The USS Quad Damage

Never enough light...

A large part of buying my camera and related equipment is playing with it and figuring out what it's all about. One of the lessons I've learnt in the past is that there's never enough light. For outdoor pictures in the day, it's great. Pictures end up sharp, in focus, and full of colour. Indoors (or outdoors) at night is almost always retarded. The flash helps to some degree, but the one I've got doesn't "integrate" with my camera very well. I've got to constantly adjust the settings to make it work right, and it's got some sort of lag, so I can't go above 400.

One thing I've learnt is that if it takes 4 or 5 pictures before you get it right, people are going to lose interest.

The solution was more light. I didn't have a studio or other fancy setup, so dropping in excess of $100 for a light kit wasn't feasible. I looked at the Bunnings catalogues every now and then and noticed some very powerful work lights (2x500W) for reasonable prices (~$30). I went out with nathan and bought one on a stand (2x500W) and one carry-around (150W for ~$10). The nice thing about them was that I could also use them for outdoor lighting in parties. Entertaining in an outdoor area is always difficult at night due to limited lighting. I intended to fix that and my picture taking in one hit.

There are issues with going with cheap work lights over a (cheap) professional lighting kit. The most immediate one I knew about was colour temperature. I didn't check, but I figured that even the cheapo lights in lighting kits would have a slightly more neutral colour than a work light, which no one really cares about. Having said that, they were both tungsten halogen lights, so I figured it was OK. Worst case, my pictures would look a little yellow. I like warm pics. The second thing was control. Work lights generally don't have as many controllable factors as something that's actually built to take pictures. I figured I could always go bush mechanic and figure out what to do in particular situations as they came along. The thing I wasn't aware of was the grilles. Work lights generally have grilles to protect them from getting hit by work equipment. I know it seems obvious, but when I bought them I didn't realise that the grilles would cause shadows over whatever they were pointing at. Oh well, either reflect them or cut the grille out. I didn't mind. This wasn't even really an issue for the 2x500W lights, because there were two of them, which pretty much cancelled out the shadows.

Immediately after buying them, we decided to test them out. What I found was interesting. The first thing is that they're very, very bright. If you're standing in front of them, even if you're trying not to look at them, they'll send you blind. Direct lighting is not an option unless your subject is wearing sunglasses. The solution is to reflect them off the ceiling, if there is one. Otherwise just put them far enough away that it's liveable. They're as bright as sunlight, but at the same time, not the same, because they're point lights. This means they're too bright in some places, and not bright enough in others. This may not be a big problem in a small area, because of the number of objects the light can reflect off.

The second thing is that they're not nearly bright enough. At least, not for taking pictures indoors at night without a tripod.

The ideal scenario is that you're walking around during an event with many "picture taking opportunities". You notice one, you take a picture, and it's awesome. It brings out the meaning of what it was to be at said event. It turns out that this may well be impossible, or at least difficult. Here's the real problem: Completely zoomed out with 400 ISO speed setting, the pic is great. The camera determines, at maximum aperture for my lens (~5) I can take pics at around 1/250s. This results in pretty sharp pictures for a handheld lens. Start zooming in, however, and the 250 turns to 125, 60, 40, and lower. That's if you're in a good place, lighting wise.

This basically means that you take pics at maximum zoom-out-ey-ness, and walk in or out whenever you need to "zoom" in or out. That's fine, but what if you want a very low DOF? Re-arranging the objects is the best option you have. If you want a higher DOF you're stuffed as well, because smaller apertures mean longer times.

This basically leaves the tripod as the only real option for taking decent pics at night. If I've left the tripod at home, I'm already screwed.

The final thing that I noticed is that I ruin as many pictures from getting the autofocus wrong as I ruin from camera shake. I'm used to my EOS50E. It tracks my eye to see what I'm looking at, and takes the picture. The 350D tries to figure out what I'm taking a picture of, and focuses based on that. It tends to weight the middle spot more than the rest. I tend to take pictures where the subject is off-centre. I have to do the funny focus-move dance to get the picture correct. On many occasions you just can't get the subject to wait while you do this (it's a seat of the pants thing*) and sometimes I just plain forget. The red dots focus on something unrelated, and I take the picture unaware that I've screwed it up. Gotta take more care...

* I have no idea what that means.