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03-14-2010, 11:57 AM   #1
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handheld night photography with K-x

Hi All,

is there a technique/mode on camera/lens combination that help me take better night indoor photos without using flash?

on a side note, i've been shooting in Av mode just to explore my 18-55 and 50-200's aperture settings and how they affect pictures i took. last night, I took the k-x and 18-55 lens to Dave & Buster for a friend's birthday, and staying around 40mm @f5.6 & 1600iso in Av mode(because i want to get a feel of what the DA Limited 40mm focal length would feel like) photos turned out either too dark or has motion blur...

ultimately, my goal is this: i am planning a euro trip and would like to have the ability to take pictures inside restaurants at night by hand without using flash

thanks in advance


03-14-2010, 12:31 PM   #2
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As my dentist keeps on telling me, "Open wide".
As my doctor used to tell me before an injection, "Brace yourself".

You might also try increasing the ISO/ASA to see how far you can go before the photo becomes unacceptable.

I have found that too dark photos are often quite good when treated to a dose of Photoshop. It is amazing how much detail can be brought out in those dark areas. In fact, I tend to under expose a little to prevent burnout of the highlights and then correct in Photoshop.


Last edited by mickeyobe; 03-14-2010 at 12:37 PM.
03-14-2010, 12:46 PM   #3
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Higher ISO
Faster lens
Shake less
More shots
Shoot raw if you aren't

Low light, no flash, photography is an art in it self - you need to experiment. Google for it and you find lots of good advice...
03-14-2010, 12:53 PM   #4
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at 40mm according to the rule you should have at least 40*1.5=60th of a second as shutter speed, which (i'll guess) you didn't have. True, Shake Reduction does help with about one stop, so that would be a 30th of a second, but all those calculations don't account for a photog that can't hold his camera still(yet) or a moving subject. With a 30th of a second you'll most definitely get motion blur. ISO or fast lens is the way to go.

03-14-2010, 01:27 PM   #5
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Get a f/1.4-2 lens. I've Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and I'm happy with it. You can get a 50mm f/1.4 or a 35mm f/2 too.

Kx@3200 ISO + f/1.4 sounds like nightvision to me :P
03-14-2010, 02:15 PM   #6
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Improving night shots. Go with high ISO, get a fast lens (F1.4 or around there), Be very still as you will be likely in the 1/60 sec shutter range. and most importantly get a tripod or use a stringpod if the tripod is not available. If it's possible do continuous shooting. You have a better chance of getting a good shot.
03-14-2010, 03:43 PM   #7
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My 2c contribution: low-light shooting, even with a great low-light shooter like the K-x, simply takes practice. It's more demanding than shooting in full daylight and takes more work.

To acquire more experience, do stuff like take several window-shopping walks around town in the evening after dark with your camera (if it's safe to do so). Set the camera on P mode to start with and take lots of photos of different objects illuminated in shop windows, street lights and other kinds of poor light etc. Or take your camera into a local restaurant, cafe or bar at night and take photos. Then go home and review the results - what worked, what shutter speeds you could go down to whilst getting a good shake free image, how to deal with focussing under low-light etc etc. Repeat the process again until you become more confident, and know what works and what doesn't.

You can get quite good results with the kit lenses under low light, but as others have highlighted, fast glass helps tremendously. It's amazing where you can go with the K-x and something like the FA50 1.4.

A tripod is nice but not always practical. I rarely use one, except for birding with a telephoto, but even then not always. With good camera-holding, good bracing or support and careful shooting style, one can get away without using a tripod most times. Lots of objects around the place can also serve as impromptu tripods too - table tops, the back of chairs, signs, fence posts, someones shoulder etc.

03-14-2010, 06:14 PM   #8
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I would avoid the 50mm f1.4 lens; it is the cheapest fast lens available but it may not be terribly useful in the small, confined space of a restaurant. I can't even take photos of my food without having to stand up and step back. Remember that it is the equivalent of a 75mm on an SLR, so you'll need some space between you and subject.

The K-x is amazing for high ISO shots but the AF is not as robust as I'd have liked. It often spends some time hunting for focus in dimly lit areas. I've had much better luck with a fast manual focus lens like a Pentax-M 28mm f2. It's more accurate in focusing, once you get used to it, it's amazing. See if you can get a fast 28mm or under lens on Ebay for under ~$150. That'll let you reduce your shutter speed a bit further. If you feel daunted by manual focusing, get a split prism from Ebay for $20. That stuff is a godsend. If you have more money, get the OptiBrite version from Katzeye for $150.

Also, invest in a monopod. You don't want a waitress tripping over one of your tripod legs. They're also lighter, cheaper and more inconspicuous. This is a good one. It's perfect for travel and backpacking across Europe. I wish I had one when I was in Europe.

Monopod + fast 28mm manual lens + split prism = awesome restaurant photography at night.

Last edited by hangu; 03-14-2010 at 06:23 PM.
03-14-2010, 06:40 PM   #9
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All the ideas that others have posted about getting a faster lens, using a higher ISO, etc., are all very good. There are, however, a few techniques to hold a camera steadier, when a tripod or monopod is not an option.

If possible, find something to lean against. A wall or doorway is perfect. Lean on it with one shoulder, aim and shoot.

