What's your night time street shooting setup and technique?

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by Jonathan F/2, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    I was shooting in very dark conditions last night and that got me thinking about the different types of M43 lowlight camera/lens combinations. My current setup is the E-PL5 & 17/1.8, but in the conditions I was shooting in I was thinking the 25mm 1.4 would be the best lens for the light, though I prefer a slightly wider FOV for my regular shooting. It was so dark in fact, I had to find a slightly lit portion of the street and wait for subjects to come to me!

    Anyways, I'd be interested to hear about your setups and technique for dark conditions!
  2. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    its the eternal conundrum... and to me the answer isn't always faster lenses.. 1.8 to 1.4 is about 2/3 of a stop... but the delta in the old rule of thumb for minimum shutter speed being 1/35mm equivalent focal length means you lose 2/3 stop in shutterspeed.

    The deal at the end of the day is you have to meter for the light you have, go manual and pray hard.

    • Like Like x 1
  3. rolling green

    rolling green Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 31, 2012
    city of chi
    Out of my P14 and O45 the P25 is my go to low light lens. Not necessarily because of speed but because the auto focus in low light is unbeatable
  4. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
    I've been happy with the ol 20mm+G5 with ISO cranked up to 3200 (not bad when shooting in RAW). I was shooting in a variety of conditions and didn't have many issues with focus hunting. Though it sure isn't fast. It helps if you can get some ambiant light from headlights or a street lamp or something. I have some samples in a recent thread:
    P1010747 by illvilliaNY, on Flickr

    Though I'm not sure if you're talking dim streetlights dark..or back alley dark. I mean, in theory the ideal low light, hand-held setup would be an OMD with the 25mm..wide open, ISO 6400 and steady hands? But wouldn't help you for capturing any action..
    • Like Like x 2
    • Winner Winner x 1
  5. xxjorelxx

    xxjorelxx Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 11, 2012
    MD, USA
    For me it depends one what i'm trying to shoot. If im doing some long exposure shots of stars or cityscapes, i'll go with my tripod and the kit 14-42mm or P14 prime. If im just out and about at night in the streets, i'll bring out my P20mm or P25mm.
  6. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    I think any M43 camera is capable of getting city/street scenes with street lamps and ambient light pretty decently, but trying to get people at night and get them in lit areas, moving and sharp is more of a challenge. You could also use something like an FF/FX camera, like a D700 which would have a bigger sensor and better high ISO, but then the size somewhat defeats the stealth component of night street shooting.

    It's probably a shooting technique I'm going to practice more of. I usually do my street shooting in the day, but the nights is a totally different beast. It more of a refined technique utilizing whatever light more effectively, setting up your shots pre-conceptually and most of all, hope to get lucky!

    Here's two I shot last night:
    View attachment 263536

    View attachment 263537
    • Like Like x 3
  7. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    There's definitely a lot more skill involved with this type of shooting, though I find the challenge quite satisfying, especially if you're able to get something good.
  8. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Something I learned from GaryAyala and others here on the forum... spot metering/careful exposure control goes a long way. That, and sometimes you just have to push the ISO higher than your ideal.

    I don't shoot street, but I've shot with everything from the 25mm f/0.95 to a 12mm f/2.0 at night around a campfire, which often means almost nonexistent ambient light. The extra stops of aperture can be helpful, don't get me wrong... but you might get as much or more value out of using spot metering and exposure control.

    There's obviously an element of personal taste involved, but in both the shots you posted above, you had some brightly exposed areas and relatively bright shadows. It looks like you could probably have exposed darker (to keep more shutter speed) and still kept the feel I think you were going for.

    Here's a few night shots I did a couple months ago (not m4/3 gear but it's what I have handy) to illustrate what I mean. You'll see I'm shooting at some pretty low ISO numbers, obviously in exchange for more and darker shadows but without losing the subjects. Again, personal taste and style is a factor, so that may not work for you. Just throwing it out there as food for thought :smile:

    1/50s . ƒ/2 . ISO 560 . 50 mm
    Somerville by Night by jloden, on Flickr

    1/50s . ƒ/2 . ISO 720 . 50 mm
    Somerville by Night by jloden, on Flickr

    1/50s . ƒ/2 . ISO 140 . 50 mm
    Somerville by Night by jloden, on Flickr
    • Like Like x 4
  9. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    I generally use the Panny 25mm 1.4, but I now use a Carl Zeiss Jena 35mm 2.4 wide open.

