Need help w/Low Light photos in church

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by timob1205, Jun 5, 2017.

  1. I am an amateur photographer whose pics are almost exclusively of my 4 grade-school age kids' countless activities. I shoot with a Canon 40D using either a Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM lens or a Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM lens and almost never use a flash.

    I tend to have many occasions to take pics in church and undoubtedly my pics always turn out very yellow and out of focus (see attached pic if I can figure out how to insert one). I'll typically use the 17-55 f/2.8 lens, put the camera in "P" mode, set an ISO around 1000 or more and let Canon pick the rest of the settings (no flash), or put it in "Av" mode, set it at f/2.8 w/ 1000 ISO and try that. So at a recent event I shot a bunch of terrible pics and I noticed the guy sitting in front of me was shooting w/a Nikon that didn't look to be crazy expensive and was getting "normal" colored, pretty well focused shots without a flash. I also see people all the time taking pics in church with cell phones that look better than my gear does which frustrates me to no end.

    Someone told me that the ISO on the 40D is not that great and that a better camera body would solve my problem. I am not opposed to buying a new body if I can stay in the $800 - $1400 range, so I'm pondering the 80D or 7D Mark II - both of which I do not believe are full frame (like my 40D).

    Ok here's my questions:
    1. Is there anything I can do with the gear I have to increase the chance of getting better hand-held, no flash, low light pictures? Am I doing something wrong?

    2. If I just can't get there with my current gear will the 80D or 7D Mark II solve my problem or will I have the same problem with those? Will I see a dramatic improvement in my ability to shoot low light pics by upgrading my body to one of those two? I really don't want to spend thousands on a full frame camera like the 5D or EOS-1D (especially since I would have to replace my EF-S lens which I use most of the time)?

    Any advice is much appreciated!
  2. Your main problem is the yellow cast, which is due to a control called "White Balance". The default setting in most cameras is Auto White Balance - AWB - that should take care of a change in lighting colour automatically. If your WB setting has been changed to daylight, then that could be the problem. Look at the White Balance menu. You could try setting it manually to "lncandescent" or the pictogram of a lightbulb. However, if your church is lit with low-energy compact fluorescent bulbs, then almost all cameras have problems with such lighting. The only way I've found to get the colour right under such lights is to set a custom white balance, and this would take a very long reply to explain.

    The blur issue appears to be due to camera shake and not focus. I would have thought that the image stabilisation on your 17-55 lens would have overcome that problem. Check that IS is turned on on the lens and is working properly.

    IS won't help much if your shutter speeds are at something like 1/4 second though. Raising the ISO speed to increase the shutter speed will help here. Your camera should be able to deliver an ISO quite a bit higher than 1000. Even quite old little point 'n' shoot digitals do quite well at 3200 ISO.

    I suggest you set the ISO as high as it will go and see what results you get. They'll probably be very noisy and speckly, so reduce the ISO in small steps until you get an acceptable picture quality.

    If none of the above helps, then maybe it really is time to get a new camera body.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
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  3. As well as the advice above if your church is a bit dark you might try adjusting the exposure compensation down. Your camera meter assumes any scene has an average brightness so will tend lighten darker-than-average scenes and vice versa.. So if your church is a bit darker than an average scene I suggest you adjust the exposure compensation down. The result should look more like your eye sees the scene. Trial and error is the quickest and simplest method of achieving the look you want. Usually exp comp is adjusted in 1/3 stop intervals. The decreased exposure will also help your shutter speed.
    The 40D isn't great for ISO range compared to the latest bodies but its top normal setting of 1600 should be OK though shutter speeds may be low. There is a 'high' setting of 3200 but quality may suffer. Resting the camera on any handy firm surface or holding it against a pillar will help achieve less camera shake.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  4. I'd try shooting RAW instead of JPEG (or RAW + JPEG if the camera permits) and set the white balance during post processing, to get rid of the yellow cast. I am not yet familiar with "Digital Photo Professional" but confident that it provides a way to process a batch of pictures shot under certain light conditions the same way.
    Upon the high ISO issue checking DxOMark you'll see your current 40D rated to ISO 703 and the wildest APSC the 80D at ISO 1135. - IMHO not really enough of a difference to justify an upgrade. I'd wait at least till they cobble the EOS M6 sensor into some DSLR.

