Shooting in very low light and no tripod guidance...

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by photojen, Dec 3, 2010.

  1. I am photographing a West African drumming ensemble tomorrow evening at a yoga and health retreat center. I was under the impression I could use my SB900 while photoing and my tripod~ seeing as the band members said that their former photographer was able to do so. The lead drummer informed me a few minutes ago, that the event coordinator for the center said that there can be no flash or tripod use during the show, for anyone, including guests. (I can see why the flash, it's a meditative event) I asked the drummer what kind of light the room offers. She said there is very low light in this particular room they will be performing in, with one light center stage and one on each side of the stage. She said they are dim, yellowish lights. There are 4 West African dancers on stage with the lady drummers. I am very concerned about how to shoot this scenario properly~ seeing as there is very low light and a lot of movement from both drummers and dancers. Any suggestions or tips from anyone who may have shot in a similar situation? I shoot with a D700~ I have a Nikon 70-200mm, Nikon 24-70mm and a Nikon 50mm 1.4 and I have full access to the stage areas. Any suggestions to ease my nerves would be appreciated. I don't mean to sound incompetent, but the situation has changed from what I had expected. I am going to head to the center about an hour earlier than planned to check out the lighting and such.
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Buy a D3S before tomorrow. :)
    Short of that, you already have the 2nd best camera and some nice lenses for the job. If you are forced to use ISO 6400 or Hi 1 to freeze the action, so be it.
  3. ... and use Noise Ninja.
  4. Jennifer,

    This blog post might help (if you live near a bigger camera store), It's about using a Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp as a stable shooting platform where tripods aren't allowed. You might be able to connect it to a railing or something like that. Good luck!
  5. To ease your nerves: You have some of the best photographic equipment for shooting in low light. Conceivably, depending on the economics, you could rent a D3s, but other than that, you can't do better than what you've got. Just crank up the ISO so you don't under-expose, don't drink coffee for say, six hours before the event, brace yourself when shooting, and be prepared to clean up some noise after you're done. Possibly, if it's really bad, you might have to convert to black and white.
  6. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    From Jennifer's description, I don't think not being able to use a tripod is the main issue. The problem is that no flash is allowed under dim light, and apparently the subjects will be moving. No tripod nor VR will fix this problem.
    Perhaps renting a 85mm/f1.4 or f1.8 may help. Timing of the image captures will be important. Watch for pauses in the action; you may be able to get away with a slower shutter speed.
  7. I don't think clamps will help. The motion of the performers is going to be the biggest challenge. That said, it's always
    helpful to brace yourself or the camera against something.

    Shooting at ISO 3200 of higher at f1.4 ought to give you a shutter speed that can freeze modest amounts of movement.

    Unless the lighting changes rapidly, set a good working exposure in manual mode and use that, diligently checking the
    histogram from time to time of course. I would trust a stage performance to auto exposure.

    Shoot whenever you can, but look for moments when the performers are stationary. Dancers often freeze for a
    momentary pose in the middle of a song. Right after the song if there is any applause is a good time, too. If all else fails,
    shoot them when they are moving slowly rather than very quickly.

