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Shooting dancing in low light

edited July 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Hey Gang. I just found you online and like many here, I'm just a novice looking to improve on taking some images. I'm a hobbyist, but would like to have a nice clean image. I operate a dj company and take images throughout the dance portion of the evening, mainly or advert purposes, but I also give them to my clients too. My challenge is low lighting at times. Because of time, I've been operating in Auto mode (the crowd sighs!), but I'm finding that it's not always capturing things very well. I'll continue working through the old posts here, but any suggestions on using the camera in a low light/dancing atmosphere, would be appreciated.

Btw, just the two stock lenses and I do have a decent adjustable hot shot flash (I can't recall exact model right now).

Look forward to learning more here with you folks.


  • edited July 2016
    The main issue you may have with Auto mode is that it takes away the options of autofocus choice, and the option of ISO choice. Other issues are pertinent too, but I think those are the most prevalent.

    To begin with, especially in difficult lighting situations, multi-area Auto focus may miss your subject and focus on the wrong thing. As a result, of course, you cannot control focus very well. For dancers in motion, I would suggest changing to one of the "controllable" modes, P, S, A or M, and setting the auto focus to Continuous Servo and Auto Area or 3D (you should try both, and find which one tracks your subject best). This mode will allow you to select a single starting point, and then track a subject. Make sure you have selected the correct point. It's easy to get moved by accident. The [OK] button recenters it.

    For ISO, you'll have to experiment a little with the compromise between motion blur and noise. High ISO will tend to be noisy in darkened areas, and low shutter speed will blur moving subjects. If your camera is running on Auto ISO, it may or may not choose the right one.

    I find I must leave for other business, so must close. May think of other things later.
  • edited July 2016
    Back from errands, I will add a bit.

    First of all, if you are in a hurry and find that overall exposure, depth of field, etc. have been to your liking, then you can switch to P mode, and this will still set both your aperture and shutter speed as in automatic mode, but will allow you to select other things that Auto pre-empts, including ISO and auto focus. You'll see, when you choose P that some options on the screen are no longer grayed out. If you leave the camera on auto ISO as well, you will be in "almost auto" mode, but still be gaining control.

    If you use Auto ISO, you should always start at the lowest ISO available (100) and if the camera decides it needs to go faster, it will. It almost certainly will in concerts. You should do some experimenting when you have time, and shoot at various ISO speeds on purpose, aiming at fairly dark and contrasty subjects, and then study the pictures for noise. Decide for yourself what level of noise is acceptable. Chances are for people indoors you can go pretty high, but still may find high or 6400 just too grainy. If so, you can go into the menu and limit the auto ISO choice so it will never go there. The default for auto ISO is to raise ISO when your shutter speed goes below 1/30 second. If it hits an upper limit, it will go to a slower shutter as needed. If you find you have a good steady hand and are using a VR lens, you can lower that shutter speed too. You can experiment to see how your own camera shake does.

    All of this is assuming no flash. If you have a good flash, then you have other options. Different flashes adjust differently, but when in P, S, A or M mode, a flash will work well as a fill, and bring exposure up beyond that as needed. If the flash is TTL compatible, you can pretty well plug and play. For a manual flash, you'll have to experiment and read up. If the flash is "auto" in the old fashioned sense, with its own light sensor, you must set the camera manually, but the flash will do a good job of controlling exposure. Of course you get a different look with flash, but flash will freeze motion and allow you to use a nice low quiet ISO.

    For flash, as there are so many variables, I suggest you read up, and do a lot of experimenting. Take lots and lots of bad pictures and erase them, trying out different things.

    If it's dark you may have problems with AF, and have to focus manually. But remember that while in AF the camera is in focus priority, and must find something to focus on before it fires, in Manual focus, the camera will shoot whether it's focused or not. One of the reasons for getting out of Auto mode is so that you can use single point AF, and aim at a bright subject in an otherwise dark space, and know that this is what you are focusing on.

    Of course, if you want the best performance in low light, the best thing to do is to open up your wallet and get a faster lens. For the D3200, one pretty good bargain that gives you a good normal viewpoint would be the 35mm f/1.8 AFS DX lens. This is specific for the DX camera format, is a nice sharp lens, etc.
  • Thanks for all the great tips & info, Bruto. I'll admit I don't use the camera enough to be able to do things "on the fly" quickly, but I'm realizing that I need to make the effort if I want my images to get better.

    Is this the lens you're referring to?

    I need a lens with some reach since most of my shots are from a distance. I'm probably a good 30-50+ feet away from my subjects when I'm trying to capture them dancing. I like to get "non-posed" images.
  • edited July 2016
    This the flash I'm working with currently:

    I've been happy with it, although I don't have anything to compare it to.

  • edited July 2016
    Yes, that was the lens I was referring to. If you think you will consistently need to shoot from further away, you might do better with the 50mm. I suggest that before you invest in anything, you use the zooms you have, and make note of what focal lengths you find yourself using most. The 18-55mm zoom, clearly, covers the focal length of both those prime lenses. If you go longer than 50mm in a prime, you may find that although it's nice, it is less versatile. Remember that if you are posting on the web and the like, a D3200 image, if it''s sharp to start, can afford a good deal of cropping and still be sharp. But if you find you are really always wanting to go tighter than 50mm, you might consider either a longer prime in the 85mm range, or a faster midrange zoom. That starts to get expensive, though.

    If you're routinely using flash, the lens speed is less of an issue, if you can focus reliably. The faster the lens, the more readily it will AF in poor light even if you're using a smaller aperture. It always does both its viewing and focusing wide open, so even if you shoot at f/11, an f/1.8 lens will probably focus faster and better than an f/5.6 lens. You can usually get by even with a slow kit lens, but faster is nicer.

    That's a pretty versatile looking flash, it looks as if it should do TTL with the camera, and it seems to have plenty of power, but I bet the instruction book is thick, so I think you've got your bed time reading covered for a while. It certainly is nicely priced.
  • edited July 2016
    I actually had been looking at a 50mm.

    Definitely have some practicing/testing to do, and tons of reading. lol
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