    In doubt crank up your ISO as far as you have to to get rid of camera shake. Also check how you are (ab)using your AF. maybe use a single focus spot in continuous mode and keep it on your kid's eye. - DOF is shallow at wide apertures and in the attached shot the jacket looks sharper than the face.
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  5. It's going to be difficult to shoot in that scenario without a flash. Try getting a prime lens that opens to f1.4 or 1.8.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  6. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    It would be useful to know the Exposure details of that sample image. Do you know how to read the EXIF details of your image file?

    In any case -

    I concur that the yellow cast is probably because the White Balance is set to something other than "Auto White Balance" first job is to set Auto White Balance.

    I also concur that the blur is mainly due to camera movement (not 'shake' specifically) but it looks to me that you 'panned" the camera to follow the boy's walking motion. The fact that you got such a long trailing blur in the background, could be indicative that the Shutter Speed is quite slow - far too slow. So you need to INCREASE the ISO so you can use a faster Shutter Speed.

    A 40D will work quite efficiently at ISO3200. . . for example, this was made with 20D at ISO3200:


    If you typically use P Mode - the P Mode algorithm is biased to make a faster shutter speed at the expense of Aperture, so I think that in any Church of low light, P Mode will select the fastest aperture (F/2.8) on your lens, until it reaches a Shutter Speed of around 1/60~1/125th second. So it really doesn't matter all that much if you use Av Mode or P Mode whilst you are using such a low ISO. However it will probably matter if you bump the ISO and that's what I suggest to do.

    So, in summary, I suggest you try ISO 3200 and use Av Mode and set Av = F/2.8. Use "Evaluative Metering" and set the white balance to AWB and set the lens's IS switch to "ON" as previously suggested.

    If you cannot get a fast enough shutter speed to make blur free images at ISO 3200 and f/2.8, then a fast Prime lens such as a fast the 35/2 or 50/1.8 will provide another stop of speed - but I really do think that if you set "AWB" and use ISO3200 in Av Mode at F/2.8 and use Evaluative Metering, you will attain far better results than the sample image that you provided. so try that first. As mentioned a newer model camera will have better high ISO capacity than the 40D: that doesn't necessarily mean buying a "full frame" camera - the later model Canon APS-C cameras do quite well at ISO6400. The F/2.8 zoom lens that you have is a very good optic.

    At any time if you can use Flash, then you should do so. That would make life a lot easier for you.

    timob1205 likes this.
  7. I shoot weddings frequently in dark churches and the way I overcome it is:
    1) Shooting in RAW so that I can adjust white balance later, or setting the K temperature to get proper white balance in camera
    2) Aperture priority will NOT solve the problem with motion blur. Only your shutter speed will do that. If you don't want to shoot in manual completely, try Shutter Priority instead. But, manual is always best.
    3) Fast lenses and a slightly higher ISO. Fast lenses (1.2 or 1.4) will get you more light, but your depth of field is going to be pretty narrow. It's a balancing act.
    4) A better body will give you less grain in the higher ISOs.
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  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I agree that using Av Mode will not 'solve' the problem of motion blur, but for clarity of the meaning of my suggestion - it was to "use Av Mode and set Av = F/2.8" The last bit is integral to that advice. The OP is using an F/2.8 zoom and as such, in Av Mode and set Av = F/2.8, then the Shutter Speed will always be the fastest available and the shot will be 'correctly' exposed (according to what the camera's TTL deems as "correct").

    On the other hand, if Tv Mode is selected (Shutter Priority), obviously a Shutter Speed has to be selected - but whatever the OP is advised to select as "safe", then a conundrum becomes evident (often a problem for a beginner) when one is shooting in a scene of low light levels and the TTL meter requires a faster aperture than the F/2.8 which is available. In this case it is necessary to know the functionality of the camera. Using an F/2.8 lens on a 40D the "2.8" in the viewfinder will blink, but the camera will allow the shot to be made and it will be underexposed. So I think that it is very important to make this point if we are ever to suggest using Tv Mode, especially in low light scenarios.

    Obviously that opens the debate as to which is the better of two 'bads' . . . Underexposure and less likely to have Subject Movement blur (if Tv Mode goes wrong) . . . or Correct Exposure and more likely to have Subject Movement Blur (if Av Mode goes wrong). I think neither is better, but it is much better to know what traps that there are lurking for the beginner, hence this detailed explanation on this one little point.

    I don't think that Manual Mode is necessarily "the best": but it is very useful to know how to use the camera in M Mode and that is how I would make the shot. That is how I use most cameras, most of the time. But many experienced photographers use mostly Av Mode and Exposure Compensation, which, is essentially the same procedural function as using M Mode.

