flashes like I do, set the flash to manual or AA so that it won't pre-flash at all. You'll find no one blinks because it metres the output light and not a pre-flash through the lens.
     

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