Covering Low Light Events

In July, I invested in a Canon 5d Mk 2 and just as well that I did because I a job came in to work at an event in Oxford which turned out to be a real challenge. (Despite the reviews on the newest pro level Nikon being better, I had to stick with Canon because of my lenses.) As soon as I arrived my client expressed: NO FLASH. I walked into the lecture theatre and the first thing that struck me: how pitch black in there it was. The projection screen was dim too and save for a few pools created by halogen spots, the areas where the speakers stood were dark: extremely dark.  It was also the kind of place that needed discretion, the use of a long lens was de rigeur to avoid upsetting the high profile academics.

I had to make a compromise between retaining detail on the projection screen and losing detail in the shadow areas of the speaker.

I’ve struggled for a couple of years,  feeling that my existing camera, although excellent in the studio and in average daylight conditions, was a bit limiting. I flew by the seat of my pants covering the Funny Women awards at the Hammersmith Palais and were it not for the phenomenal Canon image stabilised lens I hired , would have failed miserably.  The Canon 1ds Mk2 was everything I wanted in a camera and more when I got it 5 years ago, but how things have moved on. The kind of work I’m getting has changed too. I’m doing more stage stuff, more events indoors. I remember covering  a belly dancing troupe in a local pub and although the pictures were beautiful, they got rejected by my library Alamy for being too noisy despite the noise reduction function in Capture One Pro working over time. There’s a limit to what you can do. Sometimes the most creative shots are not the most technically correct, but a compromise made under certain conditions.

When the speaker was directly under a spot light, the level of detail and lack of noise was amazing.

I had done a camera test the previous week which ascertained that 6400 ISO was the highest I was prepared to go. The 5D Mk2 does go higher but I didn’t like the feel of the files and wasn’t prepared to take a chance on a job. So that’s where I stuck.  The exposures had to be  bang on, because any pushing at a later stage would increase noise. The drop-off in light level was felt most as the presenters swayed in and out of the hot spots, a difference of several stops. I deliberately had to make a decision to under-light the speakers when they were pointing at the screen so as to be sure to keep the detail in the projection. I pre-determined a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th to eliminate camera shake and had image stabiliser on the whole time.

I hadn’t banked on having to up-grade my version of Capture One Pro either, which gave me funny colours like cross-processing, when I tried to process the RAWS. So luckily I still had Lightroom 2 ( they’re on Version 4 now)  on my computer to use  and as its noise reduction facility is excellent nevertheless, it helped me to reduce digital noise in the shadows. (Digital noise has many causes, can be down to sensor size or the chip over-heating in Summer.)

Having so much more to play with was a joy. Where I used to struggle at 1600 ISO, it was now a breeze. Using faster shutter speeds meant that hand holding was now possible. I did notice the lens hunting a bit due to lack of contrast in certain situations, but hey! Whaddya want? I was now shooting at 6400 ISO, 1/160sec and f4. Way to go! Can’t wait to try the HD video…..but that’s another story.

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