REALLY elementary question about low-light photography

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by dakota7, Nov 11, 2003.

  1. dakota7

    dakota7 Guest

    Last week, I went to a high school play and brought my Olympus C-720
    camera hoping for a couple quick shots of my son after the play. But I
    wound up sitting in the third row center, so I tried a few shots, liked
    the results, and wound up taking around 90 pictures.

    I loved the way they turned out - until I saw pictures taken by a friend
    of mine who'd been in the first row. They were MUCH brighter and MUCH
    sharper. Several of his pictures were evidently taken within a fraction
    of a second of mine, so it's easy to compare.

    My friend knows even less about digital photography than I do. He said
    "I just took the pictures" with his Sony camera. He has no ideas what
    settings he used, and his pictures have no EXIF information.

    Neither of us was using a flash or tripod. He was perhaps six feet
    closer to the stage than I was (two auditorium rows), although I was in
    the center and he was toward the left, so our distance to center stage
    was probably identical. We were shooting from a darkened auditorium
    onto a lit stage.

    Here is some of my EXIF information:

    - ISO 200
    - 1/50 second shutter speed
    - f 3.4

    From the above information, can anyone suggest what I might have done to
    make my pictures sharper or clearer? For those familiar with Olympus
    cameras, I was using "shutter priority" mode.
    dakota7, Nov 11, 2003
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  2. dakota7

    psdmaven Guest

    Assuming all else is equal, which is probably an erroneous assumption, it is
    important to remember that light falls off at a square of your distance.
    Add to that the fact your field of view was broader, and likely included a
    higher percentage of unlit area, and the differences in usable light are
    even more dramatic. Differences in equipment also likely played a role,
    though I have no first hand experience with either of those devices.
    psdmaven, Nov 11, 2003
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  3. dakota7

    Mike Guest

    Maybe his camera has a higher ISO rating? Perhaps you could do some digital
    magic to your photos to lighten them (I know, not the same as a properly
    exposed photo)?
    Mike, Nov 11, 2003
  4. dakota7

    dakota7 Guest

    Well, I'm guessing that he was using ISO 400 vs. my ISO 200. I tried
    some indoor photos today, a gloomy day, using ISO 400 and they looked a
    lot better.

    Yes, I can "brighten up" dark photos nicely with editing software, but
    of course, I'd just as soon the photos came out of the camera just the
    way I want them.
    dakota7, Nov 11, 2003
  5. I suspect he has a Sony 717, whose f/2-f/2.4 lens is 1 f/stop faster than your
    f/2.8-f/3.4 lens. He may also have steadier hands than you do.
    Step one is to use a tripod or other stabalizing device.

    Step two is to boost up your speed to ISO 400 to allow for faster shutter
    speeds. You will get more noise at ISO 400, but you may get sharper pictures.

    Depending on the action on the stage, you might need to shoot at a faster
    shutter speed, or wait until people aren't moving.

    Without having the pictures from your friends Sony and your Olympus, it is hard
    to say what else.
    Michael Meissner, Nov 11, 2003
  6. dakota7

    Roger Guest

    The exposure data seems in the ball park. I usually estimate stage
    productions at 1/30 sec, f2.8 with ISO400. The 1/50 second shutter
    speed is fairly slow, but adequate for a wide angle or 50mm (35mm film
    equivalent focal length). However 1/50 second would be too slow for a
    hand held tele shot. The more the telephoto extension of your lens,
    the more camera shake is magnified.

    With an aperture of f3.4, focus accuracy is fairly critical. You need
    to make sure the camera is focused exactly on the subject of interest,
    because the depth-of-field (distance front to back in the photo that
    is in focus) is rather shallow at f3.4.

    It's probably worth experimenting more to determine what the sharpness
    limiting factors are. You may want to use these settings again for a
    similar subject. If your camera has an adjustable ISO rating, you
    might want to start right off with boosting it to ISO400 or ISO800 and
    see if the sharpness increases - the noise will increase, but that
    will always be a tradeoff for increased ISO.

