Night Life Photography Beginner Help (Gear)


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Jun 13, 2013
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Austin, Tx
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Hey whats up, I am new to photography and I want to get into Night life photography such as night time events, clubs, bars, concerts, etc. A few months ago I picked up my pops' Canon 30D, it has a EF 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 on it. I was thinking about buying a Nikon D3200 or a Canon Rebel T2i...Or i was thinking putting that money towards a better lens. What do you think would be a more appropriate decision?
I don't know about that particular camera body but you are going to want a fast lens.
I agree, you might want a nice sharp lens to shoot in low light.
If you have a decent body to start with, put your money towards glass.

With what you are looking to get into, I recommend getting a couple decent primes, a 35mm, a 50mm, and the only zoom I would go for would be something like an 11-16.

You will be shooting tight quarters, in low light. Something that can shoot 1.8 or 2.8 is a good start, but you will still need to understand your equipment.

If you are just getting into it, I don't know why you would give up your gift horse to buy something new, when you might not have a solid understanding of the equipment you already have. Get to know what you have, learn all that you can, and then move on. A better body does not = better shots.

If you would like some examples of what the aforementioned lenses can do, in the setting you want to shoot in, feel free to have a look:

Papadosio and Damn Right 4/29/11 - a set on Flickr

D.S.N.2010year1 - a set on Flickr

BreakersFX - a set on Flickr
I'd say you'd want to get a nice wide-angle lens as I assume you'll be in tightly packed spaces. You could get a 50mm, 40mm, 35mm or something wider (however, they tend to be quite expensive). These allow you to have a very wide aperture that allows the most light in in a space where there isn't much light (such as your events you speak of!). I hope this has helped :)
In nighttime photography, the goal is to get as much light as possible, as 'fast' as possible.

That means lenses that have a maximum aperture size of f2.8 or larger. Remember, f-stops are 'reverse' numbered in that smaller numbers (ratios, actually) are larger apertures. Many of the higher-end, higher-priced zoom lenses have a minimum f-stop of f2.8, and maintain that f-stop thoughout the entire zoom range, whereas the EF 28-135 you have changes the maximum f-stop while zooming from f3.5 to f5.6 (way too small for night shots).

Alternatively, fixed focal length lenses, such as a 50mm f1.8 or f1.4, for example, open 'very wide' and capture a lot of light. F1.4 is twice as large an aperture as f2.8, and 4 times that of f5.6.

Depending on your budget, you may want to consider a Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L mark ii. I bought one shortly after I upgraded from a 30D to a 60D and was happy both with it's being 'wide enough' in cramped spaces as well as 'fast enough' (wide aperture) when needed. But that's about $1500 new. Although not as wide angle as the 16-35 can produce, a 'fast' 50mm or even 40mm lens would give better low light results without shutter speeds necessarily too slow to stop subject (and your) movement, causing blurred images. The 'nifty 50' f1.8 is perhaps the most economical of Canons' EF lenses.

Of course, you need not buy only Canon lenses. Canon compatible lenses such as those from Tamron, Sigma, and others offer similar focal lengths and apertures as does Canon, but at lesser cost. Used or refurbished lenses are another means of saving some money as well.

Low light photography in general requires 4 things...'fast' lenses (low f-stop numbers), slower shutter speeds (but not too slow), higher ISO speeds (but not so fast as to cause too much 'noise'), and perhaps and most importantly, a STABLE, steady hand / camera (ie, mono-pod or, better yet, tripod). Depending on the situation, an external flash unit would also be beneficial, as the built-in flash is useless after the first 10 feet and produces very harsh shadows and other negative lighting issues.

Most of all, don't go 'hog wild' and spend a zillion dollars on equipment annd not understand how and when to use it. Take it one step at a time. Start with a fast lens. See what that can and cannot do for you. Then decide what's needed next and take the next step.
I would invest in a starter flashgun if you have the funds left over. The Yongnuo guns are awesome. Personally I found the flash was REALLY nice to have around when lighting up a group of people.
Set your camera to shutter priority. On a Cannon DLSR you turn the top dial to TV. Whereas on some SLR models, like the Nikon D40 for example, shutter priority is displayed as the letter S. If your camera doesn't have TV or S then refer to your camera manual.

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