Town Hall Gospel Choir! What a night. I was at the Town Hall in Birmingham capturing the Christmas concert of the award winning Town Hall Gospel Choir last night and boy did they deliver! The 30 strong, ‘Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year’ winners entertained the audience with a mix of classic Christmas songs as well as vocal acrobatics in the form of, ‘Deliver Daniel’ and their winning song, ‘Jesus Paid it All’.
From a photographers perspective, being creative with the available light is a must. Quite often at events like these flash photography is strictly forbidden, even for the official photographer. So it is at these times that years of experience kicks in.
Below I have compiled a list of 7 tips for getting better photographs in low light conditions. Follow these pointers and see how much your event photography improves.
7 tips for getting better photographs in low light conditions
1: Don’t be afraid to raise the ISO
Yes, raising the ISO can create noise, (Small grainy speckles sometimes seen photos) but if it’s the difference between getting a slightly grainy photo or no photo at all, do what needs to be done. Slowing the shutter speed below the advised 1/60th of a second might produce, ‘visible’ photographs, but if you have sacrificed the sharpness of an image for the sake of keeping the ISO low, it isn’t worth it. A long time ago friend once told me, “If the eyes of the subject are out of focus/blurry, then the photo is useless regardless of how good the rest of it is. That basic standard has stuck with me ever since. If you need to raise the ISO, do it.
2: 1/60th guide
As a loose guide, (I would say rule but in my opinion, there are no hard rules in photography) when shooting without a tripod, try to make the shutter speed as low as you can but no lower than 1/60th of a second. Slower than this and you risk blurring the image from simple and small hand movement. Even the action of actually taking the photo causes small movement of the camera that may translate to the final picture. You may not see too much blur when looking at the preview on the camera LCD screen, but when you come to view the image on your computer screen, it will be noticeable. Especially in the eyes of the subjects.
3: Invest in a 50mm 1.8
I’ll be honest, I’m not knowledgeable enough about Nikon hardware to advise, but for the Canon users of you out there, investing in a 50mm 1.8 is an absolute must. This lens is an affordable workhorse that every Canon user should have. At £74.99 (as of writing this post) you cannot go wrong with this lens. When I first started on my photography journey, I used this lens to no end. On everything everywhere. Some situations are not completely ideal, (you can’t zoom and it’s not very wide) but for low light situations in general, it’s one of the best for the money spent.
4: Open up that aperture
When taking photos of large groups, this tip might not be so useful (bokeh) but if you are trying to capture a lead singer or band member/speaker etc, open that aperture right up to let that light right in. One point of caution though. If you are shooting at f/1.8 from the back of a hall to a subject at the front on stage, you’re going to have a problem. At f/1.8 the depth of field will be very shallow, over a large distance it will be next to impossible to tell if the focus is landing on someone’s eyes or the person behind them.
5: Use tripod where necessary.
Having a tripod nearby during a lowly lit gig is a must. There may be times when you want to use a slower than normal shutter speed, but cant because of shake. Using a tripod and remote shutter release will dramatically reduce unwanted shake – allowing you to slow your shutter speed down to as far as you dare. (providing you’re not trying to capture a sports event!)
6: Keep your elbows and arms close to your body
This is a simple one that people tend to forget. Shooting in low light conditions, while zooming in, with a slower than usual shutter speed, is a recipe for unwanted shake. If you dont have a tripod to hand (or even if you do) when shooting, try to keep your elbows and arms close to your body. (Instead of out like you have wings) This simple trick is surprisingly effective at helping reduce camera shake when the situation demands it.
7: Be aware of where the natural light sources are.
This one might be obvious, but still needs to be pointed out. You would be surprised at how much natural/ambient light there is at any given venue. If you’re attentive and on the ball, you should be able to pick these spots out and manoeuvre yourself to use them to your advantage. Finding the best angles for lighting is only half the journey. Sometimes, it won’t be the right lighting. While capturing the event yesterday, the light engineers had a seemingly unhealthy love for the red spot lights. I mean, these were deep bright red lights that were being cast onto the stage. It looked nice at the time, but it didn’t look too flattering in the camera no matter what I did with the white balance. I was fortunate that they were nice enough to hear my pleas to tone it down a little. I am aware that you might not be able to influence things to this extent at every event. And as a photographer, it is your job to use your tools to work around any problem throw at you. But it doesn’t hurt to think out of the box and be a little cheeky if you can.
And there you have it. Hopefully these tips will help improve your photography when shooting in low light conditions. Of course, if you are allowed and have access to a good flash, use it! But if you can master your camera in the most challenging of situations, you will be well prepared and never caught off guard when told flash photography is forbidden.