Barnet Workshops » Sharing Experience, Information, Inspiration

Behind the Image… Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

We all have a comfort zone where we like to shoot.  For me, it’s open shade with directional light and a slightly darker background with highlights that can be thrown out of focus.  Sometimes, however, out of necessity or because we want to do something different, we find ourselves on the Dark Side… This is a great opportunity to create very cool images, and there are lots of tools to help us out.  There’s the old reliable on-camera flash, rear shutter sync, the movie light or the one on the videographer’s camera, spot lights on the ceiling, high ISO, slow shutter, etc.   I shoot with 2 Nikon D3 cameras, and Mirta uses a D300.  The D3 especially is great in low light, (I can’t wait to start using the D3s).  The newer Canons also do a great job at high ISO’s.  Next time you have the chance, get out of your comfort zone, put on a fast lens, crank up the ISO and have some fun!  I’m sure you’ll be very happy with the results!  Here are a few low light images from recent weddings.  Feel free to send us a comment or question if you like…


Mirta shot the image above in the court yard of the Mission Inn at ISO 1250. f2.8 @ 1/60 with a D300 and a 24 – 70 @ 40mm.  I held an SB8oo flash off camera using a translucent panel as a soft box off camera.  It was outdoors and very, very dark!  The high ISO and the light on the wall behind help separate the subject.


This was shot in a dark Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow with the bride leaning on a chair and the background is the TV armoire.  I used a 24-70 @ 2.8 at 1/125 with ISO 800 and my trusty movie light on a boom.  It was very sunny outside so I thought I’d give the client something besides outdoor portraits since she liked the old Hollywood art deco feel of the property.


Same wedding, first dance shot with the videographer’s movie light in the back… If you can’t beat them…  This was a very dramatically lit ballroom, and the videographer’s light sometimes became a problem, so  we used it when we could to create a little drama of our own.  Mirta shot this with her D300, 24-70 @ f.4.5, 1/60 with a little flash and 1000 ISO


Also same wedding during the USC Band performance.  This was my D3 with the 14-24 at f.10 and 1/10 with ISO 1000 and a little on-camera flash.  These guys were great, but you gotta work fast!


This is New York’s Time Square of course, after an all day engagement session.  We had just come from having dinner after finishing the daylight stuff on the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk.  D3 with a 24-70 @ 3.2 and 1/320 with 1250 ISO, Tungsten setting some exposure compensation and the trusty movie light on a boom.


Same day in the subway on the way to our hotel.  We love working in New York.  No one even gives you a second look when you’re shooting.  This was a D3 with an 85 1.4 @ 1.8.  1/125 with 2000 ISO and a little kiss of fill light from the on-camera flash bounced of the ceiling.  This was a great session.  Our couple couldn’t stop kissing, and we didn’t mind it at all…


This was on the top floor of “The Hotel” in Las Vegas, Mix Restaurant; their logo is the big X.  We had just tried to get some views of the City but the terrace was closed because it was dangerous due to strong winds, it was also very cold!  We were waiting for the elevator to leave when I noticed our couple was standing under a ceiling spot light. I asked them to embrace, and then I told him to bite her in the neck , of course,  she threw her head back looking up, and bingo!  D3, 24-70 @ 3.5 and 1/50 with ISO 1250 and a little on-camera flash bounced off the ceiling with a bounce card.  Right after this shot the elevator doors opened and about 10 loud people filled the very small area.


Just before we left The Hotel, I noticed there was no one in the beautiful lobby, (maybe it’s because it was almost 3 am), so I thought we’d do a few shots there.  We got great stuff! This is one of them.  The walls are great, the whole place is very dark and they have very cool, small lighting fixtures on the wall.  Here I used some camera tilt, leaned her against the wall, braced myself on the opposite wall and went at it.  We also added the groom later, did some verticals, etc.  A very dark and unusual place but it worked out great!  I shot this with the D3 and the 24-70 at 38mm.  2.8 @ 1/40 with 2000 ISO and the on-camera flashed bounced off the wall behind me way down for a little fill.

