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A midnight stroll around Paris

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

It’s a stiflingly hot summer’s night in Paris – 37deg C during the day and not really dropping much by midnight and with little breeze to cool the apartments – the best place to be is out on the streets having a wander and exploring without the crowds.


My quaint hotel room decorated by famous designer Christian Lacroix at Hotel Le Bellechasse adjacent to my favourite art gallery, the Musee D’Orsay in Saint Germain. The staff at this hotel were always extremely pleasant and helpful, and the room clean and quiet, and thankfully was fitted with an air conditioner. There was a lift to avoid the common struggles of staircases and luggage, and a nice buffet style breakfast if one wished to partake.

As nice as it was, the streets of Paris at midnight beckons.

And thanks to my Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera, there is no need for carrying cumbersome tripods, just hand held image stabilized night street photography, discrete enough to hide it if danger lurked in the dark recesses along the Seine.


But in Paris, one is never alone, lonely perhaps, but not alone.


And though it was dusk, in a city where the threat of terrorism is ever present, being able to capture this lovely fleeting candid street photography style shot of these two ladies oblivious to the world and having a laugh is what brings joy to photography – Paris is not just the old buildings and art galleries – it is the people who remind us that humanity is not all that bad.


I am guessing you don’t need me to tell you this the the famous Louvre, but here are a couple of images before they turn the lights off at midnight and evacuate the square.





I can’t write a blog post like this and not include the Eiffel Tower at dusk – oh yes, the sun sets late in Paris, and dusk is around 11pm!


Or, for that matter, romance along the Seine – they are just too iconic to ignore even for me!

Amazing multicoloured bioluminescent Ghost Fungi mushrooms at night under an auroral glow

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

I went for a bush walk in a rather remote Victorian forest today and, unexpectedly, stumbled across an isolated patch of Omphalotus Nidiformis mushrooms – the “Ghost Fungi” which give off a very dim eerie glow in the forest at night (to our naked eyes without colour vision, using only rods in the dim light, they appear white).

He they are just after sunset taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web):

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 1/4sec, f/3.5, ISO 1250.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my boot at 1/4sec, f/2.5, ISO 640.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 0.6sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250.

So, hoping I was correct, I headed back into the closest town, had a quick bite, then headed back well after twilight had finished, and there they were, once my eyes had adjusted to night vision, the patch of fungi giving off their strange light.

Here are a few I shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens sitting on a towel as a support (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web – no light painting or artificial lights, and white balance for these was set to sunny day):

Ghost fungi

The above was at f/2.8 (trying to get some more DOF), ISO 1600, noise filter = LOW, long exposure NR on with an 8 minute exposure using the very handy Live Timed function (I didn’t bring a remote to activate a BULB mode – thankfully the OM-D’s don’t need one!) and shows some lovely orange as well as green, with the top left corner being the brighter night sky (perhaps 2 stops brighter) illuminated by an Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.

The still night air without a breeze to be felt allowed me to use these nice long exposures, rather than having to open the aperture up to f/1.2 and loose depth of field even more than I was losing.

I could just imagine all the local insects coming out to dance and sing under the soft light – but it was too cold for most of them tonight – which saved me getting a few bites at least!

Ghost fungi

The above was as for the previous one but f/2.0 at 4 minutes exposure.

And, finally, just for a little fun at 10pm on a winter’s night, all alone in a remote forest, a fisheye view – taken with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens sitting on a towel at f/1.8, ISO 1600, 2 minutes to avoid the bright auroral sky washing out – and yes, you can tell it is looking south from the out of focus star trails making an arc around the South Celestial Pole somewhere near the centre of the image.

Ghost fungi

Camera settings for shooting these ghost fungi at night:

  • I used a 25mm lens (50mm in full frame terms) but one could go wider than this
  • getting adequate depth of field while keeping ISO low and exposure duration a minimum is a challenge without resorting to complicated post-processing focus stacking techniques – for the 25mm Olympus lens I prefer the f/2.8 setting but this required 8 minutes exposure at ISO 1600, if using an equivalent 50mm lens on full frame this would require using f/5.6, 8 minutes at ISO 6400 – so any high ISO benefit of full frame is lost.
    • if it is windy, then you will not be able to achieve nice imagery, even if you chose to shoot at f/1.2 and ISO 12800 to gain a shorter shutter speed, it may still be too long if the fungi are moving – go on a still night without wind, and suffer the pea soup fog on your drive home.
    • if you can’t shoot BULB (you didn’t buy an Olympus and you forgot your remote control), then you may need settle with f/1.8, ISO 6400 and 30secs
  • manual focus and a torch is a must – and it helps if your lens has a nice MF clutch, and your camera can do magnified view to allow you to accurately manual focus using a torch to assist
  • I chose to shoot sunny day white balance as I wanted to see what the colours were like compared to our normal visual experience of a sunny day
  • Noise filter should be set to LOW or OFF as ideally you should be removing noise in post-processing (I haven’t done this in these images – I will wait til I get a chance to process the RAW files)
  • Long exposure noise reduction should be set to Auto or ON – this does double the length of waiting for exposure to finish but it removes the thermal noise and you don’t need that!
  • I decided not to use my tripod as I wanted to be at ground level so i rested the camera on a towel
  • turn IS OFF
  • If you don’t have an Olympus camera then you will need to bring a remote trigger for your BULB mode to get past 30secs

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 25mm f/1.2 is great for this type of photography as:

  • the image stabiliser is fantastic when using it hand held for the dusk shots
  • ISO 1600 or 3200 is usable, and that is all you really need for the night shots
  • the flip out LCD screen means you don’t have to get down level with the camera on your stomach and get real dirty or have crawlies all over you
  • the 25mm f/1.2 not only is an amazing lens which focuses twice as close as similar full frame lenses, but it has a wonderful manual focus clutch
  • accurate manual focus is easy using magnified view mode
  • noise reduction phase displays a count down so you know how long you have left
  • if your torch is getting dim, you can have the Live Timed mode automatically activate Live Boost so you can see in the dark better
  • normal timed exposures go to 60 secs not like most other cameras where you need a remote control to activate BULB mode to get past 30secs
  • Live Timed mode allows you to visualise how the image is developing (eg. every 30 secs):
    • if you stuffed something up like composition, just terminate the exposure rather than wait until your planned exposure finishes
    • you can see how the histogram and image exposure is devloping, and then terminate when desired – this is how I chose to terminate the fisheye shot – when I saw the sky was starting to blow out
    • unlike BULB mode, you can set a duration for it to last and it will self-terminate the exposure without you having to be there with a remote control – this allows you to use another camera to do something else such as take Milky Way astroscapes while you wait 16 minutes for an 8 minute exposure and 8minute dark frame.
    • you don’t need a remote control – just wait for it to time out or press the shutter button to terminate exposure.
    • you can see from 5m away what the status is – is exposure still occurring or is it in noise reduction phase when its OK to turn torches on, or is exposure complete

For more mushrooms, see my previous post

One week in South Korea – part 3 – Seoul at night

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Seoul in August is a wonderful balmy warm and seemingly safe city to explore at night as long as you take reasonable care and respect the locals who rarely like being photographed unless they are doing it themselves – the number of young Koreans walking around taking selfies as they walk is quite disturbing for safety reasons alone – luckily there is no Pokemon Go in South Korea (due to military security concerns with Google street view imagery – although there is a small area in Sokcho where it is possible).

I had no safety concerns carrying my cameras and even having them visible on the subway trains at night – something I would be reluctant to do in my own city of Melbourne !

Usually when I walk streets at night I carry discrete wide aperture lenses on my compact Micro Four Thirds cameras (OM-D E-M1 and E-M5) which allow low light photography and allow the camera to be quickly returned to a jacket pocket – for example the Panasonic 20mm f/1.8 pancake lens and the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0. In Seoul, I decided to ditch the 12mm lens and use the larger Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 for greater versatility.

The most popular districts to explore are Itaewon, Hongdae and ultra-modern Dongaemun.


Itaewon is where the US Military tend to congregate at bars and clubs, and thus is the main district for Caucasian tourists – although the night we went there, there were very few of either and it was mainly the local Koreans, and in the back alleys you did need to keep your eye out for opportunistic predators although we did not see any aggression or criminal activity even to 1-2am.

We enjoyed an awesome, albeit, expensive, authentic Korean BBQ in one of the side street cafes, then headed off to some of the bars for some cultural exchanges.

Back alleys of Itaewon where there were a few dodgy people.


