Photographing in low light? Give Auto Focus a helping hand…

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: January 17, 2011

Category: General

This particular portrait shoot took place in the evening by which time it was completely dark but for the street lighting.

Now, working in such low light doesn’t normally cause a problem for the AF (Auto focus) on my Nikon D3 but when it does there’s an inexpensive piece of kit that’s always in my kit bag and comes to the rescue on more than one occasion…

At some point in the near future I’m going to put together a ‘What’s in my bag’ post showing what I typically carry with me on a shoot and also other lighting equipment that I use when in the studio but jumping the gun slightly here’s something I wouldn’t be without…

This pocket sized torch is called an LED Lenser and for it’s size packs a real punch and only costs around £10. If shooting on your own then there’s definitely a knack to holding it in your left hand and holding the camera with your right, then turning it on momentarily and aiming towards where you want to focus on your subject and finally pressing the shutter; but well worth the effort to save the frustration 🙂

Anyway back to the shoot and here’s a diagram to give you an idea of the lighting set up. (Note…All the photos of ‘Angelo’ were taken with him sat in the passenger seat of the car.)

It’s not uncommon during a location shoot for me to get comments/questions from passersby but the one I got on this particular evening definitely takes the 1st Prize slot for ‘Things not to say near a model’ 🙂

Female Passerby: “Is it ok for to me pass by?”
Me: “Yes of course”
Female Passerby: “Oh good. I didn’t know if you were photographing a dead body or something.”

But then I guess looking back at what the set up must have looked like, she could be forgiven for thinking the worst.
Enjoy 🙂

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15 Comments

  1. David Kelly

    Now if ever there was a moment for Neal to be around as an extra pair of hands, it sounds like this was the occasion! 😉
    Your set up with the flashguns & LED torch, it must’ve looked like something from an episode of CSI for that passerby to make those comments 😉
    Hey at least she asked if it was ok, plenty of other inconsiderate people wouldn’t – and we’ve all encountered those ignoramii no doubt!

    David

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @David…I took a shot of the set up and now even I’m concerned … lol 🙂

      Reply
  2. Tim Skipper

    Glynn,

    I always keep an LED flashlight handy. There not just great for helping focus in low light, but when you can’t find that one piece of equipment in the bottom of your bag. (Why is it that everything we use is black, especially since we work mostly in the dark?)

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Tim…Maybe there’s an idea there for Dragon’s Den…camera kit you can actually see 🙂

      Reply
  3. neal

    @ David, I was busy making the tea at the time mate 🙂

    @ Glyn, nice shots, great catch-lights in the eyes 🙂

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Neal…Thanks mate

      Reply
  4. Rick Wenner

    Nice work here Glyn. I’m really liking these portraits. The LED light is a perfect solution to low light focusing problems. I can certainly confess to that being the owner of a Canon 5D Mark II which struggles to catch focus in low light like an old man climbing a mountain.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Rick…Thanks for stopping by mate.
      Yeah I’ve heard a few reports about the low light focusing issue on the 5D II; that aside though I’ve heard nothing but great reports…and that’s coming from a Nikon user 🙂

      Reply
  5. Paul Hodgson

    Hi Glyn, newbie to your blog so ‘Hello’

    Thanks for the detailed description and as an aside, great to see someone else that took art at school 🙂

    I’m curious about the gridded SB800, I can’t fathom what’s being opened up in the photographs. I’m assuming it’s a rim light that maybe you rejected in post?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Paul Hodgson…Great to see you popping by mate; thanks for that and thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Re the gridded SB800…this was the lighting set up for the entire shoot and didn’t change. The only thing that did change was my position and I did on occasion turn off the SB800. I’ll post an image or two with that light on so you can see it; hope that makes sense.

      Thanks again, Glyn

      Reply
  6. Justin Zhang Photography

    Same question, the effect from the snooted sb800 is not really visible to me either. Or I just need to calibrate my monitor again?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Justin…Yeah I’ve just replied to Paul who asked the same question; here’s what I wrote:

      Re the gridded SB800…this was the lighting set up for the entire shoot and didn’t change. The only thing that did change was my position and I did on occasion turn off the SB800. I’ll post an image or two with that light on so you can see it; hope that makes sense.

      Cheers, Glyn 🙂

      Reply
  7. DaveT

    Useful tip there Glyn, and great results.

    By the way Rick, and for other Canon users struggling to focus in low light, if you have an STE2 you can use this to assist focusing in low light. It uses the infra red signal that it uses to trigger remote flashes, only in this case it uses the infra red to aid focusing.

    Dave

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Thanks for sharing the info re the STE2 mate

      Reply
  8. Jon Allen

    Hi Guys
    Focusing in very low light even with the D3 still can be it or miss, when trying to be really creative say with the first dance at a wedding and the couple are dancing quite quickly its is quite hard to achieve the sharpness that we all desire. at some venues I use the SU800 as an independent focus aid and not just to trigger speed lights. sometimes I use a deda ledzilla video light on a stand aimed at the couple. the light is daylight balanced and works very well, the camera focuses every time.

    Reply

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