Picture Taking; Digital Available Light Photography; How Low Can You Go? Page 2

Slow Shutter Speeds: The average photographer can usually hand hold a camera at a shutter speed that’s equal to the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens, although I have a suspicion that this changes as we get older. You might just need a faster shutter speed.

This photograph of Acapulco harbor was made at night from patio of the Las Brisas Hotel using a Leica D-Lux 3 camera rested on a masonry wall and tripped via the camera’s self-timer. Exposure was 15 sec (using the camera’s Starry Night mode) at f/4.9 and ISO 80. Because of the long exposure, there was some inevitable noise, but I cleaned it up using Imagenomic’s Noiseware.

Factoid: With focal plane shutters, the effective speed of the curtains at 1/1000 sec is the same as it is at 1⁄30 sec. At higher shutter speeds, the only thing changing is a narrowing of the gap between the two curtains. Unlike shooting film under low-light conditions with long exposures, digital cameras are not subject to exposure or color balance reciprocity failure.

Image Stabilization Lenses: When photographing people, I prefer to allow the subject to remain comfortable while I contort my body into Houdini-like positions to find a camera angle that works best. I’m not getting any younger and my ability to hold 1⁄15 sec consistently is not quite as good as it was a few years ago. This means I’m more than likely to use an image stabilized lens to make sure that technology is helping me capture a sharp image. Canon calls their series of Image Stabilization lenses “IS” and Nikon calls theirs “VR” for Vibration Reduction. Pentax and Sony build an antishake feature into the camera bodies, meaning that all their lenses, even old Pentax medium format lens, are image stabilized. No matter what you call it, image stabilization is a good feature to have when working under available light.

Sturdy Camera Support: Image stabilization and vibration reduction lenses can help, but even the most high-tech lens can’t match a three-legged assistant. You can leave your camera perched on a tripod, walk over to your subject to touch up a pose or pick up a twig and it will be waiting when you get back.

This is the tripod I used to make the City Hall shot. Gitzo’s 6Xs Mountaineer tripods use a carbon fiber tube that’s made of six crossed layers that maximizes rigidity, and absorb vibration. The 6X tubes have a high-density structure made of ultrathin (0.007mm) carbon fibers and have a built-in Anti-Leg Rotation feature.

Any tripod is a three-legged friend that has the simple job of holding your camera steady. How it accomplishes that task is a matter of personal preference, design, and price. A good tripod has just a few basic requirements: It must be sturdy enough to support your camera but lightweight enough so that you’ll actually take it along and use it. The way the legs adjust is as important as the head design.

Gitzo’s (www.bogenimaging.us) new tripods have an Anti-Leg Rotation (ALR) system that allows for fast and smooth setup. Gone are the days of fighting to unlock the legs and get them extended to the proper height. This new system lets you loosen all twist locks at the same time and pull down the leg before tightening them. Bogen claims a setup time of 15 seconds for a 5-section tripod; the 3-section Mountaineer Reporter I tried set up even faster.

Brighton Colorado’s city hall was photographed on a balmy Christmas night in 2005 (no such luck for 2006) using a Canon EOS S 1D Mark II at ISO 200 and EF 22-55mm zoom lens securely mounted on a Gitzo Carbon 6X Mountaineer Reporter tripod. Exposure was 8 sec at f/13 at an ISO of 200.

A good tripod protects the investment you’ve made in expensive optics by delivering the best possible photographs. Since 90 percent of sales of top-of-the-line tripods are to photographers unsatisfied with their old tripod, check the tripod’s construction. Does it lend itself to simple and inexpensive repairs? All of these factors add up to a tripod that will give years of service, and improve your photography at the same time. And that’s not a bad combination.

Useful Accessories For Night Time Photography
To make successful pictures under low-light conditions you’ll need a few extra non-photographic tools. Even though many cameras have backlit panels for their control LEDs, you’ll still benefit from a small LED flashlight so you can see the entire camera and make all the proper settings. It beats working in the dark. I use a NightStar (www.appliedinnotech.com) made in nearby Fort Lupton, Colorado, but if you’re not sure visit the LED Museum on line (http://ledmuseum.home.att.net) to see what’s available.

It’s often cold during some of these nighttime sessions so my next favorite accessory is fingerless gloves that let me work with the camera while keeping my paws warm. I use a pair of woolies from Eastern Mountain Sports (www.ems.com) but similar gloves are available in lots of outdoor stores.

I was admiring the monochromatic look of this hallway in Acapulco’s Emporia Hotel and when I saw this housekeeper walking through dressed in white and gray I started making photographs. Exposure was 1⁄25 sec at f/5.6 at ISO 400 with a plus one-stop exposure compensation to open up the shadows. Image sharpness at this shutter speed was aided by using a Canon EF 28-135mm IS lens.

Get a pair of mittens for your tripod, too. OP/TECH USA’s (www.optechusa.com) Tripod Leg Wraps keeps cold metal legs under wraps and away from your skin. They also protect the legs against damage and give you added protection against shoulder fatigue. The Cordura Leg Wraps are available in 1”, 11⁄4”, and 11⁄2” diameter leg sizes.

If you’re serious about nighttime architectural photography you’ll also need a ladder, so why not get one with wheels such as Franzus’ (www.adorama.com) industrial grade aluminum LadderKart. It’s indispensable not only for getting a little elevation during your next late night photo shoot but it’s also a less tedious way to schlep all that gear!

Joe Farace is co-author, along with Barry Staver of “Better Available Light Photography”(ISBN: 0-240-80335-3) from Focal Press. Joe and Barry are at work on an updated, all digital photography version of the book that should be available later in the year.