Dongaemun is a popular night precinct for shoppers with lots of street shops, shopping plazas, market and the ultra-modern Dongaemun Design Plaza (DDP).




Ceiling mobiles display in DDP.


Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the newly opened shopping plaza in the background right.

Helping out the locals with their selfie sticks.

Street stalls

A market which unfortunately had largely closed by the time we arrived at 10pm

A market mobile karaoke lady with her doll who was keen to pose for me.

The famous mung bean pancakes in the market – we were surprised to find a busy cafe behind this stall where we enjoyed our pancake with the local Koreans.

This was a signal to call it a night – perhaps too much soju?

Just managed to catch the last train on the subway – a rare deserted platform but we made it back to our hotel!


Hongdae is a Korean university student night precinct with many bars, clubs and shops, lots of intoxicated young Korean adults and few older adults while there were signs banning US military fro entering clubs due to potential conflicts, and the clubs seem to have an age cut off of 38 years, so no entry for an old guy like me but again, despite the flow of alcohol, there was no overt aggression or criminal activity evident and we felt safe walking the streets and there were plenty of taxis near by to take us back to the hotel (as long as you had the name and address of the hotel in Korean!). I took very few photos here but we did find a quiet late night bar for a dart throwing competition at 2am which finished the day off nicely.

street alcohol vendor for the students

Street alcohol vendor for the students (the vendor refused to allow his photo but did allow this shot).

Back alleyway.

Hongdae bar

Older style Hongdae bar.

This club security guy politely refused entry to the club for my travel buddy who was devastated as apparently now too old to go clubbing!

Not only older folk are banned from the clubs but also the US Military! Korean prevention is the best medicine!

Hongdae street bar.

Finally found a quiet bar where we could relax, talk and play some darts.


Handheld night street photography with Olympus E-M5 and Panasonic 20mm pancake lens – Melbourne’s “White Night” event

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

On a warm balmy summer night, Melbourne hosted its 2nd “White Night” event of all night long cultural activities which attracted unprecedented crowds surpassing even New Year’s Eve crowds.

In such crowds a tripod is just asking for trouble, and a kit zoom lens is not going to suffice.

Many of the attractions were projected images on Melbourne’s buildings and what better way to capture these in dense crowds than to use the Olympus E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera hand held with a tiny Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens which of course is effectively image stabilised thanks to the E-M5 making it an awesome compact night street photography combination.

These were all taken at ISO 800, mostly at shutter speeds 1/10th-1/50th sec and at f/1.7 (except the last one which was f/2.8).

The night begins:

the night begins

Birrarung Marr art installation:
Birrarung Marr art installation

The band plays under Flinders St railway station clocks:

the band plays under Flinders St railway station clocks

Projected buildings:
projected buildings

projected buildings

projected buildings

Projected love messages on the Yarra River:
projected love messages on the Yarra River

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12mm lens makes hand held urban street shots at night easier and more enjoyable with more security

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Last week I went on a road trip to outback Australia to play with my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera and primarily used it with the lovely but moderately expensive Olympus m.Zuiko Digital 12mm f/2.0 lens.

I love walking the streets at night to take urban street scenes at night when they have a totally different character, but carrying a tripod and a big camera when you are by yourself is just asking for trouble!

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with the Olympus 12mm lens is small enough to easily fit in a jacket pocket so you can be discrete and hide it when there is potential for trouble, furthermore it means you can still go into a pub for a drink and not draw attention to yourself.

This combination allows you to easily do fun night shots as the image stabilisation combined with the 12mm f/2.0 lens, EVF so you can still see your subject in the dark, fast AF in the dark, adequate DOF for street landscapes even at wide apertures, and high image quality at ISO 1600 breaks barriers that no other system can match for hand held shots at night of static subjects, easily beating my Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR for this purpose.

You can hand hold this lens down to shutter speeds of even a half a second if you are very careful, although I would recommend you try to limit yourself to 1/4 or 1/6th second to get more reliably sharp photos.

At f/2.0 or f/2.8 and ISO 1600 at 1/4 sec you can get into some quite dark environments and take successful shots, plus the slow shutter speed allows you to add some motion blurring effects if need be.

