Going extreme (low light) with Panasonic GX7 ... Lots of images included

Discussion in 'Panasonic Cameras' started by L0n3Gr3yW0lf, May 15, 2016.

  1. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    I was put in the situation where I had to go to the extreme with my Panasonic GX7 when I had to photography my cousins 18th birthday party last week.
    So, my cousin asked me to do her a favor to take pictures at the birthday party and I agreed to do that mainly because I wanted to try to see how I could handle shooting an even and consider a possibility of trying it more in the future.
    I was a test of my, current level of, skills (I didn't take any courses or lessons or school of art or photography, everything I learned by experience of trial and error and study from Internet and Forums) for taking photographs.

    All I had for this event are Panasonic GX7 (with 2 batteries), Sigma 19mm f 2.8 and Sigma 60mm f 2.8. No flash, besides the built in one, slow lenses for this kind of light. I knew the conditions would be very hard, with a lot of limitations.
    The dance floor had a very high ceiling so I couldn't bounce the build in flash. I used very little flash, mostly for the poses with family and friends. So it was down to very high ISO to keep a decent shutter speed.
    I mostly used the 60mm f 2.8 because it gave me the distance not to be intrusive (when I used the 19mm f 2.8 I was getting a bit too close for my comfort and I would get easily noticed). I did feel that it was a bit too long and wished it was closer to 82mm or 90mm. A zoom would have been even better so I could adapt the framing and the composition faster for a better story telling image, as I learned when I shot my first wedding (non-professional, second photographer) a month ago.
    The biggest problem, or the second but more on that a bit later, was that I needed at least 1/100 sec shutter to keep the subject motion out of the images and with the level of light I had to work with pushed me to ISO 6400 constantly, sometimes the shutter would go slower because of the light changes from the Disco Lights. Worse still, after the cake has arrived the lights were completely killed off and only the Disco Lights were running. In those conditions, the ISO went to 12.800 and underexpose the images about 2/3rds to one stop to keep a decent shutter speed.
    The worst problem that I was facing was the AF speed and lock on. At first, the AF was okay and it got 99% of the shots. After the lights starting going out the AF started to struggle, a lot, sometimes refusing to lock on anything, sometimes focusing on what I didn't want to (in the foreground or background).
    I used Face Detect and Continous Autofocus the first part of the evening because it found the faces exactly where I needed them to be without problems. When the lights went out I changed to Central AF Point and Single Autofocus because the Face Detect was having troubles. I couldn't turn on the AF Assist Lamp because it died on me 3 days before the event. I knew it was going to be hard to photograph this event so I worked around the limitations, and used High Burst and started shooting as many frames as I can get to try and get as many as I could. I expected to throw away many of them, and I did, out of 4.200 images (insane, I know) I came out with about 600 usable. At ISO 12.800 I had to give up on looking for critical sharpness or even decent, I just went with what is in focus, doesn't have too much subject motion blur and tells the story that I want to represent (like people having fun and enjoying themselves).
    In the end, I used 3 batteries (recharged the one of them while I was shooting the second one) and filled up 64 GB of storage. And besides the frustrations of the limitations of light and gear and skills (I do acknowledge that I have a lot to learn) I liked doing it and it helped my fear/intimidations of taking candid pictures of people (I'm not much of a street photographer or a social person).
    Also for this kind of job I need a dedicated Flash, faster lens (f 1.8 would have helped keep the ISO lower but f 1.4/1.2 lenses are not cheap, 1600$ is a lot for example). Better AF in low light is very essential. Maybe people that own the newer models of Olympus/Panasonic can tell me if AF is better on things like E-M1 or GH4 or EM5 II.

    I would like to post some of my favorites samples of that event. I did edit them to best of my abilities, I prefer a bit more noise then no details (a trait I learned to live with and appreciate sometimes from my Panasonic G1/G2 old days), and I downsampled them to 5 MP so the noise wouldn't be so noticeable (most people down own a screen bigger than 2560 pixels across this days).

    PS. Sorry for the long read.
    _1630282.JPG
    Even with the build in flash fired the ISO was high and because of the long distance that Sigma 60mm f 2.8 gave me so I can include more people in shot it's power was diminishing fast.

    _1620467.JPG
    I love this image a lot because of her smile and expression. Actually, I have a lot more pictures of her looking every adorable that evening.

    _1620076.JPG
    It was very important that I would get moments such as this captured because it's what most people remember from those kinds of nights.

    _1620189.JPG
    Candid shots are not easy to take but worth the effort.

