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12-31-2016, 06:55 AM - 2 Likes   #1
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Realistic low light shots?...

Since getting into digital I have often wondered about this...


...Realistic low light shots. By "realistic" I mean where the final file preserves the low luminosity as actually seen by the naked eye. See pic.

Two ways to do this:

1. Push the Ev to the left until the scene looks more or less like the naked eye sees it and don't mess with brightness in PP
or
2 Push the Ev to the right for a proper ETTR exposure and then bring overall brightness (luminosity) down to realistic levels in PP.

This pic was taken taken at f/1.4 using the first method. Just a crude snapshot with no PP whatsoever.


Last edited by wildman; 01-03-2017 at 03:00 PM.
12-31-2016, 07:12 AM   #2
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Very low light = large aperture and MF for me.

With a good/decent fast lens, I can get much better shots than yours. One of my favourite lens for very-low light is the Voigtlander Nokton 58,, f1.4. Built like a tank, outstanding IQ (IMHO) and great results.

My 5 cents....
12-31-2016, 07:19 AM   #3
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I've thought about this more than once as well. Even though our eyes have pupils that adjust to light, we don't autoexpose to the full extent a camera does.

What is tricky about it is, a photo never gives viewers the complete experience of being in the scene, and so it can be hard for them to distinguish between one that accurately reproduces a low light condition, and one that is simply underexposed. Maybe there has to be something else included in the frame that provides the clue: a time of day indication of some kind, a burning candle in the background, etc.?
12-31-2016, 07:27 AM - 2 Likes   #4
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Interesting!

To further replicate what the human eye sees in low light, you might also need to blend the color image with a B&W copy that is made from the right mix of mostly green, some blue, and the tiny amount of red to simulate the effect of the rod cells of the eye.

12-31-2016, 07:28 AM - 1 Like   #5
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I don't know for sure, but... I'd have thought accurate exposure is equally important regardless of lighting conditions in order to ensure as many shadow and highlight details are captured as possible. If the scene contains few highlights, ETTR could be appropriate to capture more in the way of shadow detail (though the trade-off may be a higher ISO, and more noise). Otherwise, exposing as normal would be the way to go, in my view. Yes, both will result in artificially-bright images in the described circumstances, but bringing down the exposure in post processing resolves that.
12-31-2016, 08:48 AM - 1 Like   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by hcc Quote
Very low light = large aperture and MF for me.

With a good/decent fast lens, I can get much better shots than yours. One of my favourite lens for very-low light is the Voigtlander Nokton 58,, f1.4. Built like a tank, outstanding IQ (IMHO) and great results.

My 5 cents....
That's not what the OP said, his point was more let's say philosophical than photographical...
12-31-2016, 09:23 AM - 1 Like   #7
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I agree with wildman's point, while I am no photographer, I prefer "realistic" over "processed".
If the image was dark to the eye, why change it by all this concentration on "capturing the detail" etc etc?
And with film, we didn't/don't have much choice to do otherwise in low light:
With Ektar 100 and the RB67:
https://app.box.com/s/5vmayhhpcftvpr8dxsoqp7be764qh3e2

With ( i recall) iso 400, the _A 50/1.4 on the Pentax MX was nearly wide open.
https://app.box.com/s/545tdmv44mq0n3wa2lav
12-31-2016, 09:25 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sluggo Quote
I've thought about this more than once as well. Even though our eyes have pupils that adjust to light, we don't autoexpose to the full extent a camera does.

What is tricky about it is, a photo never gives viewers the complete experience of being in the scene, and so it can be hard for them to distinguish between one that accurately reproduces a low light condition, and one that is simply underexposed. Maybe there has to be something else included in the frame that provides the clue: a time of day indication of some kind, a burning candle in the background, etc.?
I agree with this. Trying to replicate exactly a low light scene will likely just look like a poorly exposed photo. When I try to give off that low light feel I typically make the image brighter to look nice but increase the contrast to bring some of that low light vibe back to the image. That of course makes it look very different but then when people view it they don't think "wow learn how auto exposure works."

12-31-2016, 09:27 AM - 1 Like   #9
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This to me is a matter of photographic technique. Let me analyse how I see things. Look at the above banana shot. The light is low, yes. But the light is also flat. It's evenly flat/dim across the whole frame. This is not ideal. The ideal way is to find pockets of better light that isn't too over powering that illuminate your subject. It can be light from a window, from a lamp post, from a neon sign, from anything. The brightness of such light is all about relativity. Really strong harsh light blazing away into an otherwise dark room can be useful but you need to know what it's good for. Most of the time I don't look for strong contrasts like that. I look for subtle yet noticeable contrasts to lighten and compose with. Expose for the highlights and then if needed do adjustments of the shadows in PP.

Again its about relativity of light and available light. When you start looking for it you will see that it's everywhere and eventually you will know how your camera will react and can then say 'eh, that's too bright against something too dark' or whatever. Or knowing that the brights will blow out.

Instead of trying to shoot in plain old low light, try painting with variations in the light.
12-31-2016, 09:46 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by wombat2go Quote
If the image was dark to the eye, why change it by all this concentration on "capturing the detail" etc etc?
Why? Only because doing so gives you greater flexibility in post-processing. If you expose to capture as much shadow and/or highlight detail as possible (depending on which elements of the scene you're most interested in), you have the ability to bring those details out by recovering shadow and highlight levels accordingly. Sometimes, that's necessary for the captured image to match what we saw, as the camera's sensor does not react to light the same way as our eyes and brain do.

