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Old May 22, 2009, 12:28 PM   #21
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The reason is - at high ISOs you have an even bigger problem if you underexpose the image. The key to quality low light photography at high ISOs is to expose the image properly in-camera - even a slight bit of over exposure. That gives you the most detail and least amount of noise. Using aperture priority guarantees you the the fastest shutter speed AND properly exposed image. Set a shutter speed too high in shutter priority and you'll end up with an underexposed image - sure no blur but the image is still useless because of noise and lack of detail. The TRICK is to find out how much leeway your particular camera provides. Can you underexpose by 1/3 stop for a slight bit of shutter speed and still recover? Depends.
I'd agree with you if we were not talking about shooting subjects in motion using long zooms in low light. I think these three factors are crucial in our discussion because at the end of the day what you want is a blur-free image. To get that under these conditions, you need to guarantee a certain shutter speed, not aperture. First of all, the aperture will automatically be set to its widest value anyway because once you set the shutter to say 1/125, unless there is a lot of available light, the camera will keep increasing the aperture (decrease its value) until it can go no further. Once the camera reaches the widest aperture for the set FL, if it suffices, then you are good to go. If not, the camera will tell you (some brands/models make the shutter/aperture display in the EVF/LCD blink while others turn it RED). At that point, if you don't do anything, the image will be dark for sure because the a/s combination is not acceptable by the camera. So, you'll have no recurse but to increase the ISO until the combination of speed (1/125 in this example) and aperture (whatever the widest value is at the particular FL being used) is accepted by the camera (the display will either stop blinking or turn from RED to WHITE). Setting the camera to the widest aperture (aperture priority instead of shutter priority) will not do the trick because if you want to limit the ISO to say 800 to avoid noise, the camera will then reduce the shutter speed to a much lower value than 1/125, in which case the image will be blurry due to camera shake. So, having the correct exposure will only guarantee that the image will not be over or under exposed but it will not guarantee sharpness and that's no good.
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Old May 22, 2009, 12:47 PM   #22
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I'd agree with you if we were not talking about shooting subjects in motion using long zooms in low light. I think these three factors are crucial in our discussion because at the end of the day what you want is a blur-free image
Actually - what you want is a QUALITY image. And, what you have to realize is sometimes a quality image isn't possible in a given situation with a given set of gear.

And yes, I know about subjects in motion using zooms in low light. It's a lot of what I do:




Want indoors?







Now, you'll note that there is some blur in some of these shots - but the shots as-is are betther than underexposing them to get higher shutter speeds. How do I know? Because I've done it both ways. Easily over 200,000 sports images in the last 6 years. Tullio - are you getting better low-light shots of moving subjects with your approach?

Sometimes though - you don't have enough light and/or don't have the right equipment to get a good shot. Something both James and I have brought up. No matter how much you don't like that thought (and believe me I understand - it drives me nuts that I can't always take a photo I want to) - it doesn't change the fact - sometimes you put the camera away and enjoy the show.

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Old May 22, 2009, 8:16 PM   #23
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I believe that Tullio is right. When you're shooting any kind of event where there will be a lot of movement, shutter speed is a top concern. It always has been mine, but when I shot on Shutter or Manual priorities, I found myself frustrated because I could either shoot grossly underexposed, but noiseless, images at sub-800ISO levels, or well exposed, but too noisy, images at above 800ISO. For fun, I tried shooting at 1600ISO. The images exposed nicely, but the ungodly amount of noise rendered them totally useless. In a nutshell, those were my choices, and my biggest nightmare was at post-processing trying to correct them.

One night, I related my frustration to a friend of mine who shoots events with an Olympus E510, and he suggested I try to "trick" the camera into higher shutter speeds via Aperture priority. He gave me the basic steps to my technique - turn off any "intelligent" features, limit the auto ISO to however high I'm willing to go, and use the spot light meter. The rest I started to pick up over the next few shoots.

The core of my technique is using the "Spot" metering. If I spot meter the brightest thing I can find on stage, the camera sets everything else (except the Aperture..), to shoot at that light level. When I re-frame for the shot with it set, it won't matter where the meter is because the camera thinks its shooting what I originally pointed it at. When using the other light meter settings, the camera has to take into account the other areas in your field of view that may not be as bright, and meter accordingly, usually to account for the darkest areas on a stage - which are plentiful at most shows - and will result in higher ISO levels, and/or a slower shutter speed.

