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I've been put into a situation where I have been asked to photograph a party in a hall where there is virtually no light. I want the photos to have a very dark backgound but the person stands out how can I achieve this, I don' t usually photography like this I am a portrait photographer and photograph during the day. I have been on the net and tried some of the things they say but I cannot get the camera to fire. I am using a canon  eos 600d. What would you suggest as the best settings to achieve the best photos or should I be taking photos with the flash on? A

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Your question title doesn't really match the title. It would seem to me that your question is really about taking a well-lit portrait while keeping the background dark. –  John Cavan Mar 21 '13 at 12:54
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Hmm... not typing well today... Meant to say, title doesn't match body. I shall avoid editing for a while as a consequence. :) –  John Cavan Mar 21 '13 at 13:03
    
To the person asking the question: could you please edit your question (and particularly the title!) to resolve the ambiguity? –  mattdm Mar 23 '13 at 13:51

6 Answers 6

To get a picture where the subject is well-exposed and the background is back just place your light source (flash, window, whatever) close to the subject (or, especially if you use window light, the subject close to the light source).

When the light-subject distance is much smaller than the light-background distance the subject will get much more light than the background and so if the subject is well exposed the background will be dark.

If the room is evenly lit (doesn't matter if it's dark or bright) you can't get this result because the amount of light the subject get will be the same amount of the light the background get and so they will have the same brightness.

This is easy to do with a flash - and will almost always happen when you use the camera's popup flash (at least in spot metering mode when metering for the subject) - however, the popup flash pretty horrible unfaltering light so you really want an external flash (and to get the light to not come directly from the camera's direction)

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The most likely think which will stop the camera firing is if you are in One Shot (or maybe AI Focus) AF mode and it doesn't have an AF lock. Switch to either AI Servo or manual focus and you should be able to fire - but don't expect great photos in that situation. Depending on the lens you're using, I suspect you'll also have difficulty getting an appropriate shutter speed.

The other option would be to pop the flash up, but set it not to fire (via the Flash Control menu) - it will then use the flash to help get an AF lock, but obviously won't fire it to actually take the photo.

That all said, if it's too dark, you're going to have problems taking photos no matter what. If you can't increase the lighting some other way, flash is probably your best bet.

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This must be the actual problem the question seems to be about. Camera does not fire in the dark. Thou the question title suggests a flash is not wanted or allowed. –  Esa Paulasto Mar 22 '13 at 12:40

I think you're really going to struggle to get good images in very low light without a flash. Ideally, you would be able to take the flash off the camera, but if it's the built-in one that you need to use, then what you really want to do is maximize your shutter speed while keeping it in sync with the flash (AFAIK, that's 1/200 for your camera though it does support high-speed sync). Then, you want to keep the subject away from the background, as much as you can, to avoid having the light from the flash fall on the background.

The problem, though, is that the popup flash is pretty harsh. If you're willing to spend a small amount of money, see if you can buy a popup diffuser such as the Gary Fong Puffer to help soften the light. You may need to experiment a little with the flash compensation and ISO settings to get the right look, so if you can find a patient victim, you might find it easier to get the settings just right when you're in the space and can account for the dimensions and the wall color.

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There are cameras out there that will shoot fine in low light, however the effect you are looking for is not physically possible without either editing in post or using a flash. No amount of camera tricks is going to make it so that the shot looks significantly different than the light present in the scene, and if the room is lit uniformly then the foreground and background will also be uniformly lit.

If you can use a flash, getting a nice softbox or a bounce diffuser will allow for you to take a very naturally lit picture in the foreground while the background will still be dark, but if you have a constraint that they don't want use of a flash at the event, then you are stuck with ambient light and will not be able to accomplish your goal.

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You cannot take photos without light. With very little light you can get images, subject to one or more of the following compromises: noise will be very high due to the need to amplify a very weak signal by increasing the ISO, depth of field and sharpness will suffer from the need to shoot the lens wide open, camera shake/subject motion will be present due to the longer exposure required to get enough light onto the sensor.

If your subject is the same brightness as the background then the only way you are going to get the look you want is with an external lightsource. Flash would be ideal, though you could possibly get away with hotshoe mount LED video light (but you will suffer from some of the compromises mentioned above).

For a better quality of light you need to diffuse the flash, bouncing off the ceiling is a very good way to achieve this, but if the ceiling is too high or not diffuse, this wont work and you are forced to either use a hotshoe mount light modifier (such as a lightsphere, mini-softbox or ringlight adaptor).

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Control your aperture

The first thing that occurs to me when told to shoot in low light is a prime lens with maximum aperture. like f/1.2 if you can get it

Control your shutter-speed

Opt for lesser focal length lenses like 35mm, or max 50mm. Lenses with focal length greater than this are more vulnerable to shakes when using low shutter speed.

Control your ISO

In some cases, you can use a high ISO, like 1600 or even 3200, with some cameras. But make sure you don't boost your ISO unecessarily, which will degrade your image quality.

You can surely go ahead of the party and click and experiment with the settings to see what best suits.

Try convincing your host to allow you to use flash. If he/she fears flash will result in harsh shadows, prove them wrong by bouncing the light.

It's all in your hands. Happy clicking :)

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