HELP with Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by billjboyd, Dec 19, 2008.

  1. My church has asked if I would shoot the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. They did this a couple of years ago, but only have a low res image to show for their effort. Now they want something better.
    This is a large church that seats 1,400. Flash is NOT allowed and there will be very low light (mainly lots of handheld candles). They have requested that I shoot from an upper vantage point which I am going to check out this afternoon.
    My equipment is a Nikon D80 and I have the following lens: 50mm f/1.8, 18-135mm kit lens, 12-24mm f/4, and a 70-300mm f/4.
    They want a shot of the whole church showing as many people as possible. The shooting position is near the ceiling above the altar.
    Can someone offer advice on lens, settings, etc?
  2. Sounds like the 12-24mm, probably around f/8, ISO 200 ... and a SOLID TRIPOD for a clean shot. If the wide angle zoom is too wide, the 50/1.8 will probably make the nicer image. Only you can tell what angle of view you'll actually need. Regardless, it will be a longer exposure. The self timer or a remote release will help keep things nice and stable. Let the camera figure out the shutter speed (shoot in AP mode) until you can chimp a few shots and see what you're getting. The bright points of candle light may fool your meter, so bracket your shots by a few stops either way.
  3. The D80's base ISO is 100. I would start there and see how long the exposure is. If too long, you can go to ISO 200, then maybe 400 if absolutely necessary. Wouldn't go beyond that.
    Everything else Matt said is right on. I would use a cable release and bracket at least three shots to get a sense of what exposure works best.
  4. The tricky part here is that the candles are both the light source, as well as being the subject, of the photograph. But they will not be as interesting unless the setting and participants are visible, too. You'll be dealing with extraordinary dynamic range and, as Matt pointed out, your meter will be easily fooled.
    1. Use a tripod. Frame your scene and lock it in securely.
    2. Set your camera for manual exposure, at something less than wide open aperture, and at a fairly fast ISO (400 to 800). Then take some test shots and do some chimping to find a good basic exposure. Shoot RAW for the extra dynamic range it provides.
    3. Take bracket shots in rapid sequence. Many DSLRs will let you continuously fire a bracket sequence of three or more shots.
    With this setup, you should get some pretty well exposed shots, but the dynamic range may still be unmanageable, even with adjustments. Remember, you want the candles to look like yellow flames, not white blobs, and you want to see the illuminated room and faces, as well. Since you've taken bracketed exposures (and assuming motion is minimal) you can do an HDR merge in PhotoShop (CS3 or later).
    Other programs, like Photomatix will work, of course, but remember not to let the tone mapping go wild. I prefer the effect I get in PhotoShop for more naturally rendered scenes.
    You may not need to go the HDR route, of course. It's possible your shots will be good straight out of camera, or at least correctable with a little work. But if you take the bracket shots as described, you'll be prepared for the probable dynamic range challenges. I did an architectural exterior with Christmas lights last week using this technique, and the results were beyond my expectations, with no telltale signs of HDR manipulation.
    BTW, Kubrick filmed a lengthy scene in Barry Lyndon by candle light in a large period dining room interior. He used 50mm/f0.7 lenses adapted for 35mm cine cameras, taken from Canon rangefinders, as I recall. Of course he was using film, so he had less sensitivity, but better dynamic range than digital. It's a gorgeous scene.
    Good luck!
  5. You need to find out, if they haven't told you, what the shots are to be used for and what kind of shots they are looking for. If the images are to be printed, how big?
    For instance, if you are to get images of the service itself, which involves, I would think, movement, you aren't going to be able to use a time exposure and you will have to use teles if you are to zoom in on specific actions. Low ISO and small aperture won't work for these, and you may have to rent some wide aperture teles or zooms.
    If you are to get a shot of the entire church floor, and people are relatively still, you might be able to use a time exposure. If you will have no control over this (making people stay still), it may be a problem. I did a shot similar to this, but I could use flash and they stopped for a bit so I could get the shot. I set up two pack heads and was able to use f2.8 with a 28mm lens to get most of the floor in decent focus (I used a DOF table to determine the focus point).
    This is why you need to know what the final use is.
  6. Renting a D700 or D3 would be a good idea, too. ISO 6400 with minimal noise will make the job much easier.
  7. Matt, I might be missing something here (actually, it's quite likely) but why f8? If he uses the 12-24mm @12mm/f4, the hyperfocal is just over 6 feet (on a crop sensor). If he's shooting from the balcony and focuses on the hyperfocal, couldn't he eek out a bit more light with the aperture and make the ISO and shutter speed a bit easier? Of course, that lens isn't happiest there, but the lack of sharpness from the lens probably wouldn't be worse than the motion blur from people moving under a long exposure. Of course, the long exposures could be a great effect, but the option for variety would be nice.
    Bill, what a great opportunity! That's a pretty unique vantage point! Don't forget that you could also rent a lens for the holidays if you wanted something wider/faster. You'd also have a great toy to play with for a couple days. I've rented from Adorama and it was a great experience. Oh, it also made me not want that 12-24 canon lens.
  8. I shot candle lights a couple of days ago and had to go 1/20s, f/2, ISO6400 to see their faces. That is 0.3 EV.
    If you need some kind of quality I would stay at ISO800 max on the D80 and it sounds as you will need your 12-24 which is f/4. That will give you a shutter speed 5 stops longer so somewhere around 1 second. It's tricky.

    Maybe you could do a composite of several shots from a tripod and get an image without motion blur that way?

    When I've shot candle light stuff before in the church I've used remote flash. But that's tricky as well because it has to be subtle or it will destroy the mood. Also need to gel it heavily, something like 1 1/2 CTO to get the flash similar in temperature to candle lights
  9. Also consider locking the mirror in position. Even with a large steady tripod the mirror will contribute movement. Locking the mirror up removes that motion from the equation. There is a surprising amount of torgue and resulting movement from the mirror.

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