I was recently asked by a friend to take to pictures at a “Glow in the dark” event center meaning that it’ll consist of low light environment. I have a 320 EX III speedlite that I can use, but I would like to stay away from it if possible. I have three lenses:

  • 50mm 1.8
  • 85mm 1.8
  • 24mm-105mm 4.0 IS

I shoot on a 6D Mark II. Within the lenses I have what lens would you say will work best? How do I choose from these three (or other) lenses?

I’m a beginner and I’m still trying to improve my equipment collection so any advice would be deeply appreciated.

  • Can you describe the situation more? Is this literally a dark space with, perhaps, UV ("blacklight") and UV-fluorescent paint? Or something else?
    – mattdm
    May 18 '18 at 18:20
  • Note that generally "tell me what lens to buy" questions are off-topic (as are shopping questions on most of stack exchange), but it seems like there's probably something answerable in here. It should be more along the lines of "how do I choose" rather than "what should I buy".
    – mattdm
    May 18 '18 at 18:21
  • No, "what lens do I choose" is just as much off-topic as "what lens do I buy". How do I choose is on-topic, what do I choose is not.
    – Philip Kendall
    May 18 '18 at 18:34
  • 3
    @PhilipKendall I disagree. "Which of the tools in my kit is best for this situation" is not a shopping question.
    – Michael C
    May 18 '18 at 18:35
  • 2
    For an event like this, you specifically don't want to add light (i.e. the 320EX). It would defeat the purpose of the 'glow in the dark'.
    – Robin
    May 18 '18 at 19:28

Either of the f/1.8 lenses will do. So will the EF 24-105mm f/4 IS.

The 50mm will give you a little more room than the 85mm to use a slightly longer shutter times before camera movement becomes (too) noticeable. The 24-105mm with about three stops of IS will allow you to use even slower shutter times to capture movement of glowing things. Of course, due to the narrower maximum aperture, it will also require longer shutter times - at f/4 you'll need four times as a long a shutter time to get the same exposure as you would at f/2. 1/30 second @ f/2 becomes 1/8 second @f/4. So i'd probably mix it up a bit: Use the 24-105mm for the longest shutter times when you want to capture the movement of the glowing things and use the 50mm or 85mm for shorter shutter times when you don't want to show motion.

I generally stop most wide aperture prime lenses down a click or two. The EF 50mm f/1.8 II is quite a bit better at f/2.2 than f/1.8 or even f/2. In this situation, though, that might not really matter as much as in other low light situations that still have a lot more light than typical "glow" situations.

Don't be afraid to use long shutter times to catch the movement of the "glow". Be sure to use good camera stabilization techniques!

Save your images in raw format. You're going to need to work them a lot in post to get them looking their best. You can pull a variety of different looks out of them. Don't expect them to be studio perfect, either! They're going to be a bit noisy, a bit blurry, etc.

These were taken at a high school pep rally before the "blackout" game where the team wears black jerseys instead of their normal red ones. The strip lights on the floor were black lights. All were taken handheld. When I got there the pep rally had just started and my EF 24-105mm f/4 was on the camera. I took a few with very long shutter times and IS on before swapping out to the EF 50mm f/1.4.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4. ISO 6400, f/2, 1/50 sec. I used the Hue-Saturation-Luminance tool to pull most of the magenta and purple out of the white cheerleader uniforms and their reflections on the very glossy gym floor.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS, ISO 6400, f/4, 1/6 sec. w/IS. The long Tv shows the movement of the glow noodle to the left being whipped around by a student.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS, ISO 6400, f/4, 1/13 sec. w/IS.

enter image description here
EOS 5D Mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 6400, f/2, 1/30 sec.

enter image description here
EOS 5D Mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 6400, f/2, 1/500 sec. The lights from the phone screens was a bit brighter than from the glow strings.

