Low Light Indoor Shooting - Seeking Tips and Suggestions

KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
edited January 2013 in General Discussions
Let me describe the scenario:

I have a D600 and a couple of lenses. My prime lens (a 50mm Nikon) stops down to 1.8, but at 1.8 my depth of field is often shorter than I'd like it to be. My other lens stops down to around f/4 or f/5, which gives me more depth of field, but also means less light in the camera. My D600 manages light well, meaning I can raise my ISO up to 800 or so in the daytime and up to about 2000 or so at night, and the noise is tolerable.

I prefer to shoot in natural light right now. A word about my house: It's a 1924 Craftsman Bungalow, meaning that while I windows on three sides of my living room allowing in lots of light, that light is diffused and shaded a bit by the roof design that extends out over the sides and front. Also, there are trees on one side of the house that also diffuses and darkens the light. This time of year, when the skies are overcast, shooting during the day is almost like shooting at dusk.

I can use a reflector on my subject (even a white piece of poster board), but I'm still finding I'm shooting - during the day - at an ISO of 800. This seems high to me. When I started shooting several years ago, someone on a forum told me, "Set your ISO to 100 or 200 and leave it there!" The idea was that gives you the clearest, cleanest exposures. I soon learned that advice was problematic at best, since at ISO levels so low I would only be shooting outside in the daylight or on a tripod. I'd like to get my ISO down, but not loose the beauty of the diffused natural light.

Does anyone have suggestions on how to accomplish this? Thanks.

Edit: I'm shooting handheld primarily, meaning I'm trying to keep my shutter speeds up around 80 to 100 or higher.
Post edited by KFW1982 on


  • shawninoshawnino Posts: 453Member
    What are you trying to shoot? Things inside your own house? Are they large or small? Is it at a particular time of day?
    Re: the 50: how do you like your DOF around, say, f/2.8 to f/4?

    Sorry no answers, only questions.
  • KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
    It's a wide range of objects from inanimate objects to people, small to large. In January, I do a lot of shooting inside the house.

    As to the 50: Yes, the light improves from f/2.8 to f/4, allowing me to pull my ISO down a bit, and making the lens good for portraits or single objects. Even at 2.8, though, there's a bit of blurring if the object is large enough.

    Time of day: Because of my work schedule, I have morning light until around 9ish and by the time I get home, it's quite dark. Even in the middle of the day, around noon, the rooms look light to my eyes, but not to my camera (again, diffused light). Exposure is to the east, which gives morning light, but between my wide-open front windows and the sun is a mountain range. :) So I get morning light about the time I'm going to work ...

    I hope that helps.
  • shawninoshawnino Posts: 453Member
    Hhhmmm. I don't see any way to get you what you need other than "more light". Whether that's turning on all the lights in the room, flash, or a lighting system, that's trial and error. Again, not much help. I do love spending other people's money, alas.

    Just so we understand, is your ISO 800-2000 stuff usable? Whatever old rules we learned about sticking our ISO at 200 may have their place, but IMO one of the two greatest innovations of digital photography (the other being processing) is that sensors are getting to the point where ISOs at 800, 1600, 3200 are no longer poison/fantasy. If you're getting what you need, usable images, at those ISOs, giddy-up. If not, there's no substitute for more light.
  • DJBee49DJBee49 Posts: 133Member
    I agree with shawnino about your ISO and there is no other magic solution anyway. You either have to use more light or a higher ISO. You will have far greater problems with sharpness trying to shoot at slow shutter speeds than with the (relatively) small amount of noise from high ISOs. Personally, I don't have a problem with noise, or grain as I still think of it. I think the atmosphere you get with low natural light and grainy shots is usually preferable to the soulless images that often result from flash. Even blurry images can often be cool too!

    Bang up the ISO I say!
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    @KFW1982 Using ISO of 800 on your D600 is perfectly fine. So by all means use it...given that your intentions is to use Natural Light as much as possible. However, you should consider a speed light and bound the flash...I think you will be happy with the results. I also use the Gary Fong Lightsphere.

