Picture this, one walks into a dark room and there is someone sitting in the corner. They walk up to you and this is what you are told,”Thanks for visiting us today. No tripods and no flash photography. Have a nice day.” In a nutshell this what I was presented with when I went to the miniature museum at Ringling. Let me back up a little…
I received a phone call from one of my past students. They were getting ready to go on a trip out west. Some of the stops they were going to make were the hot air balloons in New Mexico and the caverns. The balloons were going to be shot before dawn and the caverns, well they are underground with some lighting, but not much. The student wanted some practice on shooting in low light with their equipment. This is one of the most challenging types of photography, to get a sharp photo in low light. Thinking in DSLR terms, most folks buy a kit that consists of the camera, couple of lenses, bag and cards. This is a great option to get started. Then something special like this comes along where you want to shoot where there is hardly any light. This is where the kit lenses will start to show their weakness, aperture. These lenses usually open up to f/5.6 at the most. Outside this isn’t a problem, but in lower light, it can be a challenge.
This is where the miniature circus museum comes into play. It’s one of the darkest spaces that I know. Also, the light changes from daylight to night time. If anyone can make a photo in here, then one has it made! My student had a new Canon 7D with an 18mm-55mm and 70mm-300mm. We mounted the 18mm lens first to see how that would work. Shooting in manual, we were able to set the ISO to 800, f/5.6 and 1/60 of a second to get started. She took a test shot and we were presented with a black frame. We decided to split the difference. We upped the ISO to 1600 and adjusted the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. That was better. She was off running.
Since I have been to Ringling many times, I knew what was going to happen. I left all my zoom lens at home as they only open up to f/5.6. However, I do have a few prime lenses that I really like. One of my favorites is my 50mm f/1.4. This lens is small, light and sharp. Many of you who have been reading this blog for years, know how much I like this lens. I recommended to my student that they get one of these lenses for the upcoming trip. Some don’t want to spend $500 on a fixed lens. I usually recommend the f/1.8 for the grand price of $125ish dollars. This lens is housed in plastic but still a nice lens to have on hand. My camera is over eight years old, so it doesn’t do high ISO too well. Even the entry level Canon Rebel line and Nikon D3300 will do circles around my camera performance wise. That is why I have to use lenses to get around the high ISO issues. What I did was start at ISO 400 at f/1.4 at 1/125 shutter speed. This was an ok, but now I had a new problem, my depth of field was so shallow that I could really one get one of the characters face in focus. I tried f/2.8 and it was better, then I got gutsy, f/4! This aperture is bordering on what the zoom lenses will do at f/5.6. I upped the ISO to 800 and brought down the shutter speed to 1/30. I generally like to shoot at the focal length of the lens. Since I had a 50mm on a crop sensor body, that means that what I’m seeing is closer to 75mm. I should be at 1/80 of a second to ensure a sharp shot. However, in this space theres a built in tripod that we were able to use. There is a slanted railing that I was able to get on my knees and rest my elbows on it and this steadied me enough.
For the following photos, I ended up on f/4 and that seemed to work for the depth of field. These are sharp as I would expect. I do have an 85mm f/1.4 which is a hunk of glass and anything one photographs with that lens is just beautiful, it should be as much as it costs! Next time I would take that lens and try to get more reach inside the display. This is one of those spaces, no matter how many times I go, I see something different. Also, if you need to practice your low light skills, I highly recommend it. For those of you who have newer cameras, you can probably shoot at 6400 ISO and get some amazing photos with the kit lenses.
One other idea is if you have to shoot higher ISOs, I would look at a decent noise reduction plug-in like the Nik’s Dfine. This is part of the Nik collections of plug-ins and works well for me. I have a friend that has been experimenting with one from McPhoon? Maybe we can get her to write a post on how that one works.
If you are looking to upgrade your bag or your just hungry for something new, look at the “nifty fifty”. They can be inexpensive, sharp and create amazing photos. They make them in three different apertures, f/1.8, f/1.4 and if your Canon f/1.2. The latter is really expensive. Also, its good to give yourself assignments like this to keep sharpening your skills. Get out there and shoot something!
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean