Low Light Street Photography?!

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by jplg842, Nov 21, 2009.

  1. jplg842 macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2007
    Hello everyone..
    I'm having real trouble shooting at low light. I don't have a tripod, it wont be possible even using one in most of the times..
    So i find myself putting shutter speed at 1/80 and since im using a 18-55 canon lens, i only get around 3.5 - 5.5 aperture... this results in very dark photos.
    When i set ISO at 1600, i end up with terrible quality (and it dont even get it lit up)

    What am i missing?!?!
    Please help

    here are some examples


  2. kate-willbury macrumors 6502a

    Feb 14, 2009
    more light obviously. beyond a tripod or flash or a fast lens, what magical means of light are you expecting to hear about?
  3. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    there's just not enough light...I'd guess you need another 2-3 stops. that means you need a fast lens (f/2 or faster) and lose the depth of field, shoot in RAW and boost the exposure afterwards, or bring your own light.
  4. flosseR macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2009
    the cold dark north
    you are missing a tripod :) or a f2.8 lens with IS but they are really pricey.

    I find having a small quick setup tripod works better than you think. BUT what you can do is use props around you.
    Look at the image below. it has a long exposure but its pin sharp. I used a rock to place the camera on, hold it firmly down and push the button. I also used the wall in the tunnel shot and a hand rail for the light shot. the last one has a 30 sec exposure.
    If you don't want to use a tripod, use your surroundings...

    Attached Files:

  5. panoz7 macrumors 6502a


    Nov 21, 2005
    Raleigh, NC
    For low light handheld photos you're going to need fast glass or high iso. There's no way to get around that.

    You can probably get away with a slower shutter speed, especially if you have the newer kit lens with image stabilization. Use aperture priority instead of shutter priority (or manual if you're comfortable with that), stick towards the wide / faster end of your lens and monitor your shutter speed. In general if you shoot at the reciprocal of the focal length (1/50 at 50mm, 1/18 at 18mm) you'll avoid blur from camera shake. Crop sensors change that proportion, so do some tests and see what you can handle.

    What's happening now is that your telling the camera you need a shutter speed of 1/80 no matter what. It can only make the aperture so big so eventually you just end up with underexposed images.

    If you're shooting people that are moving, and you want them to be sharp, they're probably going to be the limiting factor for shutter speed, not your hand shaking. In that case you definitely need faster glass. The 50 f/1.8 is a good start. It's probably a little long for street photography, but it's significantly faster then what you have now, and can be picked up for around $80. Also, you might want to pass your images through some noise reduction software. Those look really noisy, even for ISO 1600. LR3 is in beta right now and can be downloaded for free. It apparently has a much better noise reduction feature than its predecessors.
  6. dazey macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2005
    the problem is you are pushing the boundaries of your kit. You should look at getting a prime lens with an aperture of 1.4 or 1.8. Also, at night you should be shooting in manual mode, bright lights in the frame tend to confuse a camera into stopping down. Better cameras will also handle high ISO better, I use a D3 so iso 3200 is pretty clean.
  7. jampat macrumors 6502a

    Mar 17, 2008
    You're not missing anything. You are shooting dark scenes with slow glass, a crop frame camera and no tripod. What you are trying to shoot is hard. You may have some luck with a fill flash, but if that can't work for you, you need different gear.

    If you get a 50 1.8, you will be roughly 3 stops faster for ~$100 but lose zoom. If you get something like a sigma 24-70 2.8, you will be 1 to 2 stops faster for ~$500.

    If you get a tripod, the restaurant scene would work better, but it wouldn't help the people through the door (fill flash is about all that could help here unless you overexposed the room behind).

    A full frame body will be happier at higher ISO's.

    There is no magic here unfortunately, you are finding the limits of your current equipment.

    Good luck
  8. dazey macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2005
    Bear in mind that for street photography (and I am assuming from this and your examples that you are intending to take pictures of people, not buildings etc) that IS is useless for subject movement. It will only remove shake but at night you should not be shooting with a lens that is long enough for this to be an issue. A tripod is also of little use if the subject is a moving one.
  9. splitpea macrumors 6502a

    Oct 21, 2009
    Among the starlings
    If you have a steady hand it's possible to handhold down to as slow as about 1/15 sec. (I used to do this all the time shooting theatrical performances), which earns you an extra stop or two. For best results, use the viewfinder instead of the LCD and brace your elbows against your ribcage for as many points of contact as possible. Something to brace yourself against will earn you another couple of stops but probably be too slow for even stationary human subjects. Another option is a tripod, monopod, or even a "string tripod", which will really help with camera shake for static subjects. But the guy above who said you need fill flash for that backlit photo was spot on.
  10. sosaysiburke macrumors member


    Mar 30, 2009
    the nikon 35mm 1.8 is 200 bucks its good in lowlight and you can till use lower iso's
  11. MattSepeta macrumors 65816


    Jul 9, 2009
    375th St. Y
    I use

    I use a 17-55 2.8IS for my night time street photography, and it works as well as I could imagine a lens working for on-the-fly night photos. Since I got it, I tote my camera along whenever I go out on the town, and it really lets me get some very acceptable, fun shots (Bars, eating, etc).
  12. jplg842 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2007
    Thank you everyone for replying :)
    I have a Canon XSi, i guess it doesnt handle high ISO so well after all.

