Wednesday Possibilities

Today, some shots to get your imagination going – shots that show how much is possible with little effort, and quickly. Shots I took in and between classes in mere seconds, to demonstrate specific points.

Like this quick demonstration shot showing what a great modern camera like my 1Dx can do at – wait for it – 51,200 ISO:

Meaning that with a new camera, you can now photograph pretty much in the dark, or mix a little flash with very low ambient light, or bounce off very high ceilings.

Especially when using off-camera flash, that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Here’s a demo shot showing what a little extra light can do; look carefully and you will see that I am using remote TTL flash (where my camera’s flash is the “master”), and my student at Sheridan college has set his flash to be the “slave”:

Result: he is temporarily blinded… and lit up. You can do that too, with very little extra equipment. One flash, if you have a moden camera whose popup can “command” external flashes; else, two flashes, on on the camera and one remote. Imagine what you can do when you can add a little light everywhere you like!

Then, another student lit dramatically – from below! This kind of eerie effect is easy once you can take your flash off the camera as desribed above.

Or – just turn the camera upside down and bounce flash off the table, as I did!

Off-camera handheld flash gives me this image, even when the flash is aimed direct, of Mr Jun:

Not bad, and that is direct light aimed into his face – as long as it is not near the camera, the flash can be unmodified and direct!

And when you have several flashes, you can do things like this:

Now that is a competent portrait, taken in just a few seconds, using this setup with two off-camera flashes each fitted with a Honlphoto grid, and one with a blue-green gel; using two “biological light stands”:

But finally – do you need all those flashes? No, here’s a portrait using one flash fitted with a Honlphoto 8″ softbox:

The apparent Martian in the background adds a little extra “huh?” to this photo, don’t you think? His glasses reflect the round softbox.

Anyway, these snaps demonstrate that you can achieve a lot in a very short time using simple means – you may already have every thing you need. Get creative, go outside the box, and above all, think “where is the light coming from”!


Fear not – use high ISO when needed

Here’s a snap of my friend and student Ray, taken Saturday night:

As you can see, he is backlit – and I used whatever light was available.

This means that to avoid the usual “silhouette”, I needed to expose very long – 1/25th sec at f/2.8, using 6400 ISO; using the 24-70 lens set to 25mm, which on a 1D is 25 x 1.3 = a “real” 33mm. (See how nice the “real” 35mm is? That’s why some cameras, like my Fuji X100, have fixed lenses of that focal length).

So – 6400 ISO? Is that doable?

Sure. Of course if we were to zoom in all the way we would see grain, but this image is pretty OK – especially after a little noise cancellation in Lightroom.

The moral: do not be afraid to go to high ISO values when needed. It’s better than not getting the shot.


Auto ISO

When you are using “auto ISO”, meaning the camera sets ISO for you, be careful.

In this mode, the camera will raise ISO and lower it – but it will get it wrong in some situations.

Low light. The camera will raise ISO to give you a handholding-suitable shutter speed. But do you want that? Or do you want quality (low ISO gives you that quality) and use a tripod? Night shots, twlight shots, fireworks, lightning: these are the obvious examples. For night shots, use low ISO and a tripod. So: low light: if you can use a tripod, use low ISO.

Motion needs. When there is enough light, the camera will lower ISO to give you good quality and shutter OK for handholding. But when you need that extra shutter speed, for sports, say, or for anything else that needs motion frozen, you need higher ISO. You may need 1600 or even 3200 ISO for hockey, but no auto ISO will give you that. So if you have motion, then raise ISO to suit.

My rules of thumb for ISO:

  • Outdoors, or low light with tripod, or studio shoots: start at 200 ISO
  • Indoors, even when using flash: 400 ISO
  • Difficult light – sports, motion, museums, churches: start at 800 ISO

In all cases, vary as able or as needed (if there is more light, use lower ISO; if you still get motion blur, use higher ISO).

Note – Auto ISO and manual will, on many cameras, give you a “aperture PLUS shutter priority” mode. This can be a cool thing to play with.



Well, you do not always have to use additional lighting, of course.

Remember that image yesterday?

That was shot in the dark – yes, in a room where I had turned the lights down to almost zero visibility. Just to show it could be done.

If you use “auto ISO”, when using a wide angle lens that will lead to something like 12800 ISO at 1/15th second. As it did in my case. It looked like this:

Yeah, nice and stuff. And perfectly usable; do not be afraid to do this.

But when you zoom in, you see the drawback of those high ISO values (click to see real size):

See what I mean? Not bad, but not great, with all that grainy noise.

So then I turned the ISO down to just 400. This of course got me an exposure time of 5 seconds, so everyone sat still. Result:

I promised yesterday I would explain why I shot with this composition instead of aiming down a little? Simple: because I did not have a tripod, so I needed to use the desk to hold the camera still for 5 seconds.

If you feel like another exercise: here you go. Go shoot a night image that looks like day.

You will need a tripod. You will need patience. You will want to use a low ISO value to avoid noise. Cold northern hemisphere nights are best to reduce noise. Go try it yourself tonight. And do not forget to make your image a nice composition.

ISO rule of thumb

I am often asked about ISO. So here is a “rule of thumb” post on that subject.

Michael’s standard starting points:

  • Outdoors: 200 ISO
  • Indoors (even when using flash): 400 ISO
  • “Difficult Light” (eg museums, dark halls): 800 ISO

Michael’s exceptions:

  • Using a tripod: 100 ISO (as long as nothing moves)
  • Hockey, etc: 1600 ISO

In each case, go lower if you can, and go as high as you need to, when you need to.