Fading Light

What do you do when you are at a great location taking photos and the sun begins to go down? The decreasing amount of light that is lost in a situation like this happens almost exponentially. Working in such a situation requires quick thinking and some resourcefulness. You obviously cannot stop the sun from fading into the horizon, so what do you do?

I remember an old television commercial where a father and his son were sitting at a beautiful location watching the sun set. It was a gorgeous scene and just as the sun was fading into the horizon, the dad said, “Going… going… gone!” And with that the sun completely disappeared. The little boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do it again, daddy!”

No, we can keep the sun from fading into the western skyline, so what do we photographers do as the sunlight gives out?

I was in this situation this past Friday night at a baseball game. Baseball requires a pretty fast shutter speed and with my 1.4x teleconverter attached the fading light affected me rather quickly. I was able to keep shooting by adapting some settings on my camera both in the computer menu and physically.

First, I could change to a higher ISO. This is the equivalent to a faster ASA in the old film days. By using more sensitive film, the photographer could use the limited available light a little longer. The same can be accomplished by changing to a higher ISO. With today’s modern cameras like my Nikon D300, we can shoot at higher ISOs and still not experience much noise in our photos. This is a great option, but it does have some limits and eventually we are going to get into such high ISOs that the noise is noticeable.

Another option I had was to remove the 1.4x teleconverter and shoot without it. This provided one more stop of light for me and wasn’t a bad solution since I was right by the dugout. This location allowed me to continue shooting the infielders and batters without too much lose of distance. A simple thing like removing a piece of gear like this can sometimes be a very good option.

Another option for me was to use the exposure compensation option on my camera. This works pretty well in Aperture Priority and I use it often to get rid of those troublesome blinkies. This option can help in darkening situations, but again only to a limit.

Dealing with fading light is not easy, but it is definitely worth the struggle. This is, after all, labeled the “golden hour” for a reason!

One remaining option can sometimes be to keep shooting after sunset, depending on your subject. This is not possible for sports photographers, but the sky can reveal brilliant and fascinating colors that can captured well with your digital camera. Try with those big puffy clouds in the sky as the setting sun casts beautiful rays of light throughout the skyline.

There are ways to deal with fading light and having several options in your bag of tricks can keep you shooting longer.

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One Response to Fading Light

  1. michaelt74 says:

    Finally a post with a useful topic, great! I’ve been in the low light situation many a time and don’t think there’s a silver bullet solution. Shooting sports as you’ve discussed and if you’ve got the money for it, investing in a good lens is your best option. If like me, you don’t have a spare $2-3K then using a high ISO would help, obviously you have to contend with noise, but this is negligible under a well lit area like a baseball park. Noise at higher ISO becomes a problem in low lit areas, even with high end cameras.

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