Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I am trying to think of good techniques that can capture the full vibrant scene of outdoor night or poorly-lit events at wide angles.

In my previous experiences, flash fitted with wide-angle plate or diffuser is usually still not enough to illuminate an entire ballroom nicely, and certainly cannot brighten the outdoor environment. Depending on the size and configuration of a ballroom, i may still be able to get away with bouncing flash around walls or ceiling. But usually the far end of the background remains dark and poorly lit.

Alternative attempts is to utilise 2nd/rear curtain sync and allowing the shutter go slower than the set flash sync speeds (typical Aperture mode). This allows the cam to capture dark/night scene as seen by human eye while lighting up the foreground subjects at the last moment to freeze their "final state". Of course this is subject to plenty of handshake and motion blurs, and images won't be as sharp as with fast shutter speeds.

What are some other ways to capture decently stop-motion pictures in dark open spaces?

UPDATE - my operating style

To better understand my situation I should explain my setup. To cover events with high mobility, I sling the BlackRapid DR-1 strap to wield two EOS 7Ds, one wide-angle with a 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 and the other telephoto 24-70mm f/2.8 or 70-200mm f/2.8 depending on environment size. I have 580EX II and 430EX II. I am not working as a professional. I also do not make use of any full-frame as I do not recognise any artistic progression I can get from that after putting in extra money.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The 'rule of thumb' I've always taught is that the more space you're looking to illuminate artificially, the more expensive of a proposition it becomes.

I often encounter large poorly lit ballrooms or outdoor spaces when I'm photographing weddings, and in order to better illuminate the spaces I use up to 6 QFlash T5d-Rs balanced for the environmental lighting and triggered remotely, and one QFlash QF8C on camera. That's a lot of power, but by placing the T5d-Rs on tall C stands around the edges of the environment I'm able to light up full-sized hotel ballrooms such that I can shoot a wedding reception hand-held and give a look that's far closer to 'ambient illumination' than 'washed out by flash' in the process.

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i'm gonna have to pick this as the answer as it is impractical for me to attach tripod or monopod to my two sling cameras. and although i'm not likely to afford it, it seems a pro-lighting system setup is the only way to go. –  icelava Jan 10 '11 at 3:02

This is plain physics here - the inverse square law. When it comes to large halls or areas, and using an on-camera flash, there is no way for lighting the distant objects as good as the foreground objects with just one light. You just have to use additional lighting sources - be it remotely controlled flashes, the lights of the room you are in, the street lights when outdoors or the moon/starts.

Needless to say that a tripod is required when using available light to light the distant objects. For short exposure times, I think your only option is the remotely controlled flashes located at strategic positions.

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that's gonna be hard when i moving all around for the event; i won't have time to and cannot afford to position so many standing lights across the entire environments. :-/ –  icelava Jan 5 '11 at 16:20

I don't know about your equipment, but it sounds like placing multiple flashes around the room that remotely triggered may go a long way towards helping. Basically the goal here is to emulate raising the ambient lighting. So multiple flashes bounced off near the existing light sources should raise your light level while keeping the "natural" look of the scene as best as possible.

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i operate two EOS 7Ds, with 580EX II and 430EX II flashes. i don't have "control" of the environments to place additional lighting equipment nor will i be able to afford it anyway. –  icelava Jan 5 '11 at 16:18
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If you can't add light and I'm assuming you've raised your ISO as high as you're willing to go, I'm afraid you may be out of options for freezing motion in poorly lit areas. –  rfusca Jan 5 '11 at 16:50

With the second technique you mention (using rear curtain sync and using a slow shutter speed), you'll find your results will become much better if you use a tripod. This will eliminate the shake issue you mentioned and allow you to create significantly longer exposures that better capture the event with the ambient light.

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i sling two cameras with a BlackRapid DR-1 double strap; to quickly move and operate wide-angle and narrow-angle views. i won't be able to make use of tripod. –  icelava Jan 5 '11 at 16:22
  1. Expose for ambient, use strobe to freeze subject or...

  2. Light entire scene and fire remotely.

The 1st is the easiest and will give you nice motion. Hold your camera tight, use your elbows as a brace, become the tripod young Jedi.

The second will render a more accurate image. Of course every scene is different, but you can usually light a room with four strobes, one in each corner, aimed towards the center of the ceiling.

As for outdoors, unless you have a whole heck of a lot of firepower, you simply have to balance color temperature and output.

Good luck and happy hunting.

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