    _1620774.JPG
    The most memorable moments of the evening are what clients want.

    _1620411.JPG
    It is better to have a noisy image than no image at all. Hard to sell a client this kind of quality but luckily it wasn't a paid gig and it made me understand the need for adeqate gear.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  2. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    A few more examples:

    _1630240.JPG
    The moments that matter most to be captured.

    _1630309.JPG
    Sometimes slower shutter speed helped convey a sense of movement, like dancing.

    _1630805.JPG
    The birthday girl and her father. A very important image that I needed to have, at least in decent quality.

    _1640021.JPG
    I think the quality of some of the images are really bad but there is no choice, between a shitty image and no image.

    _1640176.JPG
    I was amazed that the dynamic range holds up at this ISO level to be able to keep the bright screen of the phone detailed.

    _1640454.JPG
    Win some, lose some ... but he overall story of this image is understandable and that makes the picture worth it.
     
    • Like Like x 3
    • Informative Informative x 1
  3. longviewer

    longviewer Mu-43 Regular

    129
    Oct 22, 2015
    SW Washington (Longview area)
    Jim R
    It does look like a party in a coal mine o_O
    Probably would have messed with your burst rate but some raw shots would be interesting to work with here. Really though, the party comes across just fine as-is.

    Funny that you caught the dad 'red-handed'..
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    Actually I forgot to mention, most of the pictures were shot in RAW and edited from there, but still there's not much can be done with such high ISO. Personally I think the maximum acceptable ISO is 3200 and usable 6400 only if resized and if shadows are not lifted.
     
  5. longviewer

    longviewer Mu-43 Regular

    129
    Oct 22, 2015
    SW Washington (Longview area)
    Jim R
    Ah, gotcha - thanks! I can imagine the jpegs were okay but not as good as these.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  6. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    I shot about 3000 RAW and 1500 JPEG ... the JPEG were almost useless. At ISO 12.800 look out of focus even when they were in focus, extremely soft. And they were underexposed by about a stop (to keep the shutter speed height) so there's almost nothing to recover from that, I tried but the shadows are just pitch black, the colors are very inaccurate and the details are as mushy as a swamp. A lot of lessons learned from that, at least.
     
  7. longviewer

    longviewer Mu-43 Regular

    129
    Oct 22, 2015
    SW Washington (Longview area)
    Jim R
    Not quite okay then .. :eek:
    I agree it's great that you caught the bonus image on the cell phone, that's a cool memory to capture!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  8. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    Well my cousin like the images, and that what mattered the most, and I haven't received any complains from the guests ar the party, so far. But still this is not the kind of quality I can accept and give to a potential client. So I wont be taking this endeavour until I have the right tools and skills.
     
  9. Carbonman

    Carbonman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2014
    Vancouver BC
    Graham
    Change some of the images to black and white. You then only have to adjust tonal curves and can stop worrying about colors and noise.
     
    • Agree Agree x 5
  10. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    Thanks, I did for most of the JPEG because of the extreme loss of color. the RAW's were more manageable.
     
  11. MaK543

    MaK543 Mu-43 Regular

    139
    May 1, 2012
    MD USA
    I think you could get more keepers using built in flash fired head on.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    While I think that you did the best you could with the equipment at hand, I am still not sure why you did not use more flash if it was available to you?

    Also, one observation, if you are not comfortable getting close to take pictures at an event where you are the photographer, then you may want to practice more if you are really planning on soliciting business in the future.

    Good luck,

    --Ken
     
  13. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    I thought about that but there were a few problems doing that: with the 60mm it would give a bit more light but that means the background would get mostly underexposed, living with not much of a context (like other people dancing); flashing a bright light will annoy people a lot (specially in dark conditions) and using a diffuser would eat the little light that the flash can output; and candid shots will be lost when people start noticing you if you go out blinding them (either by getting closer with the 19mm or staying far with the 60mm). ... if only I had a dedicated flash and diffuser then would have been different.

    Also, the ceiling was very high (about 8 meters) and I couldn't bounce the flash to be effective enough even with the Sigma 19mm, I tried a few tests just when I arrived.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2016
    • Agree Agree x 1
  14. StefanKruse

    StefanKruse Mu-43 Veteran

    349
    Jan 28, 2015
    Denmark
    Stefan
    Nice to see someone venturing into high ISO territory (very challenging shooting with the Sigma 2.8s - not only low light but also people moving). I guess that with a 45mm 1.8 and images printed in smaller standard print size you would have noticeably less noise.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  15. NY Gadget Guy

    NY Gadget Guy Mu-43 Regular

    48
    Mar 17, 2016
    I didn't catch what software you used.
    Maybe offer up one of the more interesting RAW files as a Post-Processing Challenge?