    And occasionally just don't worry about it and let the performers' motion blur as it will. Some motion blur in some shots will
    look cool. Maybe you can switch to the 24-70 for these. It will add other possible perspectives.
  8. I use Nik Dfne 2.0, suppose I should look into Noise Ninja, I have heard decent things about that program. I am so accustomed to outdoor photography that high ISO is rarely an issue, so I am noise nervous. Wade, I actually have to pass a city where there is a larger camera shop, I may have to invest in a Magic Arm if they have one, seems like a good investment.
    My other concern is the 'yellowish' lights...but I can work around that with WB.
  9. Dan, she said the light are stable, no flashing or moving, which is a good thing. I am planning on using the front of the stage as a brace. Good advice about the stationary moments, thank you.
    I am feeling a little less nervous now, it's just that when something drastic changes like lighting, I get a little concerned. I appreciate you all helping me to work this out (or work through it).
  10. Shooting with large apertures, you may be concerned about the AF acquiring focus, as well as your ability to set focus in such dim light. If your flash is, say, an SB-800, you can mount it on your camera, set it so the flash doesn't fire, but still get its red AF assist light to come on. It is less noticeable and intrusive than the one on your camera body and, unlike the one on the body, it sits much higher, so that its light won't be blocked by your lenses. I assume that other recent or current Nikon flash units offer the same capability.
  11. i don't know any of the people involved, so this isn't a criticism, but are you sure your source is reliable as far as these restrictions are concerned? perhaps there is a misunderstanding. if not, perhaps it would be worth your time to engage the coordinator of the center directly, and see what sort of accommodation can be made -- a limited number of low-power flash photos might be allowed. if all else fails, would you be able to take some shots of the ensemble before the actual performance. depending on whose behalf/invitation you're photographing the event, you might be able to negotiate some mutually agreeable terms -- if it's important to you, it's worth a try. and if you get shut down, just make the best of it. i like the 85/1.4 idea, for one, if you can pull a rabbit out of your hat. otherwise, just use your head, be creative and don't sweat it if it's not perfect. we're all still learning!
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    William has a good point. I would definitely bring the flash with batteries and tripod. Just in case they change the rules in the last minute, you are prepared.
    I am looking forward to seeing some results next Wednesday. :)
  13. Hector, I will research this, good to know.
    William, I think this is wise advise. I will call Kripalu first thing tomorrow to hear for myself about the restrictions. The lead drummer mentioned to me that they have performed many a time at this center and that using a flash was never an issue. Maybe it's a certain type of meditative performance where they want minimal distractions.
    Fingers crossed, Shun...
  14. It's better to shoot wide scenes when you have unavoidable subject motion. A 35/1.4 or 24/1.4 would have been great to have.
    My guess is that you will have decent amount of light near the stage, probably EV4 to EV5. But then probably high contrast.
    I would check the tripod rules again. Maybe you can use a monopod. You could of course also use a "string pod" and no one could say anything.
    Or just go with the flow and create deep emotional images with lots of subject motion. Is it the band you are shooting for? What do they want? Emotion or documentation?
  15. A little of both, but more for documentation. I asked the lead what specifics they were looking for. They have 2 new dancers and want images of them with the band in action, for their website and promotions.
    String pod...that's the twine and bolt thing right? I made one of those a few years back.
  16. Hi Jennifer,
    I agree that tripod will not change the situation for moving subjects in low light. I shoot mostly events in available light and I deal many times with situations when the light is very poor. IMHO what you need to know is:
    1. f2.8 is too slow for such as situations. You need at least f2 for good results. In this light you need to rent at least one more fast prime, better two...
    2. Pete is right that wide lenses are dealing better with such as situations. In my experience the best lenses to use in dim light are Nikon 24/1.4, Zeiss 35/2, Nikon 50/1.2 AIS and Nikon 85/1.4. I believe Nikon 35/1.4G is good as well but I have not yet experiencing it.
    3. It's critical important to set a proper White Balance even though you shoot RAW... Eventually use an ExpoDisc to help with that.
    4. The light seems to not be equal on the scene. Try to concentrate on areas that have more light. In many situations like this, spot metering works better but test other options too.
    5. Don't be afraid to crank the ISO up to 6400. Is better to have some noise instead motion blur.
    6. In such as situations, histograms are lying... You better look at your images with 100% magnification... and then introduce corrections, if necessary.
