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Old Jun 6, 2009, 4:33 PM   #1
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Default How best to handle challenging lighting?

I recently took photos of a grade school graduation celebration party. The event was inside in an auditorium/gym with kids dancing, running around and having fun. The ambient lighting in the place was very warm (and about an EV of 5 from an EV chart). The warm lighting produces really orange/yellow skin tones.

I wanted to shoot at a shutter speed of at least 250 so the subjects would not be blurred, except for really violent dancing motions. I wanted the flash to stop action. I really wanted the flash to have been the predominant light source to avoid effects of the warm lighting.

It would have been nice to have a depth of field large enough so more than one kid/couple would be in focus assuming the multiple subjects were within the range of the flash (canon 550 EX) or about 15 ft.

I was using a Canon 40D camera with a Canon 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS lens and a Canon 550EX flash. ISO can be set from 100 to 3200

Given the lighting was not good, combined with the max aperture of the lens and the movement of the kids, I did not expect to get great pictures and I didn’t.

I tried several ways to shoot this including AV mode, TV mode and Manual exposure. They all produced about the same generally poor result if I tried to properly illuminate the background.

My understanding of the camera/flash when shooting in AV mode, TV mode or Manual exposure mode is as follows:
Using the flash in the AV mode and in the TV mode, the camera meters for ambient light and picks the shutter speed (or aperture) to give a proper background illumination and the flash fills in to illuminate the foreground subjects properly. Under these “poor” lighting conditions, the max aperture limit of the camera resulted in shutter speeds too slow to freeze movement of the subjects—the flash had to freeze the subjects motions. [Image Stabilization in the lens avoided camera shake, plus I used a mono-pod.] ISO was set at 3200. In each case the shutter speeds were very slow at about 1/30. Under these conditions, the subjects in the photo although illuminated properly by the flash, were blurred because of the effect of the ambient light (which was set to properly illuminate the background).

A more “acceptable” photo came from shooting in Manual exposure but not setting the shutter speed and aperture to properly illuminate the background. Rather, I set the shutter speed to 250 and aperture to f8 or more and let the background be underexposed. I probably could have reduced the ISO some also letting the background get even darker and the flash more dominant. This resulting shots were a compromise but ones in which the kids’ images were more acceptable. In addition, by not trying to properly illuminate the background, the flash became the dominant light source and the yellow cast was avoided.

Without the use of other more elaborate lighting equipment such as strobes, flood lights etc or a much faster lens, there were not a lot of choices for me in this shoot.

What do folks that shoot weddings in poorly light churches, dance halls and dining rooms do if the subjects are doing something other than standing absolutely still? I probably would have been better served using a prime f1.18 85mm or 50 mm lens giving up the zoom and wide angle functions.

I’m thinking that the Canon 17-85 f4-5.6 IS lens was not a good choice, at least in this situation. Slow shutter speeds needed to offset the slow lens makes it especially vulnerable to subject motion. Next time I will try the faster lens.
I would appreciate any opinions or suggestions.
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Old Jun 6, 2009, 5:46 PM   #2
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When using flash indoors I work almost always in manual and will set exposure for about 1 stop under the ambient then I use the flash to freeze the majority of the action. I don't like fully frozen when we are talking dancing etc as movement is a part of it.

I don't go with a fast lens and usually stop down a little to get good sharpness and some room for focus inaccuracies when working fast in low light moving subjects.

These were taken with Canon 5D, 24-105mm f4 lens at f6.3 and 1/10 and 1/15s respectively. ISO was 1600.

I turn IS off and wouldn't use a monopod in such situations as I want to follow my subject or in fact I also like to rotate the camera while shooting to add extra movement to the background. In the first shot I did something different again, here I used the zoom while shooting to really create movement in the background.
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Old Jun 6, 2009, 7:48 PM   #3
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Default How best to handle challenging lighting?

Thanks Mark
Shooting in doors in manual exposure with a flash and under exposing the background results in better pictures from my experience.

I love the effect in photo #1 with the zoom.

I'm a little surprised that just one stop below ambient keeps the ambient light from having any visible motion effect on the dancers.

In your first photo the background looks to be much more underexposed that one stop down.

Thanks for the input.

Jerry
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Old Jun 6, 2009, 11:26 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coachjerry View Post

I'm a little surprised that just one stop below ambient keeps the ambient light from having any visible motion effect on the dancers.


Jerry
One stop doesn't. If you look at Mark's second shot you'll see ghosting from the flash - it's most prevelant in the top left of the frame with the twirl - but you'll see it down at the bottom of the frame too - in arms.

It takes about 2 stops below ambient to freeze faster motion. But everything is a balance. When you do that you get some stark results. You also use a lot of flash power.

And as Mark indicated, he prefers to show some sense of motion in the dancing. So, a little ghosting and better lit background. It all depends on what you as the photographer want - but 2 stops underexposed is a good rule if you prefer complete freeze of motion.

At one stop under though you should have much more consistent WB vs. ambient - i.e. you shouldn't need to go a full 2 stops to get the WB effect you're after. Still, when I do indoor flash work I prefer shooting RAW. It's one of the few times I use raw. I like it so I can correct WB issues and because I can recover from flash exposure issues easier.
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Old Jun 7, 2009, 3:49 AM   #5
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Being 1 stop under is not a hard and fast rule, and I always play with settings in each venue depending on the lighting and probably work more to the lights than ambient as they are where I can create movement to potentially it is slightly more under exposed, I guess I just do it rather than think exactly what I'm setting. In the wedding here there were lovely red and yellow flood lights to play with which really helped so I was more under exposed for ambient and rather I under exposed the lights themselves as shooting towards them.

Best thing is to have a play with exposure to get what works but also go for longer shutter speeds than you would expect that this will add movement in the background and let the flash freeze your subject.

Last one from a different wedding, here you can see that the camera is rotated to get the background effect. 1/8s, f5.6, ISO 500.
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Old Jun 7, 2009, 6:51 AM   #6
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There's also another rule with flash that wasn't mentioned - The inverse square law: http://www.geofflawrence.com/photogr...square_law.htm

Basically as you the camera/flash get closer to the subject the darker the background becomes as its distance become longer and the flash fall-off is accentuated
-> To get more background just move away from the subject...
Even when you are on manual the flash remains on automatic and it will put out more light to compensate for the increase distance to the subject, but then the background will not fall-off as much as it follows the inverse square law

Don't use fast lens as you won't be able to achieve the DOF required especially when groups of people are involved!
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Old Jun 7, 2009, 12:24 PM   #7
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Default How best to handle challenging lighting?

Mark, JohnG and NHL

Great and helpful responses as usual. I am sure others will benefit from your comments as I have.

There is no question, this is the best photo forum around.

Thanks
Jerry
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Old Jun 7, 2009, 12:29 PM   #8
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You are welcome Jerry and glad that we could help. I agree, Steve's might not be the biggest but we have some great members here which is great for all of us.

Let us know how you get on with your next flash shots.
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Old Jun 7, 2009, 2:16 PM   #9
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Default How best to handle challenging lighting?

Mark
You are correct, Steve's members are among the most knowledgeable and the most helpful photographers on the internet. They unselfishly share their expertise and their time to help others improve their skills.

Jerry
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