Sunday, March 22, 2015

Taking pictures in the last hour of daylight

Several times in a recent 9 day wildflower trip as the light level got low, we saw new and interesting flowers that we wanted to photograph. We got some good pictures but we missed others. Some of our pictures were usable but not as sharp as we normally get.

The low light level resulted in slow shutter speeds and made it harder to see the subject well enough for focusing. There was often a breeze blowing which moved the subject around. Lesley uses a monopod and I use a tripod; that helps keep the camera steady but it doesn't help with a moving subject. When you are down to a 1/8 second shutter speed, a gentle breeze is enough to produce a blurry image. An example:

This one is almost sharp.

This one is less sharp.

A breeze made this image completely blurry.

The experience made me think about ways to improve results.

- Increase the sensor sensitivity (ISO value). We normally use ISO 400 and change to 800 as light levels fall. However, if we are losing shots, why not try 1600 or 3200? Each doubling of the ISO setting doubles the shutter speed.

- Upgrade to the latest and greatest camera model. That might allow us to use 3200 or even 6400 with the same results as 1600 or 3200 with our current Panasonic G6 cameras. This is an easy, obvious improvement but it costs real money.

We usually use aperture values of f7.1 or f8 to get enough depth of field to get all of the subject in sharp focus. However, we could use f3.6 or f4 to get a doubling of shutter speed. At our usual working distances (12-14 inches from sensor to subject), depth of field would be reduced. Backing away to 19 inches would give our desired depth of field at the cost of a small subject on the image.

Carry a small “tent” to shield the subject from wind. We often work close to our car on these trips so carrying a “tent” made of plastic sheeting with short rods to hold the plastic in place may be feasible.

Use flash to get more light and to freeze the subject. The built-in flash isn't great but I could try it. An accessory flash unit would be much better but they cost real money.

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