Photo Notes

August 20, 2012

Low Light Shooting With the Nikon D800

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Indianapolis — John Siskin @ 9:10 am

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be giving a Photomicrography presentation on August 23 at Black Dog Books in Zionsville. Call 317.733.1747 to reserve a space. I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

One of the biggest changes, for me, in working with the Nikon D800 is that the camera works in low light. My previous camera couldn’t make a good file above ISO 160 (yes 160, not 1600) and had trouble with exposures longer than about 1 second. The D800 will make a very usable file at ISO 6400, which is 6 stops brighter than my other camera. It will also make a good shot at an exposure of 30 seconds.

I always tell my students to test and practice, which is exactly what I’ve done with the D800. I made a test of film speed by shooting a five-dollar bill with different ISO settings. Money has a lot of finely printed detail, so I like to use it to look at resolution and noise. My evaluation of the test was that the camera worked exceptionally well to ISO 800, and had little noise at even higher ISO settings. I also discovered that long exposures were excellent, but take the camera considerably longer to process. Please note, these are my evaluations for the way I shoot, you should make your own tests and evaluations rather than accept my results. Besides testing is good practice.

I went back to the Indiana State Fair at night for some testing and practice in low light. I really haven’t done this kind of shooting in a long time, and I had forgotten how much fun it can be. As you may have figured out all the shots in this blog entry are from the night shoot at the fair. I did all my shooting at ISO 1600. I was very interested in allowing some motion blur into my shots. I shot everything in RAW. I was generally pleased by the auto-exposure and auto-color choices the camera made, but there were exceptions. The camera occasionally wanted to make things brighter, and often a little greener, than they felt at the site. It was easy to correct this when I converted from RAW to JPG, but I wouldn’t want to do this kind of shooting without making RAW files.

I should probably do some more night shooting soon. First because it’s fun, but also because I could use a little more practice.

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