    7. Be confident that you will have enough keepers... D700 is a very powerful camera in low light...
    Good luck!
  17. hmm, i'm not sure why you would want to use a tripod anyway, since you will need a fast shutter to freeze motion. the 70-200 can easily shoot at 1/25 @ 200mm with VR on, so you probably wouldn't need to go lower than that.
    but i wouldn't sweat the low-light stuff--you are particularly more well-suited for this than most people, with that lineup of gear. the d700 should be able to handle 3200 cleanly with 6400 maybe requiring a little touch up in post. i've heard the AF-S in the 50/1.4 isn't the fastest, so maybe keep that in mind and only use that if you absolutely need 1.4. if you can rent a 14-24, this might be a good time for an ultrawide--african or afro-caribbean dance can be difficult because there's so much motion happening everywhere, so sometimes going wider is necessary.
    one more thing: axe!
  18. Axe? Not sure what you mean...
  19. If the lighting is really bad, use your 50mm f1.4. I would suggest using a monopod (chances are they won't object). ISO 6400 will give you fine results with your D700 (if you shoot RAW and have good post processing software) and likely give you reasonable shutter speeds at f1.4.
    Hope you will post some photos for us to look at!
    PS I would bring both your flash and tripod just in case the drummer is incorrect. While I understand the reason for not allowing flash, not allowing a tripod just doesn't make sense. If you cannot use a tripod or monopod, and the lighting is really bad, leaning against a wall or shooting while seated will help steady your camera. Whenever I shoot under adverse conditions, I always take a lot of extra shots and usually get enough keepers to make everyone happy.
  20. I shoot mostly concerts in small clubs with terrible lighting using a D700 and the same two lenses you have. I think you will be fine. I had a pretty big learning curve, but I almost never use flash now. What I learned:
    1. RAW. I saw a comment that says you shoot RAW, I beleive. That is essential. Most of the place I shoot have changing light so setting a white balance is useless, but if you do indeed have stable lighting, than setting the WB under concert conditions with a grey card will probably help. However, I often find myself adjusting it in ACR all the same as the lgihts are not attractive and I can get a more pleasing shot by manipulating the temperature. For isntance, I shoot under yellow and blue lights quite often and I prefer not to have blue skin if I can avoid it .... it always depends on the shot, of course.
    2. Don't be afraid of high ISO. I try to avoid 6400 myself, but in a emergency, I've used it, using Noise Ninja in PP. I shoot at 5000 fairly routinely.
    3. Spot exposure works best for me, but I frequently get it wrong. You are probably better at this than me, but my number one problem is getting a really hot face or guitar (and banjos - good lord, they are a photographers nightmare, a big white sun in the middle of the picture). That is why RAW is essential. I mention this because I did shoot some African American drummers in NOLA and I had a bit of difficulty as they had bright yellow drums so the contrast between their faces and drums was fairly tough to deal with.
    4. I wouldn't worry about the tripod myself. I can use one most places I shoot, but find it limiting. It's too hard to recompose and follow moving subjects and it doesn't help with motion. as everyone above noted.
    5. The biggest problem for me is that I am constantly at f2.8, so when shooting a group, I have to pick a point of interest to be in focus. This can be quite difficult if the people are moving. Even a drummer who rocks his head back and forth while playing can make focus difficult as the plane is pretty small. But, stopping down to get more DOF isn't an option. I am sure you know all this, but it something that I find I have to constantly think about. I usually don't shoot too many shots with the whole group for that reason. I prefer close ups with good focus of one person.
    6. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Between closed eyes, focusing on a microphone instead of the lips, subject movement, hot spots, etc., I get about 20% keepers at best. I've learned to jsut shoot like crazy.
  21. Attach a one end of a piece of elastic to the bottom of your camera, perhaps using a home-made loop that screws into the tripod mount. Attach the other end to your belt. When you raise your camera the tension on the elastic will steady your grip.
  22. Do they have a dress rehearsal you can use flash?
    Kent in SD
  23. Jennifer wrote:
    My other concern is the 'yellowish' lights...but I can work around that with WB.
    Mihai Ciuca wrote:
    3. It's critical important to set a proper White Balance even though you shoot RAW... Eventually use an ExpoDisc to help with that.
    Have to admit I haven't got a clue what an ExpoDisc is, but it should suffice if you just take a shot of a gray card -- illuminated by the stage light, of course -- and set the WB to custom (it's a simple procedure outlined in camera's user manual). The first part, i.e., taking the reference shot, is the most important; you can then correct WB during RAW development (again, will take few mouse clicks only.)