    You mentioned being uncomfortable getting close. You were asked to take photos by the guest of honour! If anyone started questioning you, you could've just mentioned that and moved on.

    Ultimately, I think you'll shed some inhibitions once you've had a bunch of "almost perfect shots" where getting up close is the last missing ingredient.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  16. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    I used Lightroom for editing the images. I know there are better software and plugins to control the noise but this is all I have access to at the moment.
    I know it's not something recommended for shooting weddings, events, portraits, beeing shy and or uncomfortable with people. I still chose to do this to help my anxiety and try to improve or at least learn my skills. If it was for someone else, like a paid gig then I would not have done it. It's how I am, I suffer from anxiety and sometimes panic attack around people I do not know, it makes social life very difficult. After a few hours, I do relax a bit more and find it easier. After the cake was cut people were more willing to be photographed, I was more relaxed and confident doing it and I got less noticed. For me, photography is very therapeutic.
     
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 2
  17. L0n3Gr3yW0lf

    L0n3Gr3yW0lf Mu-43 Regular

    56
    Jul 31, 2013
    Romania
    Ovidiu
    Thanks, I did it out of necessity rather than choice. Yus, Olympus's 45mm f 1.8 would have helped going down to a more comfortable ISO 6400, even Panasonic 42.5mm f 1.7 would have helped a lot.

    After much analysis, the only lenses around the 85mm f 1.4 available for mirrorless is the Panasonic 42.5mm f 1.2 which is extremely expensive at 1600$, the Sony FE 85mm f 1.4 at the even more expensive price of 1800$ and the only, reasonable by comparison but for its performance very well priced, Fujifilm 56mm f 1.2 at just 1000$.
    Of the lot Fujifilm 56mm f 1.2 I like the most because of the IQ and the speed that would have let me used ISO 3200-4000. To bad Micro Four Thirds doesn't have something similar in price. Here's hoping Olympus Pro primes won't cost as much as Panasonic's 42.5mm f 1.2.
     
  18. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    Ovidiu

    I understand all your concerns....low light shooting, especially with moving subjects is tricky....

    One suggestion might be to learn to use the Manual mode and spot or centre weighted metering. The fact is is that it is the faces/skin tones that you want exposed as best as possible.

    So try taking a meter reading from the back of your hand in the lighting you are in, and set the camera to the values that give you a good exposure without compromising shutter speed or ISO... Sometimes there is just not enough light and you have to go to flash type solutions, but sometimes things are not as dark as the camera thinks it is

    second thing is to push your PP skills a bit more. I took the liberty of grabbing a couple of the shots you posted here and spent maybe 5 mins maximum on each. I didn't tackle the noise aspect, but using Aperture which has a similar toolset to Lightroom I got these results

    _1620076. _1620774 - Version 2. _1620774.


    Mainly by boosting the exposure, playing a bit with WB and generally adjusting the tones, I got brighter punchier results

    hope this helps, and keep at it.... its the only way you will get better

    cheers

    K
     
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  19. NY Gadget Guy

    NY Gadget Guy Mu-43 Regular

    48
    Mar 17, 2016
    One advantage of a photographer who likes to stay inside is that he or she can spend a lot of time on post-processing! :)

    For a source of inspiration, check out, "Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera" videos:
    "Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera" Series by DigitalRev - YouTube

    Good advice from @kevinparis@kevinparis. In addition to white balance and exposure, I think some of your shots do okay under noise reduction, plus a bit of sharpening at the end.

    _1620467-wb-nr-sharpen.JPG
    _1620411-wb-nr-sharpen2.JPG
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2016
    • Like Like x 1
  20. NY Gadget Guy

    NY Gadget Guy Mu-43 Regular

    48
    Mar 17, 2016
    You seemed particularly down about this one, so I thought it worth a go. It's a well-timed shot and captures an interesting expression. For people pictures, that's most of it really. Not as technically demanding as still life / landscape.

    This one involved dragging down the shadows (less attention to lady in dark dress since she's a bit blurry and facing the other way) and highlights (the wall in the background) to give more emphasis to the subject.

    Future political leader! :)

    _1640021-wb-exp-cont-nr-sharpen.JPG
     
    • Like Like x 1