experiments in night photography

A few months ago, we purchased a Canon T2i DSLR and we love it.  It's too bulky to always bring along but when we do we usually get great results with it.  Sometimes I have problems with focus and shots I've taken at concerts have not been great.

With hardware like this, one needs to learn how to use it to get best results.  I've read some bits here and there but I'm still in the beginner range and need to improve my skills.  Before I headed out to a show on Thursday, I read up on a few topics so I could practice.  If you want to know how the concert read, read this post instead.

One more thing, I am using the 28-105 f/3-5-4.5 USM II lens.  It's the walkabout lens I use almost exclusively.  FYI, the only other lens I own is the 50mm f/1.8 II.

I started the night using the program auto exposure mode (P).  It is supposed to figure out the best exposure settings for the subject in focus.  Seems like a good place to start, right?  Well... I guess the manual would have done well to add "except in dark rooms."  The results were usable but way overexposed.  I corrected as best I could in post.

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/15, ISO 6400

I fiddled around with P for quite a while until I realized that 1/15 was my problem.  So I switched to shutter speed priority mode (Tv).  I tried several speeds and after getting the images on my computer I have some conclusions.

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/100, ISO 6400

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/80, ISO 6400

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/60, ISO 6400

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/50, ISO 6400

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/40, ISO 6400

68mm, f/4.0, exp 1/30, ISO 6400

I noticed that as the exposure time went up, the adjusting in post changed a bit.  Here's a table of what I did in Lightroom.  I don't know what the numbers mean so just enjoy the relative difference.  And tell me in the comments how much you enjoyed them. ;)

1/100 0.41 16 -17 24
1/80 0.14 2 -17 24
1/60 0.14 -12 -22 24
1/50 0.05 -12 -24 24
1/40 0.05 -26 -22 24
1/30 -0.14 -22 -45 0

You can see that I cut the exposure and brightness as the shutter was open longer.  The more-and-more extreme saturation numbers might be partly because of the colored spotlights. (In some of my photos, Lindsay looks green!)  The luminance setting helps reduce digital noise - which I didn't have much of considering I was at ISO 6400.  (Did I mention the T2i is fantastic?)

I'd say my favorite was at 1/50 exposure.  At 1/80 and 1/100 the lines of her face are unrealistically harsh.  1/60 is better but I don't see it at all anymore at 1/50.  At 1/40 and 1/30 I had a hard time getting natural colors.  I don't know why that is.  Whatever the reason, as the exposure gets longer like that it becomes easier and easier to get motion blur too.

I hope you guys can see what I'm talking about on these web-sized photos.  On my mongo monitor the full-sized photos are much easier to judge.  Do I conclude that in the future I can go straight to 1/50 for perfection?  Alas, no.  In the Lestat's room with their lighting and with my lens dialed to 68mm, yes.  But there is an art to this that I'm going to have to keep on working on.

One other thing.  Check this one out:

50mm, f/4.0, exp 1/25, ISO 6400

At first I thought I had bad focus but then I realized the f/4 was my problem.  I was playing with the speed and let the aperture be set automatically.  I'm not fast enough yet to control so many things and it bit me on this photo.  The camera focused on Lou's backside.  Since Jane is a bit further away, her face is out of focus.