Here is a typical hand held shot walking around the remote outback mining town that is Broken Hill – which I think is actually quite a lot safer than Melbourne at night but still, I wouldn’t want to push my luck!

a Broken Hill pub at night

This is essentially straight from the camera (although converted to B&W, cropped and resized for the web in Lightroom).

Shot details: Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/2.0 with ISO 800 and shutter 1/20th sec hand held.

I have also posted these earlier related blog posts:

This combination makes an awesome, compact, high image quality, versatile travel photography kit, just add in a walkabout zoom lens and a 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens, and you are set!

A very quick night street shot as I walked across the road and an ambulance started bearing down on me

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Just to show how responsive and fantastic this Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera is with the Olympus m.ZD 12mm f/2.0 lens on, here is a shot as I was crossing a busy Melbourne intersection with camera in hand.

I had a split second to compose, AF, get the shot and get out of the way as the ambulance with lights and sirens on started to head my way.

The ONLY processing this image has had is in Lightroom 4.1 on the RAW file which was rotated a touch, cropped and then exported as web size with compression and default Lightroom sharpneing for the web.

It was taken at ISO 320, 1/60th second at f/2.0 with autoWB, noise level at low, Picture Style = Natural with default settings.

Obviously no tripod, but I was walking and had an umbrella in my left hand so I was not holding it carefully – indeed not carefully enough that I had to rotate the image!

But still it is very sharp indeed given the situation!

Click on it for larger view.
Melbourne at night on the move

The incredible Olympus OM-D E-M5′s hand held low light performance plus a high image quality wearable camera system! No more back pack, good bye tripod!

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Today was the 1st day I had the opportunity to take my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera for a walk in the city.

It was a heavily overcast, wet day, and I decided I would catch the train in, leave my backpack at home, and carry my camera kit in my jacket pockets as well as carry a full size umbrella, just to see how it would go.

I took the E-M5, Olympus 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/2.8 pancake, and 45mm f/1.8 lenses (I can’t wait until the 75mm f/1.8 comes out in about July!).

I could easily have also taken the Olympus 14-42mm collapsible kit lens in another pocket, they are all so light and compact.

I must say, this was the 1st time, I have been able to carry 3 lenses and such a high quality camera with me in my jacket pockets and would-be assailants would be none the wiser!

I have just downloaded Lightroom 4.1 RC so I could play with the Olympus RAW files, and being late at night now, I decided just to upload one untouched file other than being opened in Lightroom and resized and compressed for the web, and this is the one below top demonstrate how fantastic the hand holdable low light capabilities of this camera.

For this shot it was about 3 hours AFTER sunset, in the middle of a very dark alley, looking through my 12mm f/2.0 lens in the EVF the image was dark as the light levels were BELOW what the EVF is designed for (I didn’t put the Live Boost on, nor resort to iAUTO, both of which would have made the EVF brighter). The wall was lit by a distant lamp.

I was hand holding the camera at the end of a cold walk in the night air (~10degC), and the camera had no problems rapidly autofocusing on the graffiti on the wall even though it was so dark (I have the AF illuminator OFF as well !!).

So here is the untouched shot to give an idea of how sharp it is at f/2.0, ISO 800 and exposure 1/2 a second hand held – yes you read correctly half a sec hand held!!

Of course, I could have bumped ISO to 1600 and allowed a more reliable 1/4 sec exposure, but here is my one and only attempt at half a second on this shot before I caught the train home:

WARNING: this photo is NOT meant to have any artistic or photographic merit other than to show half-second hand held photos ARE possible!

12mm hand held at half sec exposure
When you can hand hold shots at 1/3rd a second reasonably reliably, it means you can get reasonable night street shots with moving headlights, as well as being able to do moving water shots such as waterfalls in case you forget your tripod.

For hand holdable low light wide angle at 24mm focal length in 35mm terms with AF, you just can’t do this with a Nikon or Canon cropped sensor dSLR to this degree and for this price.

For a start neither Canon nor Nikon make a 24mm equivalent prime lens for their cropped sensor dSLRs so you have to go for a zoom lens at f/4 (f/2.8 if you go Sigma), or the super expensive 14mm f/2.8 pro lens would be the closest prime, and in neither situation do you have image stabilisation.

And don’t even think about even putting the lens in your jacket pocket let alone a camera and 3 lenses.

When I was walking around and it was lightly raining, I just turned the camera with the lens downwards as these lenses are not weatherproof like the E-M5.

