Zoo Lights

edited December 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3300 Forum
I want to take some nice pictures while at Zoo Lights tomorrow, and I'm not sure which are the best settings for me to use on my D3300 since it will be dark and christmas lights will be up.


  • edited December 2016
    Hard to say for sure without knowing a little more about what you're shooting and how much movement there will be. As a general rule, you're going to need high ISO, in order to get enough shutter speed to hand hold. If the environment in general is quite dark, you should try exposure compensation, possibly as much as two stops negative, to avoid overexposing the lights. The camera's meter will try to make the black parts of the scene lighter, and in so doing will blow out the lights.

    Focusing may be a challenge, but if you are shooting relatively still subjects such as the lights themselves, you can use Single servo, single point auto focus, make sure you know what focus point is enabled (the [OK] button centers it if it strays), and recompose with the shutter button half down if you need to.

    If you have a little time to experiment, see if you can determine the lowest comfortable hand holding speed for your own lens. If you are shooting the short kit lens with VR, and a fairly wide setting, you may find you can go pretty slow and still get it sharp. The slower you can go, the lower the ISO you can afford (and thereby the lower the noise). Wider settings will also require less closing down of aperture for good depth of field.

    If I were doing this, I'd probably set the camera for manual ISO and aperture priority, keeping the zoom lens fairly wide and the aperture fairly wide open, if not completely wide open. Christmas lights will tend to have a bit of halo anyway, and you may not see a great deal of difference between sharp and a little blurred. Use matrix metering and single point single servo focus. Set the exposure compensation about -1.5 to start with, and check the results. On the D3300, I'd expect decent results at ISO 800 or faster, and start at 800.

    When viewing, look at the shutter speed in the display, and if it goes lower than you find comfortable, up the ISO. If the shutter speed is faster than you need, you can either lower the ISO or stop down the lens a little to improve quality.

    Check the results on the first couple of shots, and if they are too dark, move the exposure compensation a bit more to the (+) side. If the brightly lit portions appear blown out, move the compensation a bit more to the (-) side.

    When you change exposure compensation, it will also change the shutter speed, so keep an eye on it. The more negative you go, the faster the shutter speed if you change nothing else.

    If it's impossible to use auto focus owing to the darkness, you will have to use manual focus. Switch the lens or camera to manual, and try to focus on a bright light. The focus confirmation dot in the finder will still operate, and the rangefinder might if it's enabled. If you're on a tripod, you can use live view, and it might or might not focus correctly. On the D3200, and probably the D3300 as well, an undocumented feature is that the focus priority in Live View is altered. It will always try to focus, but if focus fails, it will shoot the picture anyway after a second or two. This can be a convenience or an annoyance, depending on circumstances.
  • edited December 2016
    Bruto's reply is nicely complete! Here is an article that was came through my RSS feeds today. Talk about appropriate timing.


    The biggest takeaway is to bring your tripod, or at least have some way to stabilize your camera for long shutter speeds. Also, there are suggestions for what you can do to optimize your shots for post-production fiddling after you get home, if you care to do that.
  • edited December 2016
    @BRUTO, thank you! I mostly want to take pictures of my family just some portraits with the nice lights behind them. Since there is a lot of lights there will be some light to work with and it won't be completely dark.
    Thanks to the both of you, very helpful! :)
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