This brings me to another point - distance to the subject. I noticed that the closer I am to the stage, or the closer I zoom in, the faster my shutter speeds, and the lower the ISO levels. In a wide angle, from a long distance from the stage, the areas on which to spot meter are smaller, and the light reflecting off the subject isn't as strong from that distance, and it results in higher ISO levels, and slower shutter speeds. It seems that the closer I get via zoom or moving up to the stage, the overall brightness of the subject increases, as well as the size of the area that I can spot meter, therefore causing the camera to increase its shutter speeds.

I don't really notice of a lot of stability problems shooting like this with bands on stage, as the band members are for the most part pretty stationary. I don't mind the occasional motion blur as it relates to playing instruments - guitar, drums, etc - since, in my opinion, it denotes movement and action. I'd rather freeze the body and facial expressions as much as possible. I tried using my technique on shooting action sports indoors, and because of the radical movement where the subject rapidly changes position, have had more severe motion blur problems. That's where switching to a Shutter priority setup made more sense.

Using Aperture priority has also resulted in less time spent adjusting things manually. Shooting live bands presents the problem of constantly changing lighting. In Manual or Shutter priorities, this means a lot more adjustments have to be made when the lighting director decides to change scenes. In Aperture, I just keep looking for the brightest spot, and the camera does the adjusting. Also, in Aperture priority, the only adjustment I'm usually making is the EV level, and I can do it easily in the viewfinder with my thumb. I always start my shoots at 0, and if I want to pick up a slight fraction of second more on shutter speed, I will bump the EV -1/3ev at a time with my thumb until it looks right.

I understand what JohnG was saying about using a slight over exposure for more detail, but on the FZ28 I notice it makes a huge negative impact on shutter speed to go overexposed even +2/3EV. I keep an eye on how much I am underexposing so I know If a slight fade correction and tweak on levels will more than likely fix it in post-processing. I also noticed that underexposing has kept my ISO levels lower, and reduced my noise levels to where a light brightness/contrast adjustment in post-processing will eliminate almost all of it. The majority of noise usually appears in the dark empty spaces behind the band, so darkening those areas more seems to work just fine.

I have tried to shoot with smaller aperture settings, but the sacrifice in shutter speed is more than what I find acceptable. If I turn up the ISO limit to compensate, then I also open the door to extremely noisy images. I can, however, go from f3.7 to f5.0 and still maintain good shutter speed if I'm really close, like front row, or on stage with the band. Any smaller aperture settings and the ISO goes way up again.

In short, I don't mind sacrificing some on DOF for better exposure and faster speeds. I know I mentioned keeping DOF in mind, and Tullio makes a good point about it being non-existent at larger apertures. My technique does make most of the images come out "flat" (everything focused like they're on a single plane), but I do try to compensate through creative framing and angles. Shooting from one extreme side of the side or the other seems to do an "ok" job of creating at least a little depth. Other than that, yes, trying to get shots with a really good DOF has been an issue. Hopefully, after shooting more and playing around with things, I 'll figure a way short of absolutely having to pick up a DSLR.

And as far as setting the saturation, contrast, noise reduction and sharpness in camera, I've noticed that in low light, these features do reduce detail if turned up, and do make correcting slight problems harder in post processing.

JohnG is also right, that not every venue will give you the best light, and there's nothing you can do but watch the show. It sucks, but if I want to go shoot a good band, and they're playing at a club that only has PAR cans, and no spot light, I'm not even getting the camera out. Its just not worth fighting with equipment that's out of its element.

Last edited by JamesBillson; May 22, 2009 at 8:22 PM.
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Old May 23, 2009, 3:05 AM   #24
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I also find it important to keep depth of field in mind. For instance, if the brightest spot on the stage happens to be lighted up fog behind the band, and you meter and spot focus on it, when you reframe for the singer, or guitarist, or whomever, the fog and backdrop will focused, but not the subject. I try to find something on the subject (the white panel on a guitar, the subjects' clothing or skin, or light hitting the floor in front of or next to the subject...) light enough to meter and focus on. It helps to keep the focus on as much of the same plane as the subject.
Why not change the AF/AE Lock button to AE only. Then you can lock the exposure seperately when needed. Just press the AE lock button with your thumb and then find your motive and focus by press the shutter release halfway.

/Peter
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Old May 23, 2009, 3:46 AM   #25
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Actually - what you want is a QUALITY image. And, what you have to realize is sometimes a quality image isn't possible in a given situation with a given set of gear.