I just wish Olympus did not follow Canon’s lead and put a stupid ON/OFF switch at bottom rear of the camera, as I had to use 2 hands to turn it on, while for the most part I could just walk around and control everything with my right hand while my left hand held the umbrella up.

The other tricky time is trying to change lenses in the wet, it would be nice to have a 3rd hand as I was always worried I might drop one of the 3 items I was juggling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Olympus made all these components TOUGH like their compact camera series!!

Very happy indeed so far with this camera.

It has its foibles but it is such an amazing camera for its size and the lenses are just so lovely, and the AF so fast, the foibles are insignificant in comparison.

Now the comet show is over, its New Year’s Eve fireworks time

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The wonderful unexpected Christmas comet show is over.

Now its time to get you cameras out for the New Year’s Eve fireworks and parties.

see my previous posts on photographing fireworks:

Have a great and safe New Year.

Tips for better Christmas party indoor photos – all you need is a Micro Four Thirds camera, pancake lens and a flash

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Indoor Christmas party photos can be a very trying issue for the social photographer.

Sure you can use a point and shoot digital with its built-in flash and get the usual shots, but what about aiming for a bit more flattering portraiture without taking a studio lighting kit with you?

My favorite indoor party camera kit is the following:

  • a compact unobtrusive Micro Four Thirds camera – the smaller the better so you can carry it – try the Olympus E-P3, E-PL3, E-PM1 or Panasonic GX-1, but the larger versions such as my GH-1 or the new GH2 or G3 will be still much better than a dSLR. It MUST have a hotshoe – so the Panasonic GF-3 will NOT be a good choice!
  • a compact wide aperture lens like the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 if you will be doing mainly group shots, or the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 if you will not need to do any wide angle shots.
  • an external flash which you can swivel such as the Olympus FL-36 or FL-36R (the FL-50 will work even better but it is a bit too big for these cameras)

Now, the above kit could work well without the flash even indoors IF you have nice flattering lighting for your portraits such as window light or a light hitting the face at a 45deg angle.

More often than not, venues will have very unflattering and often quite dim lighting – downlights are among the worst for flattering portraits unless you position your subject very carefully indeed.

Faced with difficult lighting, your best option for easy to achieve nice portraits indoors is to put a nice powerful flash on your camera and swivel its head so that it bounces off the cornice region of the wall behind you or to the side of you. BUT you do need relatively light and relatively colour neutral paintwork to bounce off – if its is natural wood panels, forget this option!

Set your camera for bounced flash:

  • shoot in RAW + jpeg so you can more easily adjust white balance in Lightroom and add some nice vignette effects, etc afterwards.
  • set exposure mode to M for MANUAL EXPOSURE – this is to stop the camera choosing a shutter speed that is too long and allows the ambient light to add nasty colour casts and shadows as well as camera shake and subject movement blur to your precious photo.
  • set shutter speed to 1/160th sec (a starting point on these cameras as this is the faster shutter they can do in flash mode “the flash sync”)
  • set aperture to a nice wide aperture like f/1.7 or f/2.0 as this will help blur the background and allow you to use less flash power – if you are taking a group shot with subjects relatively close to the camera (eg. 2-3m) but at different distances (eg. closest person is 1.5m and furtherest person at 2.5m), and you want them all in focus, you may need to stop the aperture down to f/4 or so.
  • set ISO at lowest acceptable ISO (eg. 200 would be reasonable, although if you find your flash is not powerful enough, you may need ISO 400)
  • set up the flash: put flash on camera, turn flash on (remember fresh set of batteries), set flash to TTL
  • double check that your flash adjustment setting is zero (I tend to often have mine set to -1EV to -2 EV when using it for fill-in flash so don’t forget to put it back to normal as your flash will be your main light source).
  • set AF mode to face recognition
  • make sure flash is aimed at a nearby wall, ceiling or cornice that will bounce onto your subject’s face
  • and you are ready for fun!!

Here is a QUICK impromptu snap of my friends using this method at f/1.7 using the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – my “party lens”:


If the room ambient lighting in the background is too dark for your liking, just play with the shutter speed – the longer the shutter speed using the above technique, the more ambient light you allow and the lighter the background will be.

