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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Learn From My Mistakes: Photographing Action in Very Low Light

I have the honor and pleasure of serving as a volunteer photographer for Ballet Tyler. For someone who failed (and yes, I have the report card to prove it) the only dance class she ever took, being a part of this organization provides a way for me to participate in the performing arts without actually embarrassing my family and friends by taking the stage.

Last month, I photographed the group's Nativity performance in the Bergfeld Amphitheatre. It was fantastic.

Many of my photos, however, were less than stellar. Ok, fine, they were stinky.

This was my first time to shoot action in low light. I knew I'd need to crank up the ISO. I used the Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS--a lens with image stabilization and a pretty wide zoom range. While the results were OK, they were soft. And when it comes to photos, I am not a fan of soft.

I was going to post the photos here with some metadata just in case any of you photographers out there had some suggestions. And then, I skimmed through the set and the problems smacked me right in the face: All of these images were captured at around f/5.6 at 1/25 exposure and 1600 ISO.

Mistake #1: I didn't max out my ISO. Well, I thought I had, but later I vaguely remembered reading that 1600 wasn't really the max for the 40D. Yep, I can muster up a whopping 3200 with the right settings. Too bad I hadn't read that one before the show.

(Glaring) Mistakes #2 and #3: An exposure of 1/25 was way too slow even with the IS (image stability) feature. F 3.5 is max on this lens, and I was afraid of running into focus issues by opening it up all they way. Right, because a little more light is really going to hurt me here, huh? Man, sometimes, I can be a real dolt. Next time, I will open that aperture up and shorten the exposure time as much as possible. At least 1/125, if I can get away with that. By the looks of those overblown highlights, I'm thinking I could push it even farther with the higher ISO.

Right after I wrote that last paragraph, this article from MCP Actions popped up in my feed reader. So, at least I'm on the right track. That's another article I wish I'd read last month.

Mistake #4: I trusted the LCD playback. These actually looked pretty good on a 2 x 2.5 in screen. Yes, I know that was foolish. I know.

So now, instead of whining that I don't have one of those fancy L lenses, I can work on using what I've already got to make sharper pictures of moving subjects in very low light. I can also be glad that I still shoot mostly for free. Otherwise, I would have been (even more) sad and embarrassed about the blur.

Any more suggestions? Please, fire away in the comments.


Woulda.

Shoulda.

Coulda.

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