And yes, I know about subjects in motion using zooms in low light. It's a lot of what I do:




Want indoors?







Now, you'll note that there is some blur in some of these shots - but the shots as-is are betther than underexposing them to get higher shutter speeds. How do I know? Because I've done it both ways. Easily over 200,000 sports images in the last 6 years. Tullio - are you getting better low-light shots of moving subjects with your approach?

Sometimes though - you don't have enough light and/or don't have the right equipment to get a good shot. Something both James and I have brought up. No matter how much you don't like that thought (and believe me I understand - it drives me nuts that I can't always take a photo I want to) - it doesn't change the fact - sometimes you put the camera away and enjoy the show.
JohnG, those sports images looks absolutely great!
Did you shoot all those with an FZ28?
Sports images is also an area that I like to improve my skills.
What's your approach to sports shooting?

/Peter
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Old May 23, 2009, 10:31 AM   #26
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...The only clear pictures I had were when I set the shutter speed to 1/250 and then of course the pictures are dark as hell... Why is the FZ28 giving me so much trouble?
Of the 17 shots in the Picasa album, one (#14) actually has a shutter speed of 1/1000s, according to its exif, and I think it's at full zoom, and widest aperture (f4.5, not 3.7) (The hole shrinks relatively as the focal length gets longer, as JohnG explained.) It's at ISO800, as are some of the others with much longer shutter speeds, so it's badly underexposed, presumably because you set it fully manually.

However, a very quick automatic twiddle, then resize & sharpen in PSP7 gave this amended image, (hope you don't mind) which demonstrates that it's the fast shutter speed that really counts to avoid the blur, and the sensor's not doing badly really, for high ISO.
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Old May 23, 2009, 12:09 PM   #27
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The only clear pictures I had were when I set the shutter speed to 1/250 and then of course the pictures are dark as hell.
The reason is because the camera was probably telling you that the widest aperture was not wide enough but you ignored it. Different brands/models use different ways to tell you that the shutter/aperture combination is not good. Some the s/a information on EVF/LCD goes from white to RED (this is most common), others make it blink. What you do then is either lower the shutter speed (1/125, 1/80, ... - but keep in mind that the lower you go the more chances of obtaining a blurred image you have) until the s/a display turns white or stops blinking or leave the shutter at 1/250 to get a sharp image and increase the ISO until the s/a display is OK.
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Old May 23, 2009, 12:14 PM   #28
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JohnG, those sports images looks absolutely great!
Did you shoot all those with an FZ28?
Sports images is also an area that I like to improve my skills.
What's your approach to sports shooting?

/Peter
No Peter. People won't want to hear this but the FZ28 simply isn't going to be capable of shots like this. BUT, the principles are the same. The difference is the camera gear I used for these will work in situations like above where the FZ28 isn't capable.

It's a hard thing for some people to understand that the principles of photography are camera independent. I don't have to shoot with the same camera you do to be able to express principles of low light photography. There are nuances, to be sure - like what is the highest usable ISO on the camera. It takes experience with the camera to know that. So i can't help you there.

As to my techniques for sports shooting - it depends entirely on the sport in question - each is different and requires different gear and different technique.
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Old May 23, 2009, 12:22 PM   #29
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Actually - what you want is a QUALITY image. And, what you have to realize is sometimes a quality image isn't possible in a given situation with a given set of gear.
Define "quality". To me, a well exposed but blurry image is not a quality image as isn't a sharp but over/under exposed image. Yes, your images look great (BTW, can you post that very first football action shot with the full EXIF data? I'm curious to see the settings used). Shooting motion with the FZ28 zooming in all the way (504mm) in low light is not an easy task to anyone. Camera shake is the biggest issue and that can only be resolved in one of the two ways: either by using a high shutter speed (at least 1/250) and most likely high ISO as well (1600 or higher) or use a tripod.
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Old May 23, 2009, 1:10 PM   #30
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Why not change the AF/AE Lock button to AE only. Then you can lock the exposure seperately when needed. Just press the AE lock button with your thumb and then find your motive and focus by press the shutter release halfway.

/Peter

That's a good suggestion, and I never thought about fiddling with the AE lock during a show. I have, however, been playing with the AF lock - moving the focus around the field of view and changing aspect ratios to 3:2 and 16:9 to simulate some kind of depth. Depending on where I'm shooting from in relation to the band, I've gotten mixed results.

I may have a chance to shoot tonight, and if so, I'll definitely give the AE lock a try.
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