Operated by John-Riley Harper. Dedicated to archiving photography from Utah's underground scenes, as well as other personal projects.

Bass on the Beach - Bass Camp
The struggle to gain control over darkish environments is an obsession and a curse. Initially I thought that the most important aspect in order to push the edges of light was to get lenses with very wide maximum apertures. I ditched zooms because their limit (something to do with the space needed for zoom mechanisms) was f2.8. I transitioned to lenses which which could push 1.4 and above. This helped for two reasons. The first is the obvious: the bigger the aperture, the more light can hit the camera's sensor and thus, the brighter the possible exposure in a given lighting scenario. Secondly, the big hole aids in another perilous aspect of low light shooting: focusing. Getting a good focus in low lighting situations is what I spend most of my time gritting my teeth over. Having a wide aperture lens can help you achieve focuses easier(regardless of the F-stop you may happen to be shooting at,) because the aperture only tightens when the shutter is pressed. It's at its widest when focusing.

Now, there's a big downside to shooting wide open. The depth of field is hair-width thin at f1.4 or f1.2. So, while it's a bit easier to focus, shooting moving subjects can get incredibly frustrating because anything that takes a subject closer or further from the focal plane will ruin your conceptualized focus. This causes the amount of blurry, unusable photos to skyrocket.

The next solution is to bring your own lights. I, for a while, started collecting party lights and bringing them to locations simply for the fact that I could get more usable photos (while "elevating the party to another level," too). It's a gonzo journalistic approach and one that I don't mind, but requires a lot more energy investment, variety, and perhaps even permission. So, the next stage was to bring my own strobes and place them in strategic mounts to fill the scenes with drama. The advantages are that you can stop the aperture down to something more flexible like f4.0 or whatever and then use shutter dragging techniques to get a decent mix of ambient and sharp lighting. However, doing remote flashes (or even on-camera flashes) has the potential to completely change the way a scene is viewed, which destroys the images as seen in the natural setting - which might be what the photo hunt was all about. Flooding a dimly lit area with a flash of light will make everything bright. If you were impressed by the light wafting down to hit someone's cheekbone as they walk through a doorway, the results of using strobe will probably fail. One solution is to use lights on 90 degree angles in order to just catch the rims of faces, which should preserve a lot of a scene's original color and chiaroscuro but add that little hint of focus and sharpness. It's an alright technique but it means constant manipulation of the lighting direction and placement as photo goals are met (or fail).

Of course, these techniques only push the limits; they do not announce victory over them. Recently I realized that the true power lays not in the lens's aperture or personal light strobes, but in the sensor's sensitivity. ISO. With an ISO that was, say, ten times more sensitive without noise, most of the lighting limits would go away. Of course, physical limits (ie. the limits of the laws of physics) seem to be maxing out, although hopefully new technologies will continue to whittle away at the noise inherent in high-ISO captures. There is kind of a "high ISO war" going on between Nikon and Canon at the moment, and although it leads to huge increases, each technological revolution only helps gain a stop or two. Significant, but more is desired so quickly. The other way is via higher megapixels, because if you can keep noise ratios the same while the megapixel value increases, noise becomes smaller and less noticeable.

So those are some initial and general thoughts on pushing the darkness away from the successful images. I have more that I'd like to go into soon, but I'll leave it at that for now. If anyone has any low-lighting shooting tips, I would really appreciate them.

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