Shooting in the Down Low

Dirty minds! I meant shooting in low light [scoff]! My wife and I took a little trip to EPCOT this weekend to practice shooting in low light. EPCOT has many dark and creepy places that our eyes can see, but when guests want to take pictures of them, their little point-and-shoots pop the flash and fires it blinding everybody in a 100 feet radius. Multiply that by ten or more guests doing that and everybody in a quarter-mile radius is blinded! I’m “hyperbolizing”, of course, but you get the idea.

When shooting a wedding or an event where you want to stay discreet, using flash is NOT an option. You alert everybody that you’re there taking pictures and you would never get a “natural look” to your photos. Also, they look bad in general unless you’re an expert using the flash or do some heavy Photoshop work.

I use flash sparingly, but only when I need to and the subject “knows” that I’m taking their picture. So, to accomplish “flash-less” photography, I try to use “fast lenses”. This is nothing more than lenses with very wide apertures that let in lots and lots of light, thereby, allowing fast shutter speeds to freeze the scene like flash would do (or brighter light). The camera should also be equipped with the ability to be very sensitive to low light by means of high ISO settings.

We carried a Canon 7D with a 60mm f/2.8 macro lens and a Canon 5D with an 85mm f/1.2L set at f/2.8 to match the 60mm. Ideally, I would have put a 35mm f/1.4L on the 7D and a 50mm f/1.2L on the 5D, but I didn’t have those available to me (yet [smile]).

To show how inconspicuous you can be, I shot the following picture of a young couple inside the Mexico pavillion:

Tequila in Mexico / Canon 5D, 85mm f/1.2L at f/2.8, shutter 1/15, ISO 3200, WB 3450K

I kept the white balance (WB) from the camera because I like the warmth that it portrays. I was standing about six to ten feet away from them (um, if you are reading this and you are one of the people in this picture, sorry [smile]).

Utilizing light sources from the scene can yield nice images. The trick is to notice how the light falls on the subject and position yourself to take the “good picture”. Take this next example:

Wood vases / Canon 5D, 85mm f/1.2 at f/2.8, shutter 1/60, ISO 3200, WB 3550K

Though this is an obvious image, it illustrates the point: the light source is coming from the right side of the image, so you, naturally, would position yourself to point the lens in the direction of the light. Though not a hard and fast rule, it will always produce a nice image. In this image, I purposely kept the aperture at f/2.8 and focused on the fourth vase to show bokeh both in the foreground and the background. Having the right tools makes a difference in how your images are taken and how they come out, but technique is also a part of it.

I will be posting more “down low” pictures depicting various situations in the near future.