    As or the DOF and fast aperture, the shallow DOF will come into play the given your distance to your subject. You can shoot wide open and if you are far enough you will not have such an issue with blurred backgrounds.
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • IronheartIronheart Posts: 3,017Moderator
    You can also use post processing to mitigate noise. There are some dedicated programs/plug-ins that can do wonders. For example noise ninja.
  • kyoshinikonkyoshinikon Posts: 411Member
    I am confused? on my D7000 (dx sensor camera) I get no noise at ISO 800. Yes it is true that one generation back noise at ISO 800 bothered some you shouldn't sweat it. If I go above that I use the luminace function on my raw editor.. Fixes it every time. Additionally you are using a f/4? Get a f/2.8 It is miles better in low light...
    “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” - Bresson
  • KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
    Wow, thanks for the answers.

    Yes, the ISO rule (stick it to 100 or 200 and keep it there) is one of the first I learned a few years ago. And it's just stuck in my head, reinforced in part by the D700 I had before I bought the D600 and the D5100 I still have. Every time I raise it higher, I cringe.

    At an ISO 800 I can see noise on my D600 if I pixel-peep or if there is a dark, solid color in the image; I can see it rather clearly on the D5100, but that was a generation back. And yes, the exposures are usable, although at 3200 the noise is quite clear and in post sharpening (I shoot in RAW) the noise really becomes apparent. I'm currently using PS CS5, which has a noise reduction tool in the raw processor, but it does soften the image to remove some detail. I've become adept at mask sharpening, so I can sharpen eyes and hair, and soften the noise, which produces a fairly decent image. I was just hoping for a better way ...

    Admittedly, I have only had the D600 for a few weeks.

  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,403Member
    It seems to me your basic problem is your studio:i.e. your craftsman home. You simply don't have enough light for what you want to do.

    For inanimate objects you can try slow shutter speeds, even down to a few seconds, with the camera on a tripod. For portraits you can try shutter speeds down to 1/15th of a second or so with camera on a tripod and sometimes you will have subject movement but other times you won't. With a D600 you should be able to shoot as ISO 2500 anytime of day without suffering much degradation of image quality. You can move your subject to near the window to increase the light on the subject. You can buy background stands and hang a white sheet near your subject to reflect as much window light as possible onto the subject. You can buy collapsible reflectors to bounce window light to your subject. That is about it.

    Next up comes adding more light. You can modify the house by adding a skylight to the room. You can use Nikon's CLS. You can use studio strobes. You can use some 5000K constant lighting (hot or cool) on the side of your subject opposite the windows to make the windows the fill light.
  • DXV_PhotoDXV_Photo Posts: 158Member
    Like everybody else said you need more light to do what you want. I personally recommend a flash and if your disdain comes from using your on camera flash then it is completely understandable. I felt the same way about using flash until I got my SB700 for christmas. Once you can get the flash off the camera it is amazing the kinds of things you can do. I have come to really like using a flash and enjoy the varies ways you can manipulate the light. I have even gotten a stand and umbrella which you can get cheap that creates some great soft light. Now I want to get a second flash and umbrella to add more control. So many wants and not enough money. :-)

    Here is some links to some playing around pics I took using flash. I am sure others on here have a lot better examples of shots you can do with a flash.


  • safyresafyre Posts: 113Member
    edited January 2013

    1. Use a tripod if you want less noise.

    2. Accept the noise and use a higher iso and fix it in post process

    3. Wait until the days get longer

    4. Use flash or continuous lighting to re-create a window light

    One thing regarding ISO, it really depends on what time of look you're going for in your images. If you want a more commercial feel, then I would advise to stay as close to the native ISO and using flashes as opposed to cranking up your ISO too much. This is because not only does raising your ISO increase noise, it also reduces color depth and dynamic range at each step. Hence, your photos will end up looking 'dirty' if you were to present to them to prospective clients. If you are going for a more artistic look, then by all means, go ahead and increase your ISO. A lot of times, I intentionally use high ISO in order to recreate grain similar to that of film. I've also used high ISOs for family portraits that wanted a more edgy type of look and have had very large canvases made that used an ISO of 3200, and you cannot even tell that there was grain/noise to begin with. Once you realize the kind of look you want, utilize these tools to help achieve your result.
    Post edited by safyre on
  • TaoTeJaredTaoTeJared Posts: 1,306Member
    I think you have received pretty much all the advice on tripods etc.

