Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I was invited to my friend baby shower last week to take some pictures for them. Most of the picture came out dark and noise. Of course I used my SB-600 flashlight but it wouldn't help that much. Is there anyway that I can manage to get legit pictures with enough light.

I use Nikon D3200 with 35mm lens (I'm not sure whether this lens capable to capture pictures in low light, plus I don't want to spend more $ on priceless lens.)

I wouldn't mind people to recommend me some lens that will be more effective in outdoor low light situation.

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Could you post a couple of the photos? You should be able to link to them even if you can't include them directly until you have a (small) amount of reputation. –  Philip Kendall Aug 29 '13 at 15:33
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Why won't the SB-600 help that much? What is the environment in which this takes place? –  mattdm Aug 29 '13 at 16:09
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This doesn't sound like an issue with not having the right equipment, but not using it correctly. Having a nice flash like that with a 35mm prime lens should be more then adequate for indoor low light portrait photography. We probably need some example shots with the full EXIF data(iso, shutter speed, aperture, metering mode, flash, etc), to get to the bottom of this. –  dpollitt Aug 29 '13 at 16:34
    
@mattdm outdoor with low light. It was a quick shot for every image. –  Bunchhieng Aug 30 '13 at 2:29
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A 35mm prime lens on a D3200 with an SB-600 should be able to take pictures in the dark. It sounds like the tools you already have aren't being used to their full potential. It should go without saying that you should check to see that the batteries in your flash unit are adequately charged.

Without an example or two, and based only on your description, I'm guessing that you were using a flash setting that included slow sync to take the photos at the baby shower. There are two problems that must be overcome to successfully use slow sync: camera motion and subject motion.

In a dim environment when set to slow sync the camera will slow the shutter speed enough to properly expose the background using the available ambient light and then add only enough flash power to properly illuminate the subject in the foreground. To prevent blur from camera shake in such a situation the camera needs to be mounted on a solid object such as a tripod. The subjects also need to remain still during the entire time the shutter is open. This isn't very practical for a social event such as a baby shower when you want to capture candid moments.

To get better results in a dim environment, set your D3200 to A shooting mode and select a fairly wide aperture such as f/1.8. Be sure your flash is set to a mode that allows i-TTL to be active and that it is not set to a mode that includes slow sync (see pages 48-50 of your D3200 Reference Manual for details). Check that the exposure compensation and flash exposure compensation are set to '0'. Select an ISO that allows at least a 1/60 sec. shutter speed and work from there. If you are still having problems, change to S mode and select 1/60 sec as the shutter speed. If the camera tells you the largest available aperture is not wide enough, increase the ISO setting until it is.

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The "faster" the lens (lower aperture[f] number), the better it will do in low light, however, with a flash, you should have been fine with just about any lens. The SB-600 is a very solid flash and if you were still having issues, then it sounds like a metering problem. I would suggest trying different metering modes, make sure that you are using iTTL metering and if necessary adjust exposure compensation.

I'm not sure if Nikon's behave the same way, but if they place limits on the ISO, it might be worth manually setting to a higher ISO as well. With my Canon camera, at ISO 1250 and using a 600EX flash (the equivalent of the SB-800), I've taken telephoto photos in very dark environments from up to 70 feet away without a problem and gotten good exposure with fairly minimal noise, though I was also using a high end f/2.8 lens at the time.

If metering doesn't fix it (though I think it will), the best options are faster lenses or more light. You could use a larger flash or an additional off camera flash, though you would need a master control unit for firing the remote flashes. As far as faster lenses, an f/2.8 lens can normally be obtained pretty cheaply as a prime lens and should generally be sufficient for most low light cases(though faster is always better).

You can also try turning up the ISO further. While this increases noise, it should increase noise slightly less than having to artificially boost a dark image after the fact as it limits the sources of noise that can occur prior to the gain. If the image is dark all the way through processing, then additional noise can be added by the noise floors that are present after the gain for the ISO is applied.

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All photography takes photos with light. Without light, the result is dark. There are two fundamental ways to take photos in a dark place: (1) use a very expensive "fast" lens or (2) add light. When you are on a budget, your only choice is #2.

Your SB600 should provide more than enough light to take good snapshots, as others have suggested, you probably have a setting that is not right.

If you want to take more than snapshots, you must move the flash/strobe off your camera. You can learn how to do this by reading the Strobist 101 series, http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/03/lighting-101.html Since you already have a SB600, you can take great photographs with only a tiny bit of learning and a few very inexpensive pieces of equipment. A $30 stand and a $25 umbrella will do wonders.

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Presumably the lens in question is the budget priced 35mm f/1.8, which is not much slower than you'd get even spending a lot more money. –  mattdm Aug 29 '13 at 21:28
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