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Any tips for low light outdoor photography in Lapland?

edited December 2014 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
I'm a new owner of a D3200 and I have a kit lens and have just purchased a 35mm f/1.8G lens as an addition to my kit. Does anyone have any good tips. Apparently we will only have 3 hours daylight each day. It's the holiday of a lifetime and I want to get some great outdoor shots of my family with reindeer, huskys etc in the dark but with the glow from the snow.


  • edited December 2014
    If you have time before you go, experiment a little in waning light, low indoor light, and the like, since it's digital and you can erase practice shots. Try to figure out what your limits are for hand holding with a VR lens, among other things.

    I have not done much outdoor dark shooting, but found in general that the D3200 can do well in low light, because its high ISO performance is decent. At the highest settings dark areas are noisy, but you can get pretty good pictures for the most part, especially of people. The brighter your exposure, the less noisy it will be.

    For experimenting, try turning off auto ISO and experiment with low shutter speeds. Also experiment with different ISO settings in low light to find out first what your optimal slowest shutter speed is, and second what your acceptable level of digital noise is. The default for this camera is for auto ISO to shift ISO up whenever your shutter speed goes below 1/30 of a second. That's good and safe, but if you are steady of hand and using a VR lens you can often go a good bit slower. Find a shutter speed at which you get a reasonably high percentage of clean shots, and you can reset your auto ISO switching point to that. At least some of your shots will likely occur at a lower and less noisy ISO. You can also set your auto ISO to go to a specific point and no higher, so, for example, if you find 6800 unacceptable, you can prevent auto ISO from going there. Be reminded, however, that the high limit for auto ISO is also the high limit for manual ISO. You must shut off auto ISO altogether if you want to go higher. This is not made clear in the manual, and the camera's display will mislead you. Nikon engineers have done a very good job, but they goofed here. If, for example, you have set the "maximum sensitivity" to 800 and manually choose 1600, the camera will show the speed you have selected, but the picture will be taken at 800 or less.

    Of course you can use flash, but that will tend to darken the background. Again, experiment with as many settings as you can. Grab casual shots of the family at home just to get a feel for what can and cannot be done. In P and A modes, the flash allows a setting called "slow sync", which functions as fill flash with the slow shutter speed you would have used with no flash, and this allows at least some background light as well. Whether this is preferable to no flash will depend on circumstances, but it might work well for you.

    If you're shooting in snow, the general rule is to overexpose by a stop or so. The camera's meter will see a large field of snow as excessively bright, and lower exposure so as to turn it gray. As a result, people in the snow will tend to be underexposed.

    Remember too, if you shoot in RAW mode, you can correct minor exposure issues, and also white balance, after the fact. If you're shooting in a variety of different lighting situations, white balance can be confusing. Auto works pretty well, but being able to fine tune that will help your pictures a good deal.

    Take plenty of memory, shoot RAW, and save originals to a hard drive before you work on anything. Once you have a safe backup, you can work on what you will where you will. If you edit raw files in the camera, it will save the edits as JPG. If you use View NX2, you can do bulk conversions of raw to JPG, including re-sizing for web, etc.
  • edited December 2014
    Just to give you a really quick and dirty idea of what is possible with this rig, I took a picture out the back door tonight. Devoid of subject or pictorial interest, it is just an exercise in what a D3200 can capture in bad light. It was dusk, with snow on the ground. The resulting picture is brighter than what my eye saw. I used my D3200 with the kit lens, set the ISO to 1600, the aperture to f/5, and the mode to A, hand held. The resulting shutter speed was ridiculously slow, somewhere just under a second. Exif information should be intact in the file, so you can check it if you have a program or extension. With the lens set wide, I can usually get a fair result at 1/4 second with VR, and this was too slow to be reliable. It's not super sharp. The ISO chosen is a bit noisy, but not awful given how dark the picture is. Higher ISO will begin to show as both random color noise and edge blurring, but this is still pretty decent at small print size. As you can see, the snow is a bit blue in cast and exposure dark, but there is no compensation or correction here. The only post processing was to convert from RAW to JPG. For all that, it's a picture taken with the equipment at hand, in the hand.

    Because the image is not downsized, I will not hot link it here, but here is the link to the file:

    Edit to add: it seems the exif info is stripped out by so here is what I have:

    D3200 with 18-55mm VR kit lens.
    AF at A
    Exposure mode A
    Metering matrix
    ISO 1600 (not on auto)
    Aperture 7.10
    Shutter speed ~.75 seconds
    Picture control Vivid
    Focal length 34 mm.
    Noise reduction off
    Active D-lighting off
    WB auto
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