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Low-light indoor photography

Tawanda Tahwa , Nov 13, 2008; 03:53 p.m.

I am new to photography and totally love it.A couple of months ago i went to shoot at a function that was being held in a hotel hall at night.The lighs were deemed, like most entertainment awards.I struggled with light and at that time i started shooting on automatic mode as i didnt know the best settings at that moment.

I couldn't get the camera to focus and thereby producing unflattering photos.I am going to shoot in a similar environment next week, and would like to know the best way to deal with light and focusing.I am using a canon 450d with the standard lens it comes with, 70-300mm Tamron lens , 105mm f2.8 DG Macro Sigma lens and a Jessops external flash gun.

With the tools i have above, please help me take flattering pictures by telling me exactly how i can get my camera to do this.Thank you in advance.

Responses

James Ollinger , Nov 13, 2008; 06:49 p.m.

Manual focus. Autofocus cameras don't have the focusing aids you use to find in manual focus cameras, but it's not that hard. Unless you're dealing with movement, you should be able to focus quickly enough by hand and get good results.

You can also try an old wedding photographer's trick: prefocus and set up for a good exposure at a certain distance (e.g. 10 feet) and then physically move yourself forward or back until your subject is that distance (e.g. 10 feet). That way you don't have to refocus or redo your exposure settings.

Lex Jenkins , Nov 13, 2008; 08:42 p.m.

Indoor flash photography is one of the most difficult things to do well. The polished "look" of indoor photography is what separates the experienced pros and serious amateurs from 99% of the rest of us.

The strong side shadows indicates that when you tipped your camera vertically for the shot, you also tipped the flash unit sideways. This is one of the most common mistakes new photographers make. Generally speaking the flash should remain above the camera, whether the camera is held horizontally ("landscape" orientation) or vertically ("portrait" orientation).

One way to do this is get a flash bracket. It's easier to demonstrate than explain, so check the various websites for manufacturers and retailers: Stroboframe, Custom Brackets, Demb and a few others make good flash brackets. Stroboframe is the most common seen in local shops. Personally, I prefer and recommend the Custom Brackets "CB Junior" for most full sized cameras. For a smaller, more compact camera Demb makes a really good, lightweight bracket. So does Stroboframe.

A bracket will have something like a pivoting arm that lets you manually flip the flash unit to be above the camera when the camera is held vertically. It also elevates the flash higher above the lens, which helps minimize harsh shadows and the "red eye" effect.

There are many other tricks, including bounce flash, diffusers, etc. Plan on spending a lot of time practicing and experimenting. Indoor flash photography is tricky to master, but worth the effort.

Tawanda Tahwa , Nov 14, 2008; 12:09 p.m.

Thanks guys for the responses, what i mostly worried about is the settings best suited for such an environment.Shutter speeds, ISO , White balance,Aperture, and Exposure Compensation.If you can advice me on possible settings, please do.

Lex thanks for this advice..."One way to do this is get a flash bracket. It's easier to demonstrate than explain, so check the various websites for manufacturers and retailers: Stroboframe, Custom Brackets, Demb and a few others make good flash brackets. Stroboframe is the most common seen in local shops."

The only problem is that i am running on a very low-budget but will do just that soon.

James thanks for the advice, but i will be dealing with movement, fierce African dancers and people dancing like there is no tomorrow.

Chris Moran , Nov 14, 2008; 05:35 p.m.

If there's a low ceiling try bouncing the flash off that to give more even soft lighting. When I'm shooting candids at a wedding reception in a dark banquet hall I usually shoot in shutter priority at a fairly slow shudder speed like 1/40th of a second and then crank the ISO up as high as it will go without getting too much noise. With my D200 I get acceptable results at ISO 1000 and will sometimes go as high as ISO 1600. If the space is dark enough, the flash burst will freeze the subject and the high ISO and longer shutter lets the ambient light register on the sensor. At these settings with people dancing there will probably be some ghosting, setting your camera for rear curtain flash sync will make the blurred trails of dancers look more natural, flowing behind them instead of shooting off ahead of them. Whenever you can, avoid blasting your subjects with a direct hit from your strobe, bounce it off a wall, a ceiling, an index card, anything to give some dimension to your subject. A straight on flash blast will rarely result in an inspiring image. You might also want to try playing around with your camera in manual everything mode, adjust aperature size to control the flash effect and shutter speed for the ambient light.

James Ollinger , Nov 15, 2008; 01:13 p.m.

White balance indoors usually isn't straightforward. The white color varies depending on the source. If you mix sources (like overhead lights and flash), you end up with a mix of colors which may or may not be pleasing.

Usually you try to figure out what the color temp is for the ambient light, and then correct the color of your flash to match it by putting color correcting filters over the flash head. There's an excellent website about using flash and how to deal with various situations: http://www.strobist.com/ (Particularly Lighting 101).

ISO should be as high as you can get and still get images you think are pleasing. That's a mixture of your camera's capability (some have better noise reduction than others) and your personal tastes. I'd start at 400. If that's acceptable, try 800. If not, go back to 200. And so on.

Tawanda Tahwa , Nov 19, 2008; 12:23 p.m.

Thank you guys for the help, i have actually seen a big difference after trying a few pictures in a low-light indoor situations, and to James, strobist.com is extremely useful..

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