Limo pop

The image above and the next two are from the same wedding, (the couple from the Vegas engagement session above).  They were sooo much fun to work with!  Mirta shot this image on the way to the ceremony. We were all in the long limo, the couple were in the back seat, our assistant and I were sitting on the long side seat and Mirta was sitting with her back to the driver  facing the couple.  She shot their reflection on the mirrored ceiling of the limo.  because of the movement of the car and the slow shutter speed, some of the images were soft, this one came out great!  It looks so much better in black and white, and of course, we had to invert it.  As you can see, because it’s a reflection, you can see the boutonniere is on the wrong side.  D300 w/ 24-70 @ 2.8 and 1/60 with 1600 ISO.


Details, details…  The race to get room and decor images before the guests come in… We never get enough time, and the staff never realizes that even if they standing against the wall they are in the shot!!  But somehow, we always get it done and then it’s party time…  This is The Island Hotel’s ballroom beautifully decorated by Square Root.  I try not to use a tripod for these shots, it takes too long to set up.  This is the D3 with the fish eye, f. 2.8 at 1/80 matrix metering with exposure comp. ISO 1250 with a little on-camera flash fill.


Party on!  This could be dangerous!  It’s great when you have a good crowd and the band is doing a good job.  It makes for great party images. Here I’m holding the D3 with the 14-24 at 14mm over my head.  f 3.5 @ 1/80 with 1000 ISO.  A little bounce flash fill.  This was towards the end of the reception.  The high ISO allowed me to get background detail and avoid the “dark cave” look.  The white dance floor also helps reflect light back.

I hope you enjoyed going over these images.  We love this kind of shooting, it makes you think of the best way to handle an unusual situation. The trick is to try something out of the box, look at the back of your camera and go from there, many times after you look at the first shot you get ideas on how to improve it or change your approach all together. I noticed I didn’t use the 70-200 in any of these images.  That’s very unusual.  I use the long zoom (my favorite lens) in low light situations often.  The VR feature allows you to shoot slow without movement.  Please feel free to send us your comments.

  • February 23, 2010 - 7:55 pm

    rachel - I am a sponge soaking up all this info. Thanks a TON for sharing and posting!ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2010 - 10:46 pm

    Audrey - You just made my day! I’ve been looking up different things on the internet trying to find tips on shooting indoor, low light wedding photography and so far have had no luck . . . until now! Thank you for posting this, it is VERY helpful.

    One question . . . the thing that scares me most about the indoor, lowlight wedding photography is I fear that no matter how much I brace myself to make sure the picture isn’t blurry, I can’t control that my subjects will be moving – probably a lot, for most of the important pictures that you want to capture. At such slow shutter speeds, how do you still get your subjects in focus – especially while dancing? I don’t mind some motion blur that adds to the story of the picture, but I like to have certain parts of the picture still in focus. You definitely have mastered that. How is that done?ReplyCancel

  • February 26, 2010 - 7:54 pm

    Pamela Telgenhoff - Wow! I LOVE your work! Would love to attend the workshop sometime…Great stuff!ReplyCancel

  • May 28, 2010 - 10:31 am

    Steve - I am a sponge soaking up all this info. Thanks a TON for sharing and posting!ReplyCancel

  • May 28, 2010 - 11:38 am

    Samuel Kendall - Hah I am honestly the first comment to this great post?ReplyCancel

  • May 31, 2010 - 12:19 pm

    Elisabeth Hurd - Incredibly awesome article. Truely!ReplyCancel

  • May 31, 2010 - 11:07 pm

    Nicolas Odom - You have done it once again. Great writing!ReplyCancel

  • June 1, 2010 - 1:20 pm

    Emily - Wow! I LOVE your work! Would love to attend the workshop sometime…Great stuff!ReplyCancel

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