Better still, if the situation allows it, would be to take three or more bracketed exposure shots and merge into an HDR image.

If maximising flexibility in post-processing, balancing optimum shadow & highlight detail and minimising noise in recovered shadows aren't beneficial to a particular shot, there's no reason to consider such approaches. 95% of the time, I just expose normally for the mid-tones in a scene, but there are occasions where exposing for either the shadows or highlights (or bracketing exposures) can make all the difference...
12-31-2016, 10:23 AM   #11
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Thanks for all the thoughtful response. Having said that I think all you folks deserve some better, more controlled shots and PP to chew on later this afternoon so we can get deeper into the weeds.

Tentatively I think it's interesting how some seem to see the issue as essentially technical and some as more a matter of aesthetics - interesting. This dichotomy has been a part of photography from it's beginning more than 170 years ago - technique and/or the limits of human perception?

Anyway hope to get back with more examples late this afternoon.

Wildman.

Last edited by wildman; 12-31-2016 at 10:28 AM.
12-31-2016, 10:42 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildman Quote
I think it's interesting how some seem to see the issue as essentially technical and some as more a matter of aesthetics - interesting.
Try as I might, I can't suppress my inclination to look at the technical aspects, even though I know that the aesthetics matter most... I guess that's the old software developer in me
12-31-2016, 11:41 AM - 1 Like   #13
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Sometimes the goals of the photographer demand that the exposure conditions or PP should darken the scene, obscure the details, flatten the lighting, and drop the dynamic range.

Imagine a photo entitled "Night Snack" of a stark, dark, and minimalist monochrome kitchen with nothing edible visible except these dimly lit, hard to see bananas. In the relatively dim lighting of a museum or gallery, the mood would be unmistakable. Of course, such a photo would just look underexposed and undersaturated if brought out into daylight.

That said, I'd probably follow BigMackCam's advice to expose to get the best DR across the scene to preserve the options for PP manipulations while minimizing the chances of noise or banding. Of course if one takes pride in creating images that are perfect SOOC -- the Kodachrome ethic -- then intentional under exposure and desaturation might be the settings to use.
12-31-2016, 12:09 PM   #14
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If you're going for that movie/realistic look, remember that the cinematography in a film is a major undertaking and the light is specifically created to look good on film/digital/whatever they shoot on. They don't just turn down the lights and shoot it. Your eye sees things differently from a camera because your brain handles the reconstruction--it makes things look like you think they should be. A camera is more objective and sees things for how they are; our eyes don't do that because they require a biased source to interpret them.

The other thing is that our eyes and brain ignore things not in focus much better than a camera does. The camera can't ignore anything. This means your pupils dilate or constrict depending on what you're looking at; if the background will be too bright because of that, it doesn't matter. The camera can't do that and if you're shooting in shadows, for instance, with a backlight subject, you need flash. But your eyes don't--they can see a perfectly lit subject in the foreground and a background that's not blown out. That's your brain doing the editing work in real time.

The key is in editing. Expose it properly and bright and then go into the digital darkroom to make it look how you want. You can always darken things. That's easy. But fixing lack of light never comes out right.
01-01-2017, 03:20 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sluggo Quote
it can be hard for them to distinguish between one that accurately reproduces a low light condition, and one that is simply underexposed.
QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
order to ensure as many shadow and highlight details are captured as possible.
QuoteOriginally posted by wombat2go Quote
If the image was dark to the eye, why change it by all this concentration on "capturing the detail" etc etc?
QuoteOriginally posted by Greenneck Quote
I agree with this. Trying to replicate exactly a low light scene will likely just look like a poorly exposed photo. When I try to give off that low light feel I typically make the image brighter to look nice but increase the contrast to bring some of that low light vibe back to the image. That of course makes it look very different but then when people view it they don't think "wow learn how auto exposure works."
QuoteOriginally posted by alamo5000 Quote
The light is low, yes. But the light is also flat. It's evenly flat/dim across the whole frame. This is not ideal.
first of all let me apologize for being late with this - I was unexpectedly called away from home.

I have spent a lifetime in woods, forest and rain forests. I still have a vivid memory of being deep in a rain forest in Sumatra. I was resting along a villager's path when I spotted a tiger further down the path. He was was off the path, deep in the dark understory but I could clearly see those stunning eyes looking at me. Anyway what made it so was what I could not see clearly. In this case what was implied by the "poor" lighting was more "real" than what is explicit and obvious. I think the word for this is mystery and an experience of mystery can be very powerful. Trying to capture a bit of that kind of mystery with a camera is what this post is all about.

Anyway here's some very low light early morning shots to chew on:
1. hgram to the left no PP.
2. hgram to the right no PP.
3. hgram to the right with a simple exposure correction and nothing else.
4. hgram to the right with a complete freehand correction to the best of my memory and what I think is more or less accurate.
5. I throw this in because I think some might be confusing Low Key with a "low light" shot.
6. A frame capture from the film Ida (2013) Cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski
7. Need I say more?

So far as I'm concerned when we get into this sort of stuff there is no right or wrong only opinion and anyone's opinion I value so don't hesitate to fire away.
Wildman.

Last edited by wildman; 01-03-2017 at 03:00 PM.
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