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 Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Taking Nice Party Photos


So I’m a big fan of taking available light photos. This is particularly good fun at Wedding parties and Christmas parties.

I took a bunch of photos at the Intergen Office Christmas party last Friday night and I’ve had a bunch of people ask “what camera etc… were you using”. SO I thought I’d take a few minutes and write up a post with some notes on taking available light party photos.

So the trick to taking nice party photos is not using a flash. To do this you need a couple of things;

  1. A camera that has a decent High ISO noise level.
    ISO is an interesting term in that it goes back to the film days. The ISO (International Standards Organization) measure basically set a standard for the sensitivity of film to light. A high ISO film required less light to create an image, but, a high ISO film also typically produced photos with much more noticeable film grain. In the digital age we still use the term ISO but this time it’s basically referring to the amount of light required by the sensor in order to create an image; while the ISO of a roll of film was fixed we can change the camera ISO (sensitivity) at will because it’s basically just turning up the Gain (a camera sensor is effectively an analog-digital interface). If you’ve ever played with other things that have a Gain knob you’ll know if you put a small signal in and try and use the gain knob to boost it things can get a bit ugly- so it is with camera ISO if you turn the gain up too much things get noisy.
    So to get the nice party photos with available light (no flash and as such relying on not much light) you need a camera that lets you turn the gain up with out getting too noisy. The original ‘super amazing’ low light Camera was probably the Canon EOS 5D Mk II which is now about 3 years old. Indeed it is this camera that I used for most of the shots. It’s an expensive ($5k) body, but, over the past few years that super high ISO technology has filtered down such that you can get pretty decent looking shots from most $1000 bodies at ISO of 1600-6400 (to give you an idea of how revolutionary this is it would be very rare for anyone other than a professional to shoot film higher than ISO400 back in the day. Thus the modern digital cameras are several times more sensitive for the same level of noise than film was ever able to achieve)
    I’m a Canon person so that’s where my recommendations will sit and I think there’s not a lot wrong with the Canon 600D body in the $1000 price point. Take a look at these high ISO shots from DPReview. There will be similarly good options from Nikon in the price point which people can point out in the comments. The benefit of getting the $1000 body is you have more moolah to spend on lenses…
  2. The second thing you’ll need is a lens with a large maximum aperture.
    You can tell the maximum aperture of your lens by reading it off the lens. It will be expressed as a ratio on the front ring e.g. 1:1.8 but it’s typically shortened in conversation and marketing to just the denominator. For the tech boffins the F-Stop (Aperture) is basically expressed as a ratio of the focal length of the lens. The lower the F stop number the larger the aperture- a bit counter-intuitive I know.
    For a zoom lens about the largest F stop you’ll get is F2.8 and even then you’ll be paying big bikkies and they weight a ton. There are a few shots in the party photos that are taken using an 70-200mm F2.8 lens.
    What you really want is a ‘prime’ lens. This is a lens with no zoom. Most of the shots taken in the party set above were taken with a Sigma 50mm F1.4 lens (this is a mid-range prime lens in terms of cost) but, for the most part I have it ‘stopped down’ to F1.8. This is for two reasons 1) wide open a mid-range lens like this can lose a bit of sharpness particularly around the edges and 2) A side effect of a large aperture is a very shallow depth-of-field; in the case of F1.4 on a 5D MkII with the subject at 2m only 11cm of depth will be in sharp focus. You’ll see this shallow depth of field in most of the low light photos as either a nice blurry background or as an annoying fact that of two people in the photo only one is in focus.
    So. Which lens to get. This is a place where Canon has a real advantage. If you are not ken to spend much money there is a Canon lens, the 50mm F1.8 MkII (plastic fantastic) that for under $200 will let you take nice party photos too. To me this is almost as good a reason as any to prefer Canon over Nikon at the cheap pricepoint cameras.
    If you have a bit more money to spend both the Canon and Sigma 35mm/50mm/85mm primes are great for under $1000.
    And finally if you have plenty of money go buy a Canon 85m F1.2 for shots like this one I took on a borrowed lens.

So this post became a bit of a ramble. To answer the more direct question of what I used for the party photos.

Canon 7D Body (early evening) with a Canon 24-105 F4 zoom
Canon 5D (low light) with a mixture of Sigma 50mm 1.4, Carl Zeiss 85mm 1.4 and Canon 70-200mm 2.8

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Intergen | Photography | Rambles|Tuesday, December 13, 2011 7:40:21 PM UTC|Comments [0]|