The situation is as follows:

  • There is a very dark room.

  • Inside the very dark room, there are some orange lights on the ceiling

  • Inside the very dark room, there are many glass windows.

  • Behind the glass windows, there are some creatures.

Here is an illustration (top view):

enter image description here

  • Black represents the wall of the dark room

  • Yellow represents the glass windows

  • Orange represents the orange light

  • Brown represents the divider wall

  • Green represents the creature

  • Blue represents the door

So, how do I take photo in such a scenario?

I know that I have to set the ISO to very high (1600 or above) and set the aperture to a lower value (e.g. F/1.8 or below) but the quality will be affected.

Do take note of the following:

  • no flash allowed.

  • no big tripod allowed. (A small tripod is allowed but there is no place for you to put the small tripod.)

  • the creatures will be moving about (sometime slow, sometime fast)

  • there are obstacles such as trees behind the glass panel.

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    You are in a large room, with a passage to the south. There is a shiny brass lamp nearby. Pick up lamp. OK. – MikeW Feb 18 '13 at 4:53
  • @MikeW That's funny. I can't find a shiny brass lamp. There is no lamp, no torch but only a Exit (For emergency use) board at the top of the door. The Exit is using a small green light and I can't just grab and pick the Exit board and use it, right? – Jack Feb 18 '13 at 5:06
  • 3
    Drink the potion. You will grow, then you can pick up the Exit board. – MikeW Feb 18 '13 at 5:16

What you describe sounds like a photographic nightmare :) I also assume that because it is dark, you probably should not be using flash.

The thing to set in this situation is your expectations. It's very dark, many things such as focus and metering may fail and the camera has very little light to work with.

As for the rest, you have the basics: High ISO. Wide Aperture.

Creatures in enclosures rarely move much, unless they are in aquariums, so bring a tripod and you can probably get much better results with longer exposures. In that case, you can afford using a polarizer to diminish reflections on the glass. Actually, even if there is some movement you can get interesting images.

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  • Yes, I cannot use flash. The saddest thing is that I can only use the High ISO and Wide Aperture. – Jack Feb 18 '13 at 4:49
  • A full-frame camera will get the most out of the wide aperture, if I may add. Also, wide apertures aren't necessary bad, while high ISO's usually are. Stabilisation might also help, although those lenses rarely sport wide apertures. – Berzemus Feb 18 '13 at 14:10

This really sounds like a challenge... :o)

Apparently the animals (mice, rodents?) are really sensitive to daylight (since the division in front of the door is empty) and the presence of only 3 light sources on the ceiling probably will constrain your choice of positions where to take the photos.

You can't use a tripod but can you use a monopod? Or maybe a simple string monopod? That would give you a lot more stability for longer exposures.

Since you already know how to set the camera, my suggestions would be:

  • try to go in there with the fewer number of simultaneous visitors possible and make sure you know for how long you can stay there (you will need time and patience, trust me)

  • check which of the five divisions offers you the best light combination (take in account the eventual opening of the door and its contribution to ambient light) using the camera exposure meter

  • find a position where you could stand for a while undisturbed and hold the camera in order to avoid the light reflections (using a polarizer would help avoiding the reflections, but it would also darken even more the scene for the camera).

  • remain at this position for a while in order to the animals get at least a bit used to your presence (this may slow their movements enough and cause less motion blur)

  • keep in mind that if you use larger apertures, prefocusing the camera can be really hard due to the subjects movements bringing them out of the short DoF. OTOH, the auto focus can have a bad time focusing under orange light...

  • If you manage to use a monopod, try using the camera timer in order to minimize camera shaking, but first check if you can turn off the blinking timer light or at least cover it with tape or one finger

  • start taking pictures and checking exposure and focus while trying not to make sudden movements

Again, patience will be your friend here. Good luck.

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Sounds mysterious, like you're planning a bank robbery, maybe. (I think I saw a picture like that in the movie Ocean's Eleven, maybe.)

I assume you can't provide your own lights.

If you're shooting digital (which I assume you are, since you have control of the ISO), can't you take a few exposures and see what works? If the animals are stationary (like reptiles), get a tripod and go for longer exposures. Position the camera to avoid reflections on the glass and also to light the subject the best way you want it. (Get the highlights and shadows where you want them, at least as well as you can.)

If you can use one or more reflectors, it might be possible to change the composition of the existing lighting somewhat.

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  • That's funny. I don't think there are creatures inside a bank. – Jack Feb 18 '13 at 4:47

Use a rubber lens hood - with this you can press your camera right up to the glass, negating any reflections of the orange light coming from 'your side' of the glass. You don't say what camera you are using, but don't be afraid to push the ISO -- even 6400...you can do quite a bit with it in post production, and unless you're viewing it at full size it shouldn't be a problem. A large aperture helps too, but don't forget that your Depth of field will be very small - so stop down to about f/4 or f/5.6 or so to ensure your subject is in focus...

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There is potentially a simple solution to most of the problems here.

By holding the camera hard against the glass (you might have to take steps to prevent a glass-on-glass or metal-on-glass connection, a rubber lens hood as already suggested is good for this) you eliminate reflections, and at the same time prevent the camera from moving allowing long exposures without the use of a tripod.

Providing your subject is stationary you should be able to get clean crisp exposures, even under the dimmest lighting. I have used this technique in aquariums before to get 30 second exposures (not for fish though as they move about far too much).

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You may want to use a lenskirt http://www.lenskirt.com/, its black cloth that you attach to your lens and to the glass, and it kills reflections.

Here is an article about why it works


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