If you are using a wide-normal lens like the 20mm f/1.7 pancake, avoid getting too close to your subjects as this will cause unflattering distortion making their noses appear larger than they are, etc, so stay at least 1.5 – 2m away, and if need be, crop your images later.

Also be careful of arms coming towards you such as resting on a chair, as these will also gain an unflattering distortion.

Your friends will be blown away with the quality of your photos – far better than point and shoot cameras with inbuilt flash and as good as dSLRs.

They will then likely say wow, what camera did you use to take those with – instead of saying what a great photographer you are – but that’s life – people treat photography quite differently to music – they would not dare say, wow, that sounded great, what brand piano did you use?

If you do not have an external flash, then you will have to settle for harsh, direct on-camera flash in the same manner as a point and shoot shot – just use the above settings but DON’T FORGET to POP UP the built-in flash!

The big group shot:

Then once everyone realises that you are a brilliant photographer capable of making them look good, inevitably you will be asked to do the group shot.

Now, in a dim room, with downlights, a group shot with minimal equipment could be hard to pull off well.

But not with the above kit and a bouncable ceiling, a great photo is easy to achieve, just step back far enough to get everyone in making sure that your flash can aim at the ceiling well in front of the group (you may need a decent flash for this or increase your ISO and open your aperture to get enough light from your flash).

 What happens when you use other exposure modes on a Panasonic GH-1 in low light indoors?

SCN mode “Party”:

  • this should do the trick shouldn’t it?
  • if you don’t put the flash up, it puts ISO = Auto ISO and you will probably end up with ISO 400 even if you have ISO limit higher than that, and if you have a f/1.7 lens, a slow shutter speed to match the ambient lighting which will most likely end up with camera shake or subject movement – not what we want unless ambient light is bright enough and your lens aperture is wide enough to allow a fas shutter speed.
  • if you put the flash up, ISO is set to 100, aperture at the widest but still shutter speed is set to match ambient just as above, so now our subject will be blurred from subject motion but combined with a sharp component from the flash – this may be a useful effect but most will not want this.

Portrait mode:

  • don’t use this indoors without a flash unless you choose “indoor portrait” otherwise ISO is set to 100, and even at widest aperture that it selects, shutter speed will be far to slow.
  • with flash up, it can be useful, ISO set to 100, aperture widest and shutter 1/30th sec and you have the option of “soft skin setting”
  • interestingly, even with the flash up, the flash does not fire using the “indoor setting”

iA exposure mode – the “dummies” mode:

  • if the flash is down, ISO will be the highest allowed as set in ISO LIMIT, aperture the widest, and this will give you the fastest shutter speed possible for the available light – if you don’t want to use flash, this is just what you want.
  • if the flash is up, ISO will be set to 100, aperture the widest, and shutter to 1/125th sec which will expose your subject well with the flash and reduce blur, while the background ambient will be under-exposed – again this is not a bad outcome indeed.

“A” exposure mode – aperture priority:

  • you should set the widest aperture for the lens
  • if the flash is down, Auto ISO setting will give the  lowest ISO to keep the shutter faster than 1/30th sec as long as ISO LIMIT is not reached due to very low light, in which case, shutter speed becomes slower and you will get subject blur.
  • if the flash is up, shutter speed will be set to 1/30th sec and Auto ISO will set ISO to 100 – this shutter speed will risk subject blur  if ambient light is bright enough.

“P” exposure mode – programmed mode:

  • aperture will be set to the widest
  • Auto ISO and shutter speed will be set as with A mode with lens at widest aperture

“S” exposure mode – shutter priority:

  • this could get you into a lot of problems in low light with flash down if you are not careful
  • with flash down, you select the shutter speed, and if ambient light allows, Auto ISO will be set to lowest (100) as first priority with aperture at the widest needed for this ISO. If there is not enough light at widest aperture and lowest ISO, the ISO will then be increased but not beyond the ISO LIMIT setting. If higher ISO than this is needed, the image will be under-exposed and the viewfinder values will flash red to indicate this. You should then choose a slower shutter speed until you are back in a possible exposure range.
  • with flash up, you can select a shutter speed but no faster than the flash sync speed of 1/160th sec. Auto ISO will set ISO to 100, and the aperture will be set to the widest available without causing over-exposure due to ambient light.