  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I meant to address this question in my first reply. The 80D and the 7DMkII are both "APS-C format cameras". So is the 40D an "APS-C format camera". The 80D and the 7DMkII will gladly accept your EF-S 17 to 55 F/2.8 IS USM lens to mount on them and both will work happily with it. Compared to your 40D, both the 80D and the 7DMkII have excellent, high ISO capacity.

  10. I suppose it depends on what is important to the photographer's end product. As a photographer who primarily covers weddings, unless I am actually trying for motion blur for a specific effect, having any motion blur (to me, anyway) is a mistake. Someone walking down an aisle at a church doesn't, in most cases, call for any sort of artistic use of motion blur. Using Manual gives you control over both aperture and shutter settings quickly, and doesn't allow the camera to make any assumptions about either. If you know using Av even at 2.8 or wider, that your camera will make the right decision about shutter speed on its own, then great. Av would be fine. If you know using Tv will not cause underexposure at the widest aperture the lens can handle, great. Tv would be fine. Of course ISO figures into this "Big Three" balancing act as well.

    I guess being the control freak that I am, I don't typically trust the camera to make any assumptions for me. I also don't know that we have to choose between the lesser of two evils if we have the equipment necessary to allow us an acceptable aperture and shutter speed in difficult lighting situations. That's one of the reasons professionals use higher end equipment and get paid to know how to use it.
    William Michael likes this.
  11. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Indeed, whilst choosing an exposure for a shot and/or the procedure to make the shot often involves trade-offs and compromises, we should make every attempt to NOT have to choose between the lesser of two evils and only be left with the option of a bad shot.

    And as you (Michael) correctly points out, that's where the most appropriate equipment and the knowledge and skills of how to use that equipment BOTH play a part.

    Just on the discussion of choosing to use M Mode: personally I think that my tendency to almost always use M mode is a combination of a learned technique, because I learned on Manual only cameras and then because I have done it that way for so long it is more natural to me manually adjust Tv and Av (and ISO) as three individual constituents, rather than use Av or Tv and then apply any necessary Exposure Compensation.

  12. Questions:
    • What shutter speed was that photo shot at?
      • The image did not have any EXIF data.
      • On blow up, the boy that is following your son, looks like he has 2 faces ????
    • Did you ask the guy with the Nikon what his settings were; ISO, shutter speed, and aperture?
      • This would give you a reference point to compare to.

    I agree with most of the above + have a few ideas.
    • Shutter speed
      • Based on the lens (17-55), in general, your min shutter speed should be 1/60 sec. Then adjust for subject movement, and your min shutter speed should probably be 1/125 sec. If you can hold STEADY or the IS works, you may be able to shoot at 1/60 sec.
    • To increase the shutter speed, I see that you have 2 options:
      • Crank up the ISO level. If the question is to get the shot sharp with noise, or blurry with no noise, I would choose get the shot with noise. I shot my nieces wedding with the ISO on my D70 maxed out at 1600, and the printed images were just fine for the family.
      • Get FAST glass. In dim lighting, you may have to use a FAST lens, like a 35/f1.4. A f/1.4 lens is 2 stops faster than your f/2.8 zoom, allowing you to increase shutter speed by 2 stops; from 1/30 sec to 1/125 sec. But the DoF is shallower, so correct focus is more critical.
    • Meter mode
      • I would normally shoot Av mode to lock the aperture to the max aperture of the lens, then let the camera choose the shutter speed.
      • But the windows in the background may confuse the meter. In that case, I would set the camera to M, do a few test shots to determine the correct exposure, then manually set the exposure.
    • White balance.
      • I normally shoot RAW, so that I do the light corrections on the computer.
      • If you shoot JPG, you need to test which light setting gives you a neutral lighting, or if you need to do a custom white balance.
    • Check that you are STEADY when you shoot. If you are too shaky, you could be exceeding the lens' ability to stabilize the image.
    • Image Stabilization / IS
      • Is the IS mechanism in the lens working, to stabilize the image? If not, that could be a problem.
      • IS will stabilize for YOUR motion, NOT the subject's motion. So you still need a shutter speed fast enough to freeze your son's movement.
      • Some IS lenses have 2 different IS setting based on the amount of vibration/movement of the camera.
      • Some IS lenses will not stabilize for panning, or you have to select a particular stabilization setting for panning (which will stabilize in the vertical axis, but NOT the horizontal axis).
        • However, I would go for a SHARP image over a panned image, because good panning requires a LOT of practice. Even then you will not get near a 100% hit rate.
    • Focusing
      • Not all the autofocus sensors in the camera are/were equal. Some maybe better than others. As I understand, in general, the center AF sensor is the most accurate and more sensitive. But that info may be dated and not accurate any more.
      • The autofocus on some cameras do not work well in dim lighting. Test your camera/lens combo. If so, you may have to switch to manual focusing.
      • The autofocus on some camera/lens combos is not fast, especially in dim lighting. So trying to track focus as your son is walking down the aisle may exceed the camera's AF tracking capability. Test your camera/lens combo. If so, you may have to switch to manual focusing and pre-focus.
      • When you manual focus, down the church aisle, it may be easier to pre-focus on a spot, then shoot when your son reaches that spot.
      • At a close distance, which is what the pix looks like, between the time that you begin to press the shutter to when the shutter fires, your son could have passed out of the focus that the camera set. Better to shoot when your son is further back than up close.
        • Setting the camera to continuous focus mode may help in this situation.
        • Some newer cameras have a "predictive focus" that tries to predict the subject focus point based on the subject movement.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
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  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    On the EOS 40D the centre AF point is the most accurate: however it is important that the centre AF point (the red square in the viewfinder), is able to lock onto a 'contrasty edge' to allow it to lock focus. This is often more important in low light shooting because in low light scenes the light is often quite 'soft'..