    You seem to be way to overly concerned about noise, especially if you are trying to shoot in the manner that you described. The whole idea at leaving the iso at 100 or 200 was really poor advice - you have tools for a reason, use them when you need them. If you are not trying to sell the images for stock where they require the "perfection" I would suggest setting your camera at auto iso, to 3200 focus on your subject and composition rather than worrying about noise - and stop pixel peeping crying out loud. Pixel peeping is just about as worse as never cleaning the front of your lens in my book.

    Every image has "noise" and if that is what is making your images fail, then you need to work on composition, lighting, etc. Use flash lights, lamps and other small lighting items to light what you are shooting. You don't need a house full of flashes. I have used halogen work lights and task lights for shooting around the house because they just happen to be there left from something I was working on earlier. Use your on camera flash but use note cards to bounce it different directions. Switch to spot metering, set the iso to 400, go manual with 1/80th and an aperture of f/2 and find things around your house that have curves to them and focus on that line to see how the light falls on it.
    D800, D300, D50(ir converted), FujiX100, Canon G11, Olympus TG2. Nikon lenses - 24mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, (5 in all)50mm, 60mm, 85mm 1.8, 105vr, 105 f2.5, 180mm 2.8, 70-200vr1, 24-120vr f4. Tokina 12-24mm, 16-28mm, 28-70mm (angenieux design), 300mm f2.8. Sigma 15mm fisheye. Voigtlander R2 (olive) & R2a, Voigt 35mm 2.5, Zeiss 50mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4. I know I missed something...
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    edited January 2013
    @ TaoTeJared

    I could not have said it better, especially the poor advice about the ISO.

    @ KFW1982
    Pixel peep this one and see if it has too much noise:


    Small: Birds Sat Test

    Shot at ISO 5000

    or at ISO 5600

    Oh, I would suggest taking a photography course at a local technical school. These can help to eliminate false ideas about photography and help you to grasp some techniques for shooting available light. This is what I shoot almost exclusively.
    Post edited by Msmoto on
    Msmoto, mod
  • KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
    edited January 2013
    @ Tao and MsMoto: I acknowledge your good advice. I can take a photography class for next to nothing through the university where I work, but haven't done it yet since I've been working through the photography classes on lynda.com. I found those to be very good, but there's no harm in supplementing that information. Thanks.

    And no, MsMoto, I'm not seeing a lot of noise in your images. On the other hand, I do see noise in mine - but I'm not shooting with a D4, either. :)

    Last night I did another ISO comparison to my D600 and D5100. The D5100 produces noticeable noise at 1600 and at 3200 it's quite noticeable. I can honestly say the D600 never reached noise levels of the D5100 (for obvious reasons), so maybe I could push it to maybe 5000 as MsMoto suggests.

    I also experimented a bit with noise reduction software. It certainly does improve it; although the "Smart Sharpen" function on photoshop brings some of it out again.

    If I have some time tomorrow, I'm going to follow Tao's advice and shoot with spot metering on, 400 ISO 1/80th, f/2 with a 50mm prime. Maybe I make it a month of 50mm prime.

    But I'm also considering the speedlight option, too. Just more money that I don't necessarily have ...

