Not every job I get asked to do, as a professional photographer here in Manchester is a well-lit room or one where I can bring in additional lighting.
I get commissioned to cover lectures, theatre and shows; the lighting conditions can vary tremendously and require a quick thinking different approach to other jobs. In this post I wanted to share some of my techniques and tips on how to approach a similar situation.
First off, positioning.
For me I love the excitement of these types of jobs, where I can work independently finding the shots. My first job is to check the eye lines as I usually, if not always want to change my position during the performance.
This is equally true of lectures or talks as the keynote speaker is also doing their performance. Something to think about when choosing your sight lines during low light photography. Not distracting or getting in the way of the public is top priority.
Wear black or muted tones is also a good idea when working in low light, as I want to be as inconspicuous as possible.
So, key positions noted time to look at the camera…
Every photographer has their preferred way of working in low light but for me, I find handing over some of the practical tasks to the camera software works for me. I would recommend shooting shutter priority as with low light photography your plane of focus is going to be small and people move!
So go for speed i.e. 125th up to 250th second then I let the camera really work. If your lucky like me you will have a cheeky setting in your menu ISO sensitivity, those of us from film days will smile and remember the horror of such a low light job and the amount and choices we had to make. From the right film to clip after processing to establishing the right exposure. This is one of the wonders and freedom empowering bits of the digital age which allows us to focus on the image rather than settings.
I set the camera to auto and set the parameters of working ISO then boom, she (yes my camera is a she ;-) on the whole will give a great result, sometimes I have to tweak with a push in camera during the shoot with variable stage lighting that can unnerve the metering system. So couple this low light technique with the powerful and also faster freer use of back focus your set.
If you can switch to the use of Back Focus that allows you to track your subject much easier and faster, it reduces the risk of the lens missing the moment in servo mode. There are lots of online tutorials on this featuring different camera makes.
Now I can concentrate of seeing the picture the moment just as if not before the moment, tracking both the dancer or speaker or actor as they go through their piece. I generally shoot in bursts building up to the yes shot, keep moving keep locking that focus and above all capture raw as with the deep shadows and sometimes blasted highlights your raw file is where you bring all things equal.
And so to sum up.
Low light photography is a skill and takes time to master, but it is something that can be learnt. Practise with positioning yourself in the room and have the camera set up and tested well in advance of your subject taking centre stage. Once you have the techniques mastered getting quality results from low light photography is highly rewarding and always much in demand!