I’m taking pictures this Sunday at my church of the youth pastor preaching and in the youth room is a semi-lit type of room with a lot of accent colour lights. He’s going to be moving and I want to get shots to freeze the action so I know I need a high shutter speed but this is where I’m stuck:

I’ll be standing about 10-15 feet from the stage so I’m not sure what aperture to use and I want to have that nice bokeh background but I want to make sure he’s totally in focus(I have a 50mm prime 1.8 lens) and I’m not sure what ISO to use to avoid a lot of noise. I have Lightroom to bump up any pictures

I’m looking for past experiences and what you guys did to overcome some issues you ran into.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How dark is 'semi-lit'? Will you have any chance to get in there beforehand & check the camera will even focus in that light? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 19, 2019 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I will yes. By semi lit I meant main lights are off and the mood lights are filling in the dark, kind of hard to explain \$\endgroup\$
    – Nate
    Apr 19, 2019 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the intended purpose of the pictures? Documenting the event? Promotion for future events? Something else? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 20, 2019 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Empirical ISOs: not above 1600 with a DSLR or DSLM from the 2010s, 3200 for fullframe. Not above 800 with older. 12800 if you must with an A7s or similar lowlight-optimized camera. And be afraid of LED lights and projectors, check for banding and flicker! \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2019 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


If you can get in there beforehand & do some tests, that will benefit greatly.

You need to check for several things...

  • that the camera can even find focus in low light, especially if your subject is not going to be specifically lit.

  • that your mood lighting is not going to have to be sacrificed [either by burning it right out or adding additional subject lighting] in order to get your subject bright enough.

  • that you can balance high ISO against this in such a way as your darker areas are not going to be awash with noise.

  • do some colour tests, preferably using a volunteer for skin-tones, if not also a grey card held by the volunteer, so you can set your white balance beforehand; otherwise the mood lighting might adversely influence your tones - differently for every shot.

  • if you can achieve all the above, then test different focussing & light sensor modes on your camera, if available. You may end up using AF-continuous [or sport] mode to follow your subject whilst in motion, spot-metering so your subject is prioritised over anything else - or you may even end up on manual or aperture-preferred, to save the camera from making wildly different decisions per shot.


Bumping up pictures in post will introduce more noise than bumping up ISO in camera. Do not be afraid of high ISOs if there is no way to avoid them.

For decent background separation. use the widest aperture that you can.

If he does not move too much (i.e. wildly gesticulating), 1/250s should be more than enough.

Also: It is your decision entirely, but do not be afraid of motion blur - while having arms blurred out of existence might be a bad thing, having a slight blur might give a more dynamic look.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for that! That’s really great to know! My only concern with a wide aperture is not totally disconnecting him from the background. Like parts of him appearing slightly blurry, I’ve seen people recommend an aperture of 2.8 but I guess it’ll come down to playing with it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Nate
    Apr 19, 2019 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nate You can get a decent feeling for the effect of apertures even by shooting inanimate objects - it was one of the first things I did when getting a cam, and I did it mostly by shooting plants. And if you want it on paper: There are apps and web sites to calculate the DOF - just look for "DOF calculator". :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Apr 19, 2019 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ With most 50/1.8 lenses, wide open tends to be a little blurry, even in the center of the frame at the focus distance. Just stopping down to f/2, f/2.2, or f/2.5 will improve the performance of most of those lenses by quite a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 19, 2019 at 23:47

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