    Thanks to everyone for the helpful comments.
    Post edited by KFW1982 on
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,452Moderator
    +1 for flash. If you shoot TTL with centre-weighted or matrix metering you will get daylight balanced TTL flash which may be just what you need.
    Always learning.
  • TaoTeJaredTaoTeJared Posts: 1,306Member
    edited January 2013
    I tend to keep just one lens on each month around the house and keep seeing what I can do with it, or better what I can get away with. There really is no better way to learn then to use just one lens and learn what it can do at one setting, then move to the next.

    I still think you are overly focused on noise. I have seen many 1600 D600 files and few show enough noise to be concerned about. I would say it is like my D800 and above 2800 you have to be mindful of noise until about 6400 and very concerned anything above that.

    Guess which one is at iso 1600 and iso 5000 (D800 - 105vr - no post edit at all - shot in JPEG - who says JPEGs are bad? phef.)


    The settings are on the Flickr page.
    Post edited by TaoTeJared on
    D800, D300, D50(ir converted), FujiX100, Canon G11, Olympus TG2. Nikon lenses - 24mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, (5 in all)50mm, 60mm, 85mm 1.8, 105vr, 105 f2.5, 180mm 2.8, 70-200vr1, 24-120vr f4. Tokina 12-24mm, 16-28mm, 28-70mm (angenieux design), 300mm f2.8. Sigma 15mm fisheye. Voigtlander R2 (olive) & R2a, Voigt 35mm 2.5, Zeiss 50mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4. I know I missed something...
  • TaoTeJaredTaoTeJared Posts: 1,306Member
    edited January 2013
    My set-up if you were interested.
    Post edited by TaoTeJared on
    D800, D300, D50(ir converted), FujiX100, Canon G11, Olympus TG2. Nikon lenses - 24mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, (5 in all)50mm, 60mm, 85mm 1.8, 105vr, 105 f2.5, 180mm 2.8, 70-200vr1, 24-120vr f4. Tokina 12-24mm, 16-28mm, 28-70mm (angenieux design), 300mm f2.8. Sigma 15mm fisheye. Voigtlander R2 (olive) & R2a, Voigt 35mm 2.5, Zeiss 50mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4. I know I missed something...
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    The issue of noise seems to be more with folks who have not used a lot of film. Twenty years ago we had neither the high ISO nor anything but a ton of grain to deal with. Today even with inexpensive cameras we have no "grain" plus incredible ISO. Maybe a look back is worthwhile to see what some of the classics have shot with in terms of noise and ISO. Start with an ISO of 25 or 50. Think large format. Our history will make us grateful for today's technology and help us to be better photographers.
    Msmoto, mod
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,452Moderator
    It's like I believe all car drivers should have to do a year or two on motorcycles so they appreciate what bikers have to contend with, all photographers should start with fully manual film cameras so they have no option but to learn the basics.
    Always learning.
  • GlueFactoryBJJGlueFactoryBJJ Posts: 6Member
    edited January 2013
    I might be posting out of school, so to speak, but part of the problem appears to be the OP's desire to shoot at 1/100 or faster to avoid shake blur. I had that problem a lot with my D70 with 18-70, 70-300 kit lenses. I finally bit the bullet and bought an 18-200 VR (not VR II) and was blown away.

    I frequently had to shoot as slow as 1/30 due to the D70's relatively poor ISO performance above 400 (noise wasn't very good at 800 and got downright bad at 1600) with the kit lenses and there would be just enough camera shake from something as little as breathing that would cause the pics to be slightly blurred and effectively ruined for my purposes... especially chasing around two young daughters.

    When I got my 18-200 VR, everything changed. I was still taking pics at 1/30 (and sometimes as slow as 1/15), but they would almost always come out tack sharp unless I was doing something stupid (like running after my daughters while trying to take a pic) or they were moving and I wasn't tracking them properly. It definitely saved many, MANY good pics that would have been useless with the kit lenses!

    I have a 35mm f1.8G DX lens that works well for non-action photography, but I get consistently better pics out of my 18-200 VR lens, even though its best is f/3.5 at 18mm and f/4+ where I usually shoot.