  • 1
    Nice pictures, that’s pretty much the environment that I will be working in. May 18 '18 at 18:38
  • 1
    @ChristopherC. Thanks. Keep in mind you're not going to get studio quality portraits, you're just trying to capture the 'atmosphere'.
    – Michael C
    May 18 '18 at 18:40
  • If I manage to get the shots exactly like you did I’ll be happy. If you don’t mind me asking, did you use Manual mode? May 18 '18 at 18:46
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    I've never tried drumming with a radioactive limp noodle before...how'd it sound?
    – OnBreak.
    May 18 '18 at 18:48
  • 1
    @ChristopherC. Keep in mind that none of these looked remotely like they ended up straight out of camera. I might try to add a "before/after" example for one of them and show what raw development settings I used, but it will be a few days before I can get to that.
    – Michael C
    May 19 '18 at 6:36

As posed, the answer to your question is the 50mm 1.8. The way you've described the event makes it sound like it will be very low light but that you will have unlimited access. Correct me if I'm wrong on either front.

Most beginners acquire a sensibility for exposure fairly quickly, especially since current DSLRs manage these variables quite well even in degraded environments. Focus, on the other hand is quite tricky. To make sure you get the focus right in such an environment you need all the help you can get. That is why I recommend the 50mm lens. At any given aperture setting your depth of focus will be 3 times greater with the 50mm than it will be with the 85mm.

Choose the widest aperture where you know you will get the shot in focus. Then select an ISO that gives you an exposure short enough to avoid blur.

Finally, you could purchase another lens such as a f/1.4 or f/1 lens. I doubt that they payoff in noise reduction (via lower aperture) will be worth it, especially since you may struggle to focus the faster lenses. You could pick up a 35mm f/1.4 to extend the aperture range and/or depth of field further but I'm not sure it would help you enough to be worth it.

You might also look into enabling the AF assist lamp on your camera so that your autofocus works in the dark. This has been discussed on SE before.

  • 2
    As an aside, my personal opinion is that you should always rent a lens before you buy it. It might sound strange but I think some people and lenses just don't get along with each other. It would be disappointing to spend $1200 on a lens to find that out yourself. May 18 '18 at 18:16
  • Would it be a good idea to take a test shot on P mode and alter some of the settings from there? Or will Manual be my best option? I usually shoot in Aperture Priority. May 18 '18 at 18:44
  • @ChristopherC. - understanding how TTL works with Manual mode is a good place to start: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/18063/… (Not saying you should use M mode, but you should know what the camera does to determine a correct flash exposure given your selected exposure settings)
    – OnBreak.
    May 18 '18 at 18:47
  • 1
    @ChristopherC. I think you are on the right track. I would definitely not trust program mode in this situation but it often helps to get an idea for what the camera is "thinking" with a program test shot. This can help you predict how it will react in shutter or aperture priority mode. Just remember to trust your histograms not the images. May 18 '18 at 19:40
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    @lijat Except that lens has a reputation for being a bit cranky with the AF in low light.
    – Michael C
    May 22 '18 at 3:34

I would totally go with the 24mm-105 for the wider FOV. You can get close, expansive shots. The 85mm and 50mm are too limiting, if slightly larger maximum aperture.

I did event/news photography for years, pre and post digital. Sometimes the only lens I needed was a 24mm if I could get close. Having a 24-105 gives you a lot of options.

  • Although the 24-105 is my everyday lens since it’s so versatile like you said I was just worried about f/4 and not being able to get enough light without a high ISO. May 19 '18 at 2:25
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    In this setting light is the problem. S/he can crop as needed in post. The only problem is if the 50mm doesn't give a wide enough view, but an extra 1 1/4 stops is too important to give up. May 19 '18 at 3:04
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    @RossMillikan F/2 is two full stops faster than f/4. But if you will notice, of the examples in my answer, two of the five were shot with a 24-105/4 that was on my camera when I walked into the gym (I was running a little late due to a previous appointment) before I had time to swap to the 50/1.4.
    – Michael C
    May 19 '18 at 6:33
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    If we were using film and having to push past 800 iso, I could see going for max aperture above all else. But with digital, not so much. I still think, with only 1 lens to choose, I'd go for versatility. But apparently people think that's "wrong."
    – user8356
    May 21 '18 at 12:47

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