High ISO: My Saviour! – Calgary Commercial Photographer

This post is for the photographers out there who visit my site from time to time.

Recently Meaghan asked me to do a very quick photo session to capture some images of the Absolute Dance team.  Apparently, trying to schedule 14 choreographers/dancers/instructors for a 1 hour shoot is like herding cats, and so the only time slot that worked was in the evening.  And…Meaghan wanted an outdoor image.  A month ago I thought to myself, “This shouldn’t be a problem if we can shoot during the golden hour (sorry that’s photog speak for just before sunset).  There should be plenty of light.”  Fast forward to the day of the shoot.  Rain.  Calgary has been getting a lot of rain this summer.  It stopped raining in the evening, but in its place were heavily overcast skies.  And once everyone was assembled, the sun had already set.  And I only had an hour to shoot these folks.  Yikes.  Made me wish I brought a couple of my studio strobes with me but there would be no time to set up and shoot.

5D Mark II to the rescue!  The first image was shot when it started to become very dark.  Ideally I would have shot at f8 or smaller to maximize depth of field but this would have necessitated using a slow shutter speed.  Given that these images were only going to be used for the web I decided to shoot wide open and take in as much ambient light possible.  I cranked up the ISO to 3200 which allowed me to shoot at 1/160, and I shot with the camera body mounted on my bombproof Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod to minimize camera shake.

The high ISO performance meant that I could capture a “usable” (that term is relative, especially if you plan to print images and the size of print) even without the use of flash.  The high ISO does introduce some noise to the image which I need to address in post, so for future low-light images I will use a stacking technique (take multiple exposures and overlay them using a PS script) to reduce noise and greatly improve image quality.  That said, this picture is a tad underexposed for my liking and definitely could have benefited from the use of some strobes.

Again, I would have preferred to have taken the image earlier on in the day but as a photog you need to work around your client’s schedule and make do.

©2010 Joel Yana Photography

Here’s a second version of the image, edited to address the exposure.  I created a second layer in Photoshop and increased exposure by 1.5 stops.  This improved the appearance of the foreground, but blew out the sky.  I removed the exposure adjustment to the sky and performed some dodging and burning and some touchups with the patch tool.  This approach works for a web-sized image, but I would much rather work with more light if the image was intended for printing at a much larger size.

©2010 Joel Yana Photography

We raced back to Meaghan and Erika’s studio to capture a few images in their infamous “orange room” – a tricky room from a white balance perspective with an abundance of overhead tungsten lights and a big orange wall (the entire room used to have orange walls but every wall except the amazing mural wall has been repainted a cream colour – more on the mural later).  This second image was shot with a 580EXII, bounced.

©2010 Joel Yana Photography

Meaghan and Erika’s staff were great to work with, especially given the limited amount of time and multiple locations.  The graffiti mural in the background is the work of talented Calgary artist David Brunning, aka The Kid Belo.  His art is posted prominently in many locations in Calgary.

Absolute Dance has overhauled their online presence (see site here and Facebook page here), has just kicked off their 2010/2010 dance year and are still taking registrations.  So if you have any aspiring dancers looking for a top notch facility, come down to Absolute Dance and register!

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