    Other than that, selective focusing / shallow DoF as well as motion blur are your friends -- mind that both challenges encourage taking more artistic pictures!
    Have fun!
  24. I cannot improve at all on the advice above. But, I'm curious: why do you want to mess with WB under such conditions? IMHO it may be preferable to keep the atmosphere of the lights, which will likely be mixed anyway. Sometimes, depending on the situation, I'd take the edge off the colour cast, but I won't eliminate it.
    But when you need to correct WB, Tomek is right - shoot a reference shot with a gray card and adjust the images afterward.
    EDIT: I concur that monopods are indeed awesome. :)
  25. All of the above are good responses. Your equipment should be sufficient. If it's really dark, you may have to rely on the Nikon 50mm 1.4. One thing I might want to add is that when you meter you might want to underexpose. Keep in mind, the camera meter is trying to set the exposure so that the photo depicts a well lit scene. Unless you spot meter off the individual performers, metering for the wider scene will likely result in photos showing the stage lighter than is actually was, which may not actually portray the mood of the scene. Also, the slower shutter speeded needed to get what the camera thinks is the "proper" exposure will more than likely result in blur. So a faster shutter speed, even if underexposed according to your meter, may actually capture that actual light level better and have a better chance of eliminating blur. If it's really dark and you're still forced to use longer shutter speeds, try to shoot when the performers are moving slow. Even when there is a lot of movements, there are often brief, momentary pauses that you may be able to catch. The picture below shows what you can capture in low light. The only light in this photo is the light from the birthday candles and the dim light in the background. The picture is straight from the camera, no adjustments or noise reduction. Only cropped and downsized for posting.
  26. It seems that all of your options have already been given here. I'll just add that if you REALLY have to shoot in these conditions, then you might try focusing on several different subjects in multiple shots from the same position so that you might have a chance of compositing them together later in Photoshop. Also, try using the motion blur to your advantage when composing your shots.
  27. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Jennifer, I believe you received a lot of good advices in this thread. Good luck with you photo shoot.
    I also feel that you have some obligation to post some results on this thread after the photo shoot. It would be nice if you could post 2 or 3 of your best shots here so that we have an idea how it all turns out. In fact, if you don't mind, 1 or 2 problematic images showing the limitations of the condition and equipment can also be educational as well. Of course, all of this is strictly voluntary. If somehow you are not allowed to post those images, I sure don't want you to break any rules.
  28. Instead of a tripod, there is a device composed of a strap with a loop at one end and about 6 feet ong depending on your
    height. Place the loop around your hand(or use a male tripod screw that you can attach the strap too and mount on base
    of camera) then simply place your foot on the other end of stap at the height you need, pull up on stap as you take the
    picture, acts as a monopod. Roll it up and put in pocket when finished.
  29. Well, gents, I called Kripalu and spoke with the event coordinator's assistant for the day and I can not use a flash for the show, but I can, as Kent suggested, use one during rehearsal. I did some practicing at home, don't laugh, but I closed our drapes in our family room and had the kids jump around and I practiced photoing them in low light, with different lenses and settings. So I shall go forth, with some solid advice from you all, and shoot away. Shun, I will post some photos, if not tonight, tomorrow some time. I have permissions from the band to use the photos in anyway I want. I can't, however, photo the guests unless they request it. I appreciate all your help and guidance, really, I do!
  30. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    but I closed our drapes in our family room and had the kids jump around and I practiced photoing them in low light​
    Now, those are the images I'd like to see. :)
    I have never shot this dancing stuff, but for weddings, I very much like to attend the rehearsals because that helps me get an idea what will happen. That helps me prepare in advance and enticipate things when I shoot for real.
    Please make sure you have planty of batteries and memory card space so that you won't use those up during the rehearsal.
  31. All charged and formatted and ready to go! I have 3 16GB CF cards and 6 camera batteries and 12 batteries for my flash...just waiting for my sister to show up to watch the kids. If I get there before 4pm, I can do a sauna before a 5:30 meal ;)
  32. Wow, that is a tough situation and I can understand our anxiety! Maybe a mono pod? less intrusive and collapsable maybe no one will notice. Good luck with the shoot!
  33. Axe? Not sure what you mean...
    axe (a-shay) means "life energy" in Afro-Caribbean, specifically Brazilian, culture among Yoruba/orisha-worshipping peoples. It's believed to have originated in Africa. African dance is connected to yoruban ritual-myth in which axe is released/created.
    in other words, it's basically the equivalent of saying "good Luck!" or "May God be With You"
    hope that clears things up :)
  34. It might be a technicality, but they said no tripods but did not say NO MONOPODS. Monopods are a lot less obtrusive, and although they do not provide the stability of a tripod, they are the next best thing. They also do not take up any room like a tripod would.
  35. So the lighting and band set up was way worse than I had hoped for. Here's a photo of the band's 'area'. Four overhead recessed lights, and that was it (some side gelled lights, but they offered no help). The band opted to have the show in a yoga and dance room, where the guest could move to their beat, not good for me. They sounded amazing, but the lighting was horrific, a photog's nightmare (at least for me). I tried. Once I get to look through the photos, I will post some, but here is the shot of just the band's area. I couldn't even shoot the dancers because they were in front of the drums in hardly any light (as you can see)~ perfect ambiance for a yoga retreat, but not so perfect for someone trying to photograph the group.
  36. Here's a snappy of the lovely 4 recessed lights...who I battled with for 4 hours.
  37. Here's one...the lead drummer, Aimee. She's amazing, she's a beautiful person. Any who...if the ladies were directly under the recessed lighting the photos came out, with a LOT of noise reduction so the skin looks soft. Not thrilled at all with the group photos. They are playing at a different venue right before the holidays so I will photo them again.
  38. Here's energetic, so beautiful and I feel I wasn't able to capture her energy with the lighting situation. Again, under the lights, super noisy, had to do a lot of NR on this too. The shadows are killing me...under their eyes.
  39. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Jennifer, those two sample look quite good. And you were using 1/400 sec and 1/125 sec respectively based on the EXIF data. I know those are hand picked images from a large set, but the shutter speeds aren't so bad.
  40. Shun, there is so much noise in the images where the ladies were not in light, my ISO was at HI 1 or 2 for most of the almost made me cry (don't laugh) when I looked at the photos at first, but I was so very disappointed about the even worse lighting conditions I had to deal with that after I uploaded the photos, I turned off my computer, instead of jumping right in and doing some tweaking. I have a bunch of gems though, not as many as I had hoped for. No really good group shots, none of the dancers, because as you see in the set up photo, there was zero light in front of the drums, where they were dancing. I thank you all for your guidance.
  41. I have to say, pretty impressive for what you had to work with.

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