My conclusions:

  • use manual mode when using the flash up if you want control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO but still have automatic exposure of the flash.
  • using iA mode seems a reliable option for either no flash or flash and is the probably the best option for beginners
  • avoid A mode for indoor parties as you are likely to end up with a slow shutter speed of 1/30th sec which may cause subject blur unless you specify a higher ISO setting such as 400 for indoor parties with a wide aperture lens and aperture set to the widest aperture
  • consider S mode if you want to achieve a certain blur effect from a longer shutter speed, but use Auto ISO setting
  • avoid the Party Scene mode unless you want blurred subjects when they are moving
  • if you want softer skin effect, choose Soft Portrait mode but use a flash!
  • the Indoors Portrait mode will NOT allow use of a flash!
  • there is also a creative portrait mode which allows you to alter depth of field by adjusting the aperture.

Concert photography from the back row

Friday, December 9th, 2011

We all want a little memento of the concerts we pay lots of money to attend and enjoy but taking a reasonable photo from 100m or more away is challenging given the constraints imposed by the concert venue – in particular – most only allow photos from “small digital cameras” and ban videos.

Don’t bother bringing a dSLR or large lenses – the security staff will almost certainly ask you to put it away.

Simple point and shoot cameras with their tiny sensors and minimal telephoto zoom reach are not going to get very good quality shots unless you are lucky enough to get to the mosh pit near the stage.

My solution which pushes the venue limits and may still require some discretion, in particular, you do not want security staff to be given the impression your are doing long sequences of video as that would be banned no matter what camera or lens you use.

Camera choice:

The best compromise then is a small, compact mirrorless camera with a built-in electronic viewfinder (you do NOT want to be distracting everyone with bright light coming from an LCD screen – use the viewfinder to do everything).

I use a Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera although even this is probably getting a bit big for venue staff – a smaller mirrorless camera such as a Olympus E-PL3 with the optional viewfinder may be a better option, and the Olympus cameras have the added benefit of built-in image stabilisation which can be useful in this situation where you will be using relatively slow shutter speeds of 1/125th second for 200-270mm telephoto reach at ISO 800.

The newer Sony NEX mirrorless cameras (eg. Sony NEX 5n or NEX 7) could be used if they have an electronic viewfinder but they have the disadvantage compared to Micro Four Thirds in that the same size lens does not give you as much zoom – and for this, you want as much telephoto reach as possible from your lens. Furthermore, they do not have built-in image stabiliser like the Olympus cameras do.

Lens choice:

Next step is to choose a lens to use which will give you enough telephoto reach without being too large that venue staff will object.

My preference is a legacy manual focus Olympus OM lens with wide aperture.

Olympus OM because they are among the most compact lenses you can get.

Manual focus lens because, I like to manually focus and then just leave it carefully in that focus position so I can just pick the camera up, turn it on and I am ready to capture a key moment without having to worry about focus – autofocus lenses may struggle in many concert lighting conditions and may cause you to miss your shot.

The Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 lens is probably the largest lens you can get away with and this gives you sufficient telephoto reach for a large concert venue while the f/2.8 aperture allows you to keep ISO around 800 and shutter speed around 1/125th – 1/200th sec.

If you know you will be a bit closer to the stage, the Olympus OM 100mm f/2.8 lens is smaller and much more likely to be acceptable to venue staff.

Next step is to set your camera up.

Firstly make sure it will NOT be firing the flash – flash will be useless at such distances, it will drain your battery and it is really, really annoying to everyone else.

Set your ISO to ISO 800 – a lower ISO will mean shutter speed will be too slow for hand held telephoto shots and you will end up with too much camera shake.

If your camera is an Olympus, set image stabiliser to the focal length of the lens you are using – assuming it is a legacy lens such as an Olympus OM lens.

Next, set your exposure mode to MANUAL and with your lens wide open (eg. f/2.8), take a few shots at different shutter speeds until the exposure of the faces on the stage under the stage lighting looks adequate – this will be something like 1/125th sec.

Finally, use magnified view to accurately focus your lens on the stage.

Then you are ready to go.

These images have not been cropped and have not had any post-processing (except colour adjustment in the last one) other than resize to web size and the default Lightroom export sharpening for screen.

Elton John

Elton John in concert, Melbourne 2011

Taken from a long way back using Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 lens.

Elton John

Elton John