    I found that the Panny sharpens up at 2.0, and the Carl Zeiss Jena starts off sharp at 2.4, so I really don't miss much.. especially since the OMD is great in low light.

    Look for areas (in the street) where you can see shadows cast.. that is my indicator that I can shoot... at least at ISO 3200 (my limit) and around 1/50th (again- my limit which is 2x FL).

    Watch out for areas lit with bright red or yellow lights.. they can cause tint problems, especially subways.

    Here's a shot that shows the shadows (my go/no-go barometer) shot with PL25 at f1.8 with ISO3200

  10. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Expose for the highlights, let the shadows fall where they will.

    E-M5 with PL25mm. 1/25 sec at F/1.4 and ISO 200 (two hundred). You can do a lot at ISO 200 under the right conditions. I was deliberately trying to see what I could get at base ISO.


    Spot metering is your friend. Normally I'd either use the normal spot meter mode and meter the brightest highlight you want detail in, then give +2 to +3 stops exposure compensation to put that area into the highlight range or, with an Olympus camera, use the camera's spot highlights mode and let it do the figuring. That's the equivalent of around +2.7 stops exposure compensation with the normal spot mode the last time I tried a comparison. In this case I think I used the normal spot meter mode, metered off the woman's light coloured coat in the middle, and then gave - 0.3 stops exposure compensation to darken the coat down a bit. I don't know if Panasonic bodies have a similar spot highlights mode to the Olympus.

    Doing things this way will give you dark shadow areas that you won't be able to pull up too far. If you want detail in your shadows you're going to have to expose more, run the risk of blowing highlights you want to keep, and end up with an image that may not have the kind of contrasts between highlight and shadow that were present in the actual scene. That's not necessarily a bad thing, you can make good photos either way but they're different photos.
  11. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    I'm hesitant to go below 1/50th due to blur and camera shake, and the OM-D will give excellent IQ up to ISO 3200

    In you example shot (far left and far right) you see blurring of the legs of the pedestrians. In NYC, folks generally walk fast, and vehicular traffic is ever present. This coincides with the tried and true 2X focal length and large apperture. YMMV
  12. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I accept that some of the people to the sides of the frame have blurred legs but I actually wasn't concerned with them. I was interested in the stationary people in the centre of the frame, the woman in the light coat and the man with his back to me. Even if I had considered the fact that I might get blurring with some of the people elsewhere in the frame I would not have worried about that, simply because they weren't my subjects and if I had increased the shutter speed to freeze the people to the sides I would have had to increase my ISO setting which would have gone against why I was taking that photo which was specifically to see what the E-M5 could do at ISO 200 under that kind of lighting condition. I also couldn't increase my shutter speed since I was at F/1.4 and the point was to shoot at ISO 200 so increasing my shutter speed would have underexposed the areas I was exposing for which also wasn't what I wanted to do. I wasn't out to do street photography, I was out to so some hand held low light test shots specifically at ISO 200 and that's what I did.

    I wasn't trying to suggest that doing things the way I did with that shot was *THE" way to do all low light photography, or that anyone had to use ISO 200 or anything like that. I think the important things to take away from my post are the use of spot metering techniques, the need to decide whether you want details in shadows or not when you're setting exposure, and the fact that if you aren't going to worry about details in shadows you may well not have to use anywhere near as high an ISO setting as you may think.

    I do use higher ISO settings when required, and I've gone up to ISO 1600 and 3200 to stop motion in much better light than in that shot, when photographing birds in motion in daylight. As I said, I was deliberately keeping the ISO setting at its lowest when I took that shot just to find out for myself what I could get under those conditions. The answer is you can get a lot more than you expect if you aren't worried about detail in shadows.
  13. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    There is no "right" or "wrong" way... whatever works for the individual photographer is what's best.

    • Like Like x 1
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.