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Best low-light settings?

P Harris , Aug 03, 2005; 11:37 p.m.

I've shot some weddings using a Canon 10D and Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L USM lens and a 420 EX Speedlite with a So-Fen Omni-Bounce diffuser. A photographer I respect, one who used Fuji equipment, recommended that I shoot indoor reception shots at ISO 800, daylight white balance, 1/30 sec., metering to expose for the background and letting my Speedlite light just the subject. He gets great shots that way. But when I've tried it, I get terrible results. At 1/30 sec. my pictures just aren't sharp, and at higher shutter speeds my backgrounds come out too dark.

Frankly I get better exposures using my camera in Program mode. But I would like to hear what indoor settings you shooters with similar equipment recommend. I've read the excellent information about using flash with EOS, and now I'm looking for advice from practical experience.

Responses

Anupam Basu , Aug 03, 2005; 11:58 p.m.

1/30 should be hand-holdable with a bit of practice. The trick is to drag the shutter as much as possible. 1/30 @ f2.8 @ ISO 800 sounds about the right exposure for a moderately lit room. Maybe you can begin with the shutter a stop faster (either underexpose the backgorund by a stop or up the ISO to 1600) and then work your way to 1/30 eventually. Another thing that might cause unsharp pics at 1/30 is subject movement. If the foreground subject is moving and is well lit enough, it might register as a slight motion blur in spite of the flash.

-A

P Harris , Aug 04, 2005; 12:24 a.m.

The old principle with 35mm cameras is that you can't reliably hand-hold an exposure slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens: a 50mm lens would require a shutter speed of at least 1/50 sec., for example. I'm shooting with a 70mm lens so 1/60 sec. is pushing it, and with Canon digital cameras there's the 1.60 multiplication factor to make things worse. I'm doubtful that sharp hand-held pictures at 1/30 sec. is achievable without image stabilization. I do have an IS lens, but it's not the lens I use for weddings.

Jim Strutz - Anchorage, AK , Aug 04, 2005; 12:51 a.m.

I often do this, but I'm usually at f/4 to f/8, and sometimes go as slow as 1/15 seconds. It's a common practice among many wedding photographers. The short duration of the flash will usually make subject appear sharp even with a slow shutter, and the background is about 1.5 to 2 stops darker so it doesn't show blur as much. Of course, sometimes when the subjects are moving you will get some dimmed blur from that as well. Using second curtain sync somtimes makes this acceptable, but not always.

Using a monpod and/or Image Stabilization can make this work better since they do reduce camera shake.

Grant Gaborno , Aug 04, 2005; 02:42 a.m.

Practice.

I typically shoot like your friend does with the same equipment you have.

If it's really dark, I'll shoot the 24-70L at 24mm down to 1/6 if the subject isn't moving...even without flash.

Phil Vaughan , Aug 04, 2005; 04:00 a.m.

It's a personal thing, it's down to how slow you can go personally. There are techniques you can practice for shooting with slow shutter speeds, but you either get it or you don't.

Giampi . , Aug 04, 2005; 01:50 p.m.

>>daylight white balance, 1/30 sec., metering to expose for the background and letting my Speedlite light just the subject.<<

It looks as tough the photographer likes shifting the background to warm while keeping the subject on the cool side. I would not agree with that but, it's a matter of personal taste. I would find a closer match between the tungsten and the flash by using gels on the latter.

If you are getting motion blur not much you can do except use a faster shutter speed. Each of us can hold a camera more or less steady at different speeds so, what worked for your friend may not work for you.

When you mix ambient and flash there is a risk of ghosting because if the shutter speeds are too slow, either camera shake or subject movement can introduce that side effect. You will have to increase the shutter but, that will send the ambient light to the abyss of underexposure so, you'll have to open up your lens. If you are already at f/2.8 the ONLY thing left to do is shift to a higer ISO or, use a tripod and tell the subject to hold still for a sec.

Joe R , Aug 04, 2005; 02:20 p.m.

My typical settings for shooting indoor events are similar. Camera in Manual mode, 1/30 to 1/50 at f/2.8 - f/3.5, ISO 800. I shoot RAW so the overall white balance can be corrected later. I use either a 1/8 or 1/4 CTO gel inside my Stofen Omnibounce to warm the flash - helps balance with indoor lighting & gives pleasing skin tones.

Anupam Basu , Aug 05, 2005; 01:41 a.m.

I'm doubtful that sharp hand-held pictures at 1/30 sec. is achievable without image stabilization.

Well, I do it on a regular basis with my 105mm AI-S lens. So yes - it can be done. As others have said, it needs practice and good technique.

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