    The lens i was using does have IS.. i never feel it does work though!
    im always scared of going below 1/80 because of possible blur, not just for people, but as an overall image.

    I also have nifty fifty.. Though it way too long for street photography, but it seems my only option right now

    What is a really fast to setup, lite and cheap tripod?
  13. oblomow macrumors 68030


    Apr 14, 2005
    Since your images are too dark, you should check your metering technique. Try aperture priority, select the largest aperture you have and see what shutter speed you get. You should be able to get a properly exposed photo. The problem then will probably be motion blur. ( camera shake or moving subjects). Try to solve this by using higher iso ( reducing shutter ). 1600 should work on an XSi. Although you will probably have to use some noise filter. (noise ninja for example, try downloading a Bibble trial version, it comes with a basic noise ninja).

    And yes, fast glass would be the best option. Anything larger than f2. should make a big difference...
  14. mahood macrumors member

    Aug 6, 2009
    With tripods, as with anything camera-related (or generally, to be honest) - you get to choose two out of the three options: 1. cheap 2. good 3. light.

    Consider a monopod - it won't give you the same stability as a tripod, but it's smaller so it won't trip people up in a busy street, and you've only one leg to extend so it's faster. It'll also be lighter, and can strap more easily to a rucksack or camera bag.

    It won't be as stable as a tripod, so long exposures will be out, but as previous posters have said, people move too fast for a long exposure anyhow. It'll cut some camera shake though, and make you look more professional - so strangers might be less wary of you taking their photos :)

    See if you can borrow one, before you spend money though - it might not be the answer for you.

    Or get a flash! Longer exposure for the ambient (with IS or mono/tripod), and flash to freeze the subjects. If the background is slightly blurred it's less important.

  15. jplg842 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2007
    How slow can i get on a monopod?
  16. CrackedButter macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2003
    51st State of America
    My current documentary (work in progress), all low light, iso 3200, f2.8 24-70 L.


    Some images might looks noisy (deliberately keeping the noise) and some are weird images, but in each one i've exposed for the people. The first one is the best example as all I had to go on was the light inside the car and metered for it. No tripod used.

    I hope it helps without needing to explain anything as the advice you've been given is pretty solid, just thought some examples from somebody else would help.

    1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 18 and 19 really push my camera to its limits with available light.
  17. mahood macrumors member

    Aug 6, 2009
    To be honest, it depends how shaky your hands are, how likely you are to get jostled or blown about, and a load of other factors. That's why I suggested giving it a try, before you buy.

    You can probably expect 1-2 stops quite easily (so down to 1/30 with a 50mm lens) but I can't guarantee it...

  18. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    If you want to take pictures of people in low light, a large aperture lens (at least f/2, as I find that f/2.8 is inadequate without significantly pushing the ISO or having a lot of supplemental light) is what you need, more so than a tripod/monopod/Image Stabilized lens. The point is to use the fastest shutter speed possible without compromising exposure, not to stabilize your camera in order to take long exposures, because people tend to move. You should consider getting an external flash as a more natural-looking fill light (than your built-in flash) for backlit situations, such as your second photo.


    This would have been a fine suggestion if the OP actually owned a Nikon camera. As much as people like recommending this lens, it's useful to observe little details, say, that the original post mentions using Canon gear, before doing so.
  19. NeGRit0 macrumors 6502a


    Apr 19, 2008
    Las Vegas, Nv
  20. sananda macrumors 68020

    May 24, 2007
  21. Chaszmyr macrumors 601


    Aug 9, 2002
    The unfortunate truth is that low light photography benefits hugely from expensive gear. A Canon 5D Mark II with a F/1.8 or better lens would be able to do pretty good low light shots, but that's a lot of coin.

    (A tripod with lower end gear can of course end up with very good shots, but then you can't really take photos of anything that moves)
  22. jplg842 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2007
    My nifty fifty did a much better job on some trial pictures tonight! at 1.8 - 2.0 aperture..

    One more question though, how can i get a the white balance right? i always tend to get too much red on whatever balance i choose..
    And does IS lower camera shake or moving subjects?? cause i dont really notice a difference when turning it off on my kit lens

    and again Thank you for all your help!!! :)
  23. splitpea macrumors 6502a

    Oct 21, 2009
    Among the starlings
    IS is for camera shake - won't do a thing for moving subjects. As for your white balance, first off try a tungsten white balance. However, Canon's tungsten white balance adjustment usually isn't strong enough so your best bet is either to shoot RAW and adjust in software afterwards, or to use a custom white balance.
  24. jampat macrumors 6502a

    Mar 17, 2008
    You may need a custom white balance. In Canada, most of our street lights are sodium which is a really yellow light.

    The easiest way to fix is to shoot raw and adjust in post to something that looks right. The harder upfront way is to shoot a shot of a grey or white card to make setting the custom WB easier. This would need to be done in each different lighting situation though.

    You may never get things perfect as in a single shot as you may have many different sources of light with different color temperatures in a single picture. No one white balance is correct for the entire picture.

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