    Anyway, a good VR lens could help a lot. I just wish that Nikon and/or others would make the 35mm/50mm primes with VR! That would be sweet!

    My $.02 and probably worth as much as you're paying for it... :)

    Post edited by GlueFactoryBJJ on
  • SkintBritSkintBrit Posts: 79Member
    Ever since attending an NPS training day, and seeing a wonderful skyline shot of London taken from a helicopter, I haven't worried about ramping up the ISO when necessary. The picture was taken on a D3s at ISO 102,400, and blown up to fill one wall of the meeting room. It looked superb! The instructor from Nikon UK said he meets people all the time who are afraid of shooting in four digit ISO's, let alone five or six. He said this was madness, as that ability is what you are parting with a whole wad of cash for. I usually have my cameras set to auto ISO, and set the maximum at the cameras native highest (this obviously changes between cameras), and have never felt noise was a problem. I think you need to let go a bit KFW1982.
    D3s's D700 F100 / Trinity 2.8 Zooms & 1.4 Primes / 105 micro. SB900s with Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 / Mini TT1s. Camranger remote control system.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    The only real issue with high ISO is the loss of shadow details. As we move up the sensor simply does not have anything left. This is noticeable if one screws up and under exposes for some reason.

    Each body has its limits, but using the high ISO is part of the tools we have and to get caught into thinking the noise issue is a primary part of the end result may not be that important. In 90% or more of the photos taken, other factors are much more important. Proper exposure is critical in keeping noise low. So, if one does not understand the times a camera will be fooled, e.g., shooting a model on white background, then learning how to measure exposure is the first thing to understand.

    As to the OP's question...the tip is to set the exposure to auto, for each subject shoot exposure as indicated, then two f/stops over and 2 f/stops under exposed. Shoot some dark subjects, backlighted subjects, light subjects on a dark background, and subjects with a light source into the camera face. Look at these in the computer and determine what the correct exposure might have been.
    This is how we all did it to learn.
    Msmoto, mod
  • KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
    Okay, thanks for the many helpful and informative responses. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm learning a lot.

    At Tao: You pictures look great and your setup has me intrigued. I really like how you're using common household lights. You might be interested in knowing I took your note card idea seriously - but I have to give my wife credit for coming up with the best attachment system: a wide, heavy rubber band, a binder clip, and a note card. The rubber band wraps flat around the body of my lens and flat across the back of the binder clip. A large note card is inserted into the clip, which points up. The arms of the clip lie flat against the note card holding it in place quite well. Sure, there's some movement, but with the right rubber band it holds tight and frees up your hands for the camera. And note cards come in a variety of colors, which can be used to obtain some creative effects.

    At Spraynpray: Thanks for the tips, and I do have a film camera (an FE2) - which I need to start using. I know I'll learn a lot from using that.

    Everyone else (sorry on my lunch break): Yes, I probably need to let go of the ISO issue a bit. And I am concerned about handheld shooting and getting a high enough shutter speed to avoid lens blur. But this thread has given me a lot to work with. MsMoto is right: I use bracketing for artistic control; I really hadn't thought about using it as a learning tool.

    Currently, I cannot afford VR lenses for my full-frame. It's just not within my price point. For my full-frame D600, I have a 50mm 1.8 D, a 28mm 2.8 AI-s, a 28-80mm 3.3-5.6 G, and, as of last night, a 70-210 f/4-5.6 AF-D. Each of these is an affordable lens that produces great, sharp images. But the trade-off is shutter speed.

    Thanks again for the help.
  • GlueFactoryBJJGlueFactoryBJJ Posts: 6Member
    Ooops! Sorry about missing that you have a D600 (rereading your OP, I REALLY should have noticed that). Nikkor VR lenses for FX cameras are much more expensive that those for my DX D70. I'm a bit spoiled that way. :(

  • KFW1982KFW1982 Posts: 17Member
    I know - I have three DX lenses for my D5100 - and the VR feature is great. :)
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