Low Light

Decoding the Exposure Triangle

Far too often, people get caught up in, or tripped up by, the numbers involved in Photography. f/stops, shutter speeds, ISO values… You might as well be trying to decode the Bermuda Triangle. But once you understand how they work, both individually and together, the world of creative photography opens up like the proverbial oyster. For years, I’ve been teaching students to keep it simple… The more you over-think the numbers, the more frustrating it becomes.

I’ve seen a lot of graphics outlining the Exposure Triangle, but haven’t really come across a comprehensive, yet easy to understand visual representation of it. So, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to devise a way to illustrate a comprehensive version of the Exposure Triangle, while keeping it simple enough so that it doesn’t overwhelm. Hopefully this helps some of you that may have been struggling with putting it all together.

Click for full size, printable version.

Click for full size, printable version.

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Tips for (but not just for) Concert Photography

Last week, a former student emailed me and asked for some tips for shooting concerts, and seeing as I had just shot one the week prior, I figured now is as good a time as any to post some tips, tricks and pics (note to self: start a regular segment with that title.) Below are my ‘go to’ settings for concert photography. This tip doesn’t just cover concerts, but any low light event where there is any kind of movement involved, such as; Plays, Indoor Sports, Graduations, etc.

Tall Tall Trees

Tall Tall Trees | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Here is what you need:

Equipment:

  • A high-end camera (just kidding. No I’m not. Yes I am. Well, kind of.) What you really need is a camera that handles really high ISOs with as little noise as possible. Sensors have improved by leaps and bounds since I first made the switch to digital in the early 2000’s and they just keep getting better. All this to say: if you have a newer camera, chances are you can push your ISO to its limits and still get reasonably clean images without the excessive noise that is usually prevalent with high ISOs.
  • An appropriate lens for where you will be located in relation to where the action will be, and how much of the stage you want to cover. For the shots below, I was right up at the stage and I still used a 70-200 lens so I could get in close. This will ultimately depend on what works for your situation and the gear you have available, but typically a longer lens gets you closer to the action. And that’s where we all want to be, right?
Tall Tall Trees | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Tall Tall Trees | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Settings:

  • Mode: Manual – This is a necessity so that your lighting stays relatively consistent.
  • Aperture: As wide open as you can get it to allow the most amount of light in. In other words, use the smallest f/number your lens will allow. Somewhere between f/3.5 and f/5.6 is typical for standard kit lenses, but if you’ve invested in better lenses, go as low as you can.
  • Shutter Speed: I typically start somewhere around 1/200 to 1/250 of a second to ensure that I freeze regular action on stage. Depending on how much or how fast the performers are moving, you may need to increase your shutter speed. (examples below)
  • ISO: As high as you need to go to get the right exposure. Typically in the 1600 – 6400 range. Will there be noise in the images? In the immortal words of Stompin’ Tom: Darn tootin’! Ask yourself this: “Would you rather have noisy images or blurry images?” Exactly.
  • Flash: Probably the most important thing here is to keep your flash off. It will do you no good. None at all. And it might just get you booted out of smaller venues if you’re distracting the band.
Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Just as an example to try and tie it all together for you, here are 2 situations that couldn’t be more different and the settings that you might need to capture each:

Example: Leonard Cohen

  • Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: As low as it will go
  • Shutter Speed: Potentially as low as 1/80 of a second because he doesn’t move much or at all.
  • ISO: As high as you need to go for a good exposure. Likely the lower end of the 1600-6400 range.

Example: Slayer

  • Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: As low as it will go
  • Shutter Speed: A minimum of 1/250 of a second to freeze all that thrashing around on stage.
  • ISO: As high as you need to go for a good exposure. Likely the higher end of the 1600-6400 range.

Here are a few more pics from Lucius and Tall Tall Trees Live @ The Garrison:

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Lucius | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Tall Tall Trees | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013

Tall Tall Trees | Live @ The Garrison | Toronto, ON | April 26, 2013