    In the sample image an example of a 'contrasty edge' would be the line made by of the edge of the (light coloured) collar of the shirt and the (dark coloured) cassock.

  14. Viewing the OP's example picture, I really don't think that the camera's AF is an issue here at all. The blur that I see is entirely due to camera movement, which is easily confused with a focus problem by beginners.

    Shorten the shutter speed, sort out the yellow cast, and there would be little wrong with the picture shown.

    Even mentioning AF as being at fault could add further confusion in the mind of the OP. So don't, please!

    Can we keep in mind that this is the beginner question forum? Suggesting shooting RAW and using post-processing techniques is likely going to go straight over the OP's head, without wanting to sound patronising. So let's keep it simple.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
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  15. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think that there is a lot of worth in keeping initial advice simple - or at the least designating what is the initial advice.

    There can also be worth in providing more detail than what is initially necessary, that is, if the OP can sort out what to do initially and what to set aside to address later as their skills and experience improve.

    It is difficult it know how any OP receives and reacts to information - this is especially so if the OP chooses to post a question in the Beginner Forum.

    What is an absolute necessity in my mind, for any one posing such a question, is: to engage in the conversation.

  16. Shooting in RAW isn't a very advanced technique, and it's good advice to get early on. RAW allows for much alteration later, and with much more flexibility than trying to work with a .jpg. If the OP doesn't know about RAW yet, this is an excellent opportunity to be introduced to it.
  17. I switched to RAW from JPG very quickly, within 6 months of starting to use my DSLR, when I learned how it can salvage shots that would be difficult to salvage in JPG. IOW, for me RAW gave me an exposure buffer, for when the camera did not set the exposure right, for the scene. It also saved my butt when I forgot to switch the white balance from incandescent to daylight. So while it is a more advanced technique, the basics of RAW will benefit the medium level amateur.

    But on the other side, there will be people who will never feel comfortable in RAW.
    We won't know until we get more feedback from the OP.

    When reviewing a problem, one should list ALL the possible issues, then address each of them to determine if they are applicable or not. Ignoring a possible issue does not help the trouble shooting process.
    To eliminate AF as a problem, how would the OP see on the pix that it is a camera movement problem and not an AF problem?
    Example1, I once forgot to turn the AF ON, after using it on a tripod. So all of the next photos were out of focus, until I realized that I did not have the AF ON . . duh. Dumb stuff happens. Been there, done that.
  18. The motion blur is consistent throughout the image and everything is blurry in the same direction. If it were an AF problem, the wrong thing would be in focus but there wouldn't likely be motion blur. This happened because the user's shutter speed was too slow and the entire camera moved either through shutter button clicking or (more likely) because the photograph was snapped while the photographer was following the person walking and the shutter speed wasn't fast enough to freeze the action.
    William Michael likes this.
  19. Thanks Michael.
  20. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Hello "timob1205" - as you read through ALL the above responses, I hope that you read advice based upon many years of experience . . . what say you?

    . . . .

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