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What are the best exposure settings for shooting a person or group of pictures indoors at night? I am particularly interested in knowing the ISO and aperture settings, but some insight into shutter settings would be helpful as well.

I have a VR18-55m Nikon kit lens from Nikon D5100.

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For an analysis of one of the subtle pitfalls that might await, see the thread at photo.stackexchange.com/q/4115. It documents how the color balance of the image may change mid-shot when the gym is lit by fluorescent lights on the same main circuit. –  whuber Dec 15 '11 at 21:13

2 Answers 2

You need to add more details. Do you have a flash? Is there any light from street lamps or are you in the middle of a field?

This isn't something that can really have fixed settings as all situations are not the same in photography. It also depends on the Depth of field you are looking for and how sharp you want the images. So you will need to control the shutter speed.

As a guide if you are doing hand held photography anything slower than 1/30th will be blurred and not very sharp. So start at a base of around 1/100th.

You will want the ISO turned up as high as possible and think about the Noise limitations, for your camera I would not go any higher the ISO 1600.

Then your aperture. If this is the kit lens then your widest aperture is f3.5 so go with that at 17mm. If you go to 55mm, you will be working at 4.6 (from memory) so you will not be letting as much light it.

My advice would be to use a flash unit to fill the scene with light, and stick the camera in aperture priority.

Importantly shoot your images in RAW format, because if you are getting very dark shots at least you will be able to rescue something. With JPEG compression you will lose the pixel data that allows advanced editing.

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The D5100 have a built in flash. –  mocca Dec 15 '11 at 11:07
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I wouldn't reccomend using the built in flash, as you cannot control the settings or where the flash points. –  Graeme Hutchison Dec 15 '11 at 11:09
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Flash may not be an option at a competition. (Nor effective depending on the distance.) –  mattdm Dec 15 '11 at 11:24
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I am wrong to assume but I do not think the OP is a professional and more of a spectator, here isn't usually a limit on flash photography in audiences as it is not controllable. However when I am either pitchside at a sport or at a concert I am not allowed to use a flash gun. I would also assume that using a 17-55mm would mean that the subject is close enough to the action to use a flash. –  Graeme Hutchison Dec 15 '11 at 11:27
    
>Most importantly shoot your images in RAW format This isn't actually the most important thing, if the images aren't going to be good, shooting in RAW won't make them any better. Always aim to take the best photos possible in the first place. –  user7226 Dec 15 '11 at 16:00

Moving people on a possibly poorly lit stage using a short lens and being a long distance away is going to make it very difficult to get any good images regardless of settings.

First thing is to get closer to the action so that you can use that short lens properly. There's a reason sports photographers use long lenses.

Secondly set the ISO as high as possible to get the best light.

Then use the camera on P, A, or S mode. Attempting to get the right exposure on M mode, if you're not practiced, will take so long that you'll miss all the action.

If you can use a flash to get extra light on the subject. If the D5100 has a rear curtain flash sync setting then use that with P mode to get images with some motion blur but still give you bright subjects.

With a D100 + external flash in M mode under similar conditions I'd use ISO 400, 1/125 for flash sync, lowest F stop available and manually dial in the flash power to 1/8 to 1/4 or even 1/2 depending on conditions and distance - but that's from a lot of experience taking photos at concerts and in clubs.

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