Nighttime proposal and High ISO


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Dec 11, 2015
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Hi there. I am shooting a proposal for a family member, and have a question for anyone familiar with the Nikon D810 (or similar models).

The proposal will be happening at night in a gazebo. The only light will be strings of white lights hung in the gazebo, and candles. I had a test run last night and figured an ISO of 3400, at a shutter speed of 1/125 to be the best option. But now I'm second guessing and wondering if I should bump the ISO up more so that I can use a quicker shutter speed. I'm worried about grain, obviously. But am also worried about blurry photos.

Any advice?
1/125 might be just fine if they're not jumping around, but it'll be fine in the 24-70 range, probably not if you're going to do it hidden with a 300mm lens, but
you probably already know that. I wouldn't shy away from a higher ISO on that body, up to ~5000 for something this important for sure.
Do another test run and test various ISOs/Shutter Speeds.
Then review the photos and decide for yourself.

The d810 is better than my d600 which is fine up to ISO 6400.
There are times where "getting the shot" is the MOST important thing. A little noise, or even a lot of noise, is not important in this case. Go with higher ISO. Perhaps set ISO to AUTO and max ISO to 10,000 or more.
After things settle a bit see about taking some posed shots with flash?
The D810 should be able to handle more.

I'm guessing you should be able to shoot it at ISO 6400 and while noise is probably noticeable... it should be extremely moderate (and easily handled in software).

Noise tends to be more noticeable in dark shadows then in bright areas. Lightroom is pretty good at dealing with noise (Photoshop, in comparison, is actually surprisingly lousy at handling noise). If you use Photoshop you can get a plug-in called Noiseware Pro -- my favorite tool for noise because it allows you to control noise reduction based on tonality. Since "dark" areas tend to have the most noise, they need stronger noise reduction -- but light areas tend to have very little noise, so they may not need much (if any) noise reduction. Noiseware allows you to control this (noise reduction in Lightroom, for example, doesn't have an easy way to do this and tends to reduce noise by the same amount all throughout the image.)

The heavy amount of darkness may cause the camera to attempt to over-expose (to bring up the shadows closer to middle-gray) so test your camera in advanced and be prepared to deliberately under-expose by perhaps a stop or so if sooting manual -- or dial in exposure compensation to maybe -1 if using an automatic mode such as Aperture or Shutter priority modes. Spot metering (vs. matrix metering) will completely change this. So if you spot meter on your subject's face then the meter reading is is probably fine "as is" (and any adjustments are probably within a third of a stop and easily handled in software.)
Spot metering + manual exposure is what I'd use here (I use it for everything actually but..), so yeah.
If the shot is properly exposed, the noise will be better then if the shot is dark & pushed in post (actually Nikon
images react very well to this but, still, I'd rather expose properly at 6400 then underexpose shooting 3200).
ISO 3400 (3200?), is not high, the D810 can handle that easily, however, what are you going to do when the light is behind them and gives you unwanted silhouettes or raccoon eyes?

I prefer taking control of my light rather than being a victim of it. If that means setting up extra off camera lighting or using an on camera flash with a bounce card and balance it so the ambient is about 1 stop under my main exposure (which means I can shoot at 1/15th and still get tack sharp shots), I do what is necessary to make sure I get the shot. Proposals shots are easily repeatable if you miss it, however its best if you do it once and do it right. :)

It's not a D810, but on my D4 I have gone as high as 102,400 with nice results and post processing. I shoot at ISO 12,800 without any noise reduction at all. Nikon D810 cameras already slightly "shoot to the right" so pushing it while shooting is not needed.
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I would love to know how this turned out - I get asked to do a lot of surprise proposals, usually at night. I would love to know what worked or didn't work for you. Thanks!

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