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Photographers, can you offer some help with night photography?

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by slappy4428, Jan 1, 2010.

  1. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Buddy of mine needs to take pictures at night, maybe 75-100 feet away from the subject.

    Needs to be able to get a moving target (so opening the shutter speed won't work) and can't use a flash (will give him away).
    He's got a Nikon D40 with an 18-55 lens now, but can get a hold of a 70-210 zoom ...
    Can't go into to details on the reasons, but suffice it to say that it needs to be right out of the Sneaky Bastard playbook.

    Suggestions? Filters? Different lens or camera body?

    Oh, did I mention that it needs to be an affordable possibility?
  2. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    You answered your own questions, for the most part.

    I am assuming the 18-55 lens with the Nikon is a kit lens and that it's maximum aperture is probably f/3.5 or f/4 or f/5.6 (if it is similar to a Canon kit lens). That won't cut the mustard.

    His obstacle isn't the zoom range (so if the longer lens has similar maximum aperture, it is just as useless), it's the ability of the lens to let in light -- because he can't use a flash. If it is a lens without wide aperture (smaller number; i.e. -- lets in more light), the only way to shoot in the dark without a flash is to open the shutter up for a long time (from 3 to 30 seconds, depending on the conditions). That means getting a moving target is going to be impossible and even so, you'd need to have the camera on a tripod so it remains perfectly still.

    If he can get his hands on a wide aperture lens (f/1.4, let's say), he should be able to get some handheld night shots without a flash and without having to open up the lens for a long time. I don't know how well it will capture motion, but I'd set the ISO really high--as high as the camera will allow (ISO 4000?)-- and set it for f/1.4 for aperture, and anywhere from 1/8 to 1/250 on the shutter speed and see what happens.
  3. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    The problem with the D40 is the auto focus only works with AF-S lenses, i.e. lenses with their own focusing motor like the 18-55. A lens like a 50/1.8 (about $100) or an 85/1.8 (about $400) works for low light, but don't have AF-S. Also, I'm not sure but my guess is if you use D40 in low light without flash the little white pre-flash light on the front of the camera will go off, which cancels out the trying to be stealth.
    Is this for shooting theater? Sports? With sports you can get away with using flash. I prefer inside sports with no flash, but given the equipment flash is better than really dark and/or blurry shots.
    Not knowing the budget for your friend, I would suggest finding a used D1 or D1H. You can get a D1H around $150 or so, then get a 50/1.8 and a spare battery (about $30), you're talking under $300 for a camera that is much faster and will do low light much better than the D40. Only downside is you won't know just how used the used D1H is.
    Hope that helps.
  4. ADodgen

    ADodgen Member

    How much is "affordable"? Because for what it sounds like he needs, I'd suggest renting.
  5. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    New camera's not in the picture. It's a limited use deal... D40 is what he has to work with.
    Let's just say it's for shooting people, in a spy-type situation
  6. txsportsscribe

    txsportsscribe Active Member

    did not's divorce lawyer hire your buddy?
  7. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Oh... no... let's just say he's going through a similar situation...
  8. txsportsscribe

    txsportsscribe Active Member

    then in might be best to hire a pro. some aren't that expensive.
  9. ADodgen

    ADodgen Member

    Seriously, what's his budget?
  10. Pilot

    Pilot Well-Known Member

    The prospects don't sound good without a serious investment in camera equipment.
    If time and money weren't big factors, you could order a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. You could probably find a nice one used for under $1,000, and while f2.8 isn't super wide open, it's better than the lens it sounds like he has. The problem with those lenses he has, their aperture probably isn't very good to start with, and if he zooms in at all, which I'm sure he will want to from that distance, the aperture gets even worse.

    What I would do, set your ISO as high as possible. Set your f-stop at low as possible. Keep it as zoomed out as is reasonable. What shutterspeed you'll be able to get away with depends on how fast this thing is moving and how in focus you want it. You might be able to set it as low as 1/160, or maybe even one notch lower. Alternatively, you could set it even lower 1/100 or maybe even 1/60 or 1/50 and try and pan the camera with the movement to get a good in focus shot.

    Odds are that you'll end up with a grainy, blurry photo where you still might not be able to make anything out.

    Perhaps if he went to a camera shop or maybe even a pawn shop or something he could find a used lens with an f2.8 aperture setting. I'm not sure how the D40 works, but sounds like he might have to focus it manually.
  11. Pilot

    Pilot Well-Known Member

    Jack Bauer would just use his cell phone camera and it would work perfectly.
  12. SportsGuyBCK

    SportsGuyBCK Active Member

    Nah, Jack would call up one of the NSA super-satellites so he could count the number of pimples on the bad guy's face ...
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