Hold the camera properly. I learned to hold a film SLR in the following manner and it still works with my dslr: cradle the camera in the open palm of your left hand. The left hand should completely support the weight of the camera. Your left thumb and forefinger should curl around the lens barrel and operate the zoom ring (the aperture ring, as well, if necessary). Your right hand grips the side of the camera and stabilized it, but does not support its weight. Your right forefinger trips the shutter.

Hold the camera to your eye, compose and meter the subject. Just before exposure, draw in a breath and hold it. Trip the shutter while holding your breath.

During all of this, your elbows should be as tight to your torso as possible. This adds a bit more stability.

Using these techniques, I can get down to 1/10 second with my K10D, using SR. I've gotten fairly decent results at 1/4 second, if you don't want to enlarge them much. I'm 58 years old, so I'm probably not as steady as I was when I was younger. Back in the seventies, I used to routinely get acceptable results with my 55mm, f/1.8 Super Takumar on a Spotmatic at 1/15 second. Of course, there was no SR available.

I have even been known to balance my camera on the back of a chair, a table or anything else that was handy.

In some situations, a monopod might be acceptable, whereas a tripod would not. Consider getting a monopod for such occasions. I've even seen monopods that clipped onto the front of your belt, sort of like a flag carrier in a parade. Its much more mobile that either a tripod or monopod, although you might as well wear a brigh orange shirt with "GEEK" painted on the back.
03-14-2010, 08:08 PM   #10
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I agree on most of the above

But for breath control: take a couple breaths, then EXHALE slowly, then shoot. Whilst holding your breath, you're tenser, twitchier. Relax. Yes, lean against things. And keep your elbows against your body when you're not bracing them on a table or wall. [Australian foreplay: Brace Yourself, Sheila!]

Fastest lenses possible, yes. Fast 50 indoors: only if you're concentrating on faces (or partial faces). More context is better. Even a fast 28 may feel tight in small rooms. I sure hope my Vivitar 24/2 can be fixed. If you expect to be in indoor concert spaces, an 85/2 can be your friend. Yes, look for fast wide MANUAL lenses, either PK or M42 mount -- and use Catch-In-Focus to maximize your chances of getting the subjects crisp.

Higher ISO, you bet. Shoot locally before you travel, see what your comfort level is. Set the camera to Av, the lens to wide open, and the ISO to Auto. I've shot a lot with my Sony DSC-V1 on NightShot, effective ISO=2500, with lots of IR -- unprocessed images look like they're thru a sniperscope, so it takes a lot of PP to kill the color cast and bring out pastel tones. They're noisy as hell -- but they exist, they wouldn't exist otherwise, and they can be quite dramatic.

Yes, PP is your friend also. It's exactly like pushing Tri-X to 6400, and burning-and-dodging to get the best usable print. If you MUST shoot low-ISO in dim light, use a tripod (and don't forget to switch off SR). But hand-held, just concentrate on form and shape and focus, let the noise speak for itself. And push it in PP.
03-15-2010, 10:28 AM   #11
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I just wanted to put in a couple of summarizing points:

Pictures dark = something bright in the picture confused the meter. Has nothing to do with what aperture or shutter speed you used. Solution: don't meter with something bright in the shot, or else apply exposure compensation.

Pictures blurry = shutter speed too slow. You need a larger aperture (smaller f-number), higher ISO, or both. If shutter speeds are still too slow after getting the aperture as large as the lens allows and the ISO as high as the camera allows (or as high as you can stand the noise), then you need a lens with a larger maximum aperture.
03-15-2010, 10:35 AM   #12
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Original Poster
thanks everyone, i will definitely try everything mentioned here (and i totally forgot about post processing, duh!)

as for lens, my budget is limited, so i am only able to consider FA 50mm f1.4, DA limited 40mm f2.8, and Tamron 28mm-75mm f2.8. which lens makes most sense for my euro trip? (inexperienced photographer, general day/night walk-around, hand held photos) or are there other lens options that are more appropriate?

thanks again!
03-15-2010, 10:50 AM   #13
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If you shoot mostly at 40mm get the FA 50 1.4 for 2 more stops than getting the 40 2.8
03-15-2010, 11:02 PM   #14
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FA 50mm f1.4 for $250 would be an excellent choice if you must have auto focusing, otherwise a 24mm f2.0 manual focus would be excellent as well ~$150. I would definitely pick manual focusing for night shots, the FA 50mm f1.4 may hunt around at night for focusing. But if you're a beginner, having an auto focus as a walk around lens is pretty important.
03-16-2010, 10:48 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by rustynail925 Quote
If you shoot mostly at 40mm get the FA 50 1.4 for 2 more stops than getting the 40 2.8
Yes, but 50 is not 40. I find the difference pretty striking; 50 is very often too tight for my tastes, while 40 does very well. Given that DOF gets really really thin beyond f/2.8, I wouldn't decide on that basis alone. Experiment with your zoom to figure out for yourself which focal length(s) work best for you.

If this is for basic walkaround use, I'd suggest the zoom for the added flexibility. If it's for indoor shots only (candids, et al), I'd take the 40 to use indoors, keeping your existing zoom for the better light outdoors. Another possibility is a manual focus 50, which you can easily get used for $50 or less. It won't make 50mm any wider, but it will make it cheaper.

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