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Author Topic: Should low light photography be this hard?  (Read 305 times)

kpz

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Should low light photography be this hard?
« on: November 25, 2018, 02:15:50 PM »

I'm posting this as a "sanity check," since I'm having some difficulty shooting handheld in low light.

I'm beginner with a Nikon d5600 and 35mm f/1.8 lens. When outdoors, or indoors with substantial natural window light, I have no problems getting a good exposure with reasonable shutter speed (1/60 or faster), aperture (a stop above wide open), and ISO settings (400, or at most 800).

However, when indoors with no natural light and just a few overhead lights or lamps, I have a tremendous amount of trouble. Is this normal?

First, even when shooting wide open at 1/50 (to observe the reciprocal rule for minimizing camera shake), I routinely need to push my ISO to 1600 to 2000 to capture objects that aren't being directly illuminated by the lights (as determined by the camera's matrix metering, and confirmed by my eye). Even with direct illumination I'm still in the 800-1000 range. This is at f/1.8, which I'm not too keen about because of the vignetting from the lens.

Second, there appears to be quite noticeable noise in the shadows at these settings, especially upon zooming in slightly. At full size maybe it is acceptable, but I would be wary of doing any cropping. It is probably an exaggeration to say they look like pictures taken on my phone, but not by much.

Is this experience out of the ordinary? Am I doing something grossly wrong? I've never really considered indoor photography to be "low light," but after a few experiences like this I am reconsidering. I've heard of people shooting in nightclubs handheld without flash, so it seems like the problem may lie with me.
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Ken Bennett

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Re: Should low light photography be this hard?
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2018, 02:24:41 PM »

You're not doing anything wrong. I shoot a lot of low light interiors hand held, using Fuji f/1.4 lenses wide open. (For events, candids, news, etc.) I am often shooting at ISO 3200 or 6400, and sometimes at 12,800. A handful of interior lights does not make for a bright environment.

So, onto the question of noise. You're going to have noise. Sometimes a lot of it. You can minimize it using the noise reduction settings in the camera (for in-camera JPEG files) or in the raw converter (for raw files.) Your camera is capable of making good photos indoors, you'll need to figure out how to balance noise reduction versus detail in the final image. But you're not doing anything wrong, if anything I would boost my ISO to get slightly faster shutter speeds depending on the subject.

Now for my personal opinion: for what it's worth, noise doesn't bother me at all. Looking back at the various films I shot back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, even the slowest ISO 100 slide film shows notable film grain ("noise") even in smooth bright skies. And don't get me started on the low light options we had. Pushing Fujicolor 800 color neg film three stops did not give results anything like what we can do with ISO 6400 files now.
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langier

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Re: Should low light photography be this hard?
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2018, 08:22:58 PM »

IMO, forget about the pixels, worry about the picture.

I'm shooting in "Hail Mary" lighting weekly, and sometimes more often. At one time, I set everything for the best pixel quality on my best low-light cameras that gave me great IQ at 12,800-25,600 and useable at 50,000. These cameras and lenses got heavier as I got older. Good looking images for sure, but wearing me out.

Today, I'm shooting an M43, a couple of 2.8 zooms and an f/4 zoom. I've set them for auto-ISO pegging the upper end at 12,800, run them in "P" unless I need a little more speed for motion, usually 1/45-1/60, shooting them in raw and using auto WB. All I do is focus and compose. I've simplified my settings so when I go from available darkness into the sunlight, I'm not piddling with anything and just keep shooting. It's not the pixels I'm after but the photograph!

Sure, there's noise, blur, black shadows and burned-out highlights along with other technical defects. Yet, that adds to the mystic and the emotion of the images. I shoot lots, edit heavily, run noise reduction in ACR and sometimes Define further along. When I need a tad more image quality for contrast control and the action allows it, I'll even run a quick HDR sequence, raw of course, and then process it in ACR.

My shooting doesn't allow for the use of a tripod since I've got to be mobile and blend into the background. I didn't wake up one day and started doing this, but have evolved for several years now and it works for my style.

Your camera will give you great image quality easily at iso 3200-6400 and you can set it for auto-iso if you are shooting in similar conditions as I do. Crank up the volume and shoot away! You will get noise in your images but don't sweat it, you'll have the image. If the end result is for on-line consumption, you can even shoot higher iso and get away with more. Just don't sweat the noise! My prints up close show the noise at 11x14 and larger but the average person is oblivious. From normal viewing distances, the prints look great. On the web, nobody notices nor cares and people love them.

In the days of film, we shot Tri-X at ISO 1600 and sometimes at 3200. It was grainy, contrast sucked and it was a lot of hit-and-miss. High-speed Ektachrome was iso 160, 45 years ago...3M sold transparency film balanced for tungsten that pegged the scale at iso 1000. If at the end of the night, we got 3-4 good frames on a few rolls of film, it was a success.

The image quality today at faster-and-faster iso settings is far superior and we've got technology to overcome many of the defect. BUT, this isn't for the faint-of-heart, it's not for creating sofa-size landscapes, this is for getting the image that we once could only describe with words. A whole new world has opened using off-the-shelf cameras and lenses. As recently as 20-30 years ago we needed exotic lenses that only NASA and Stanley Kubrick could afford, costing the same as a luxury car or down payment on a house, and our images are so much better than yesterday's tech could produce!

Think outside the box, don't be afraid of turning the iso dial to 11 and go out and shoot great pictures, regardless of the pixel qualities. Push it, and experiment, don't hold back and crank-up those sliders in ACR!

This group is from Friday night, probably the lowest iso was maybe 320 at the start. Most were captured at 3200+, several at 8000-12,800. When I needed, I used an Ikan LED micro panel. There's even an HDR in the interior group photo. A typical afternoon shoot for me. https://bit.ly/2r4bM0c
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Two23

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Re: Should low light photography be this hard?
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2018, 09:25:28 PM »

I routinely use a tripod in low light, or a flash if possible.


Kent in SD
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Should low light photography be this hard?
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2018, 11:16:48 PM »

You are doing nothing wrong. What you experience is normal. We had a thread recently on high ISO images:

https://forum.luminous-landscape.com/index.php?topic=126686.0

Check some of my and Larry’s images there, starting at ISO 51,200.

kpz

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Re: Should low light photography be this hard?
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2018, 01:08:17 AM »

Thanks all for your very helpful responses. It is a relief to know that both my camera and my brain are operating properly. I will forge ahead with high ISOs in the necessary situations, then.
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