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How to Shoot in a Dim Light Setting

Sorry it’s been a while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy with other projects. But I’m back now and excited to get going again on this adventure. As always let me know how I can further and better serve you! Now on to the main post.

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How to shoot in a dim light setting? Most likely when you’re shooting at your church setting the lights are dim in the auditorium or sanctuary. This obviously is for atmospheric and mood lighting. Usually the only lights on are on the stage. As the photographer in your church how do you accommodate for this hard to shoot in lighting setting? There are a couple of variables that will determine that.

  • Are you shooting for your churches print material such as a magazine or for advertisement cards?
  • Are you shooting for the web advertisement?

If you are shooting for print then it’s necessary to shoot at an ISO under 3200 and preferably at or under 1600. Why is that? The reasoning here is because images that are shot at or above 1600 can be grainy or noisy when printed. What is grain or noise?

Noise acording to Adorama.com:

In digital photographs, “noise” is the commonly-used term to describe visual distortion. It looks similar to grain found in film photographs, but can also look like splotches of discoloration when it’s really bad, and can ruin a photograph. Noise tends get worse when you’re shooting in low light.

From a technical point of view, noise is the visual manifestation of a lower signal-to-noise ratio, which is measured in decibels. While the amount of noise that you may consider acceptable may be different from what the next guy might accept, but most professional photographers want to see photos with at least a 30dB signal-to-noise ratio.

Images look like they are made of grain or sand is the short answer. Everyone has seen it at some point and its a photographers worst nightmare. Once you have grain there is no saving it in post production. Many things can be rescued in post, but grain is not one of them. Now that being said, if the image being printed is going to be super small, like a few inches on a page then you can probably get away with a 1600-3200 ISO setting. For example something smaller than a 4×6 image should be safe. A 2×2 head shot will probably be just fine. Why is this? The pixels are compressed, creating a sharper image.

If you are shooting for a web advertisement then you can most definitely get away with shooting 1600-3200 ISO. Web uses less pixels than print. That’s why it’s safer to shoot 3200 for web. Print materials will use a higher resolution image, whereas a web image is not as high a resolution. The image is already being scaled down and reduced, making it grainier anyways.

Moving onward there are some other rules to consider. The shutter speed is important to consider. The faster the shutter speed the less blurry the image. This is a great rule and knowledge for sports but sports are generally outdoors.  For shooting the band or pastor you won’t need to have too high a shutter speed. Most activity on stage will be minimal. A more aggressive band will have higher speed activity and energy so you may want to consider moving your shutter speed up. But again be careful the higher the shutter speed the darker the image. Not a good thing in a dimly lit setting. A general rule could be this: set your shutter speed at the same ratio as your focal length. For example if your lens is set at 50mm then set your shutter speed at 1/50 a sec. However there are variables to that rule. If you have a lens set at 10mm, I’m sure you won’t want to have a shutter speed at 1/10 a second. That is really slow and your going to get a shaky blurry image since most likely your shooting hand held at church. Also remember that your going to have to shoot your aperture at the lowest setting since it’s dim lighting. For example a setting of f3.5 is much wider and thusly your image is going to be brighter than a setting of f8.0. For shooting in dim light settings you’ll need to set it on the lowest possible setting. If you have a lens that will shoot at f2.8 or lower that will be the best! But remember the lower the aperture setting the shallower the depth of field. Meaning that you may only have two members of the band in focus. The back three members of the band will surly be out of focus. Maybe that’s ok and you can deal with that. I’m just saying that it’s a good possibility.

Photography is give and take: More ISO and the more grain. The more aperture the darker the image or vise versa you’ll have a shallower image with less in focus. You need to decide what’s important and what’s necessary. But my hope is that this article will give you some guidance and thinking points when when shooting in low light settings. Let me know if this is helpful to you. Thanks!