    Roger, Nov 11, 2003
  7. Did you see his photos just out of the camera, or had he sharpened and
    lightened them? I'm not clear on this from your earlier post.

    There are too many variables to provide helpful tips on how to get shots as
    good as your friends without seeing the photos, knowing if he did any
    processing on his computer, and what cameras and settings were used. It may
    be that he had a better camera, better lens, better sensor than you
    did. Or maybe he tricked up his photos on his Mac? Maybe his printer is
    better. Who can tell?
    Phil Stripling, Nov 11, 2003
  8. dakota7

    dakota7 Guest

    Based on his response to my questions about his camera settings ("I just
    took the camera and shot") and the fact that he's about as nontechie as
    they come, I know he didn't "trick up" his photos.

    In answer to an earlier question in the thread, I had my zoom on 8x, the
    maximum it goes, so yes, there was plenty of magnification of any camera

    I am not sure if I can adjust the focal length of the camera in the
    setting I'm using. I think the camera sets focal length based on the
    other settings I choose.
    dakota7, Nov 11, 2003
  9. I'm not aware of any camera that chooses a focal length for the user. I've
    forgotten what camera you're using, but it probably came with a manual
    that tell will you how to zoom in and out. If you were at maximum zoom, it
    is possible that the camera was not stable; again, without seeing photos to
    compare, who can tell?
    Phil Stripling, Nov 11, 2003
  10. dakota7

    Eatmorepies Guest

    It's very interesting reading your replies. I have not yet replaced my Canon
    EOS600 with a digital camera but have been reading posts to help me decide
    what to buy.

    I take a few snaps at school plays and use ISO100 film, a big flashgun, a
    shutter speed around 1/90 and f4 or smaller. Sharp and bright enough
    pictures result - shake is not a problem because most of the illumination
    comes from the flash. It might be that many digital camera problems could be
    solved with a nice big flashgun.

    So why do so few digiatl cameras support external flash?

    Eatmorepies, Nov 11, 2003
  11. dakota7

    MikeWhy Guest


    Well said. So would I. Adobe can take their $200 upgrade plus activation and
    shove it.

    Odds are, 1/50 was too fast for the lighting conditions. Since the camera
    was prohibited from selecting a slower shutter, and f3.5 was probably its
    widest, the only thing left was to underexpose them. Most cameras will vary
    the ISO as needed in some modes. Selecting a "less expert" mode might not be
    too awful under those circumstances. Your concerns about camera shake and
    subject motion are understandable, but these have to be secondary to getting
    the exposure. It would be nice if the warnings weren't so easily ignored.
    MikeWhy, Nov 12, 2003
  12. dakota7

    Samuel Paik Guest

    How many point and shoot film cameras do you know support
    external flash?
    Samuel Paik, Nov 12, 2003
  13. For a suitable value of big...

    It is not unusual to be dumping 10-50KW of lighting onto a stage and
    still be scratching to get a shot :(

    Plus you lose the lighting effects.

    Paul Repacholi 1 Crescent Rd.,
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    Paul Repacholi, Nov 12, 2003
  14. dakota7

    Ray Fischer Guest

    Plus the greater magnification typically leads to less light gathering
    by the lens, needing longer exposures.

    Combine more zoom and a lower ISO setting and you've got your
    It's the amount of zoom.
    Ray Fischer, Nov 13, 2003
  15. I'm not aware of any camera that sets the zoom automagically for the
    user. I expect dakota can control the zoom with any setting, although I'd
    be interested in knowing if his camera prevents this.
    Phil Stripling, Nov 13, 2003
  16. dakota7

    dakota7 Guest

    Yes, the zoom is controllable independent of any other setting. The
    camera provides some user control over certain functions, but that's a
    complicated bunch of matrices in the user manual.

    Basically I just try to memorize what works best when shooting close
    up/far away, bright/dim light, indoor/outdoor, etc., then just do some
    tweaking from there.
    dakota7, Nov 14, 2003
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