Six by Syx: Tip #5 Tripods, Low Light Shooting & Fun with Your Flash

Posted by on August 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm.

To help prepare you for the marathon, Vancouver Photo Workshops instructor and 2011 12×12 judge Syx Langemann offers up a 6-part series of tips and tricks to get you through Saturday August 6th.

This year, you will be faced with a later start time; therefore a later end time. As the sun goes down on the marathon, the doors open up to 2 hours of later shooting than the previous 12×12 cycles, and the fact is, you need to know how to handle less light to avoid blowing your other 10 exposures.


During this year’s 12×12, you’ll be using 400 ISO film and this is locked in. Unlike DSLRs, if you are in need of exposure, ISO is not an option unless you change your film. Therefore, this is not an option to you. There are only two other tools available to you in order to ‘get light.’

1. APERTURE – and again, these values are functions of the lens. If you have a lens in your arsenal that opens up to 1.8 or better yet 1.4, this will offer you hand-held shooting options in lower light levels.

2. SHUTTER SPEED – the longer the duration of the exposure, the more exposure you will get, therefore the brighter the final image. If you are not able to gain light via the aperture of the lens, then you may need to slow the shutter speed down. The slower the shutter, the more chance there is for nasty camera shake to ruin your picture. Now, considering you’ll all be hanging out in a coffee shop all day long during the marathon, steady hands will not be on your side. The general rule of thumb to avoid camera shake while hand holding: 1/focal length of the lens (i.e. 1/100 for a 100mm, 1/50 for a 50mm). It is also suggested that you never dip below 1/30th of a second. Anything slower than this and camera shake is a guarantee.

If you have reached your limit in both of these areas, then there are a few tools that you may need to pack to help you out. One is a TRIPOD. Long exposures are reasonably easy to achieve with the aid of a tripod. We need to steady the camera so that it can shoot for longer periods than we can hand hold. Calculating the actual exposure values may seem a bit difficult, as the meter will not help when you are shooting in bulb mode. Click here for an online calculator that can help you to predict some of your exposure values.

You can get great effects just by using a longer shutter speed and a tripod. There are a lot of moving lights and people downtown. Don’t forget, the 12×12 falls on the finale of the Celebration of Lights. Point your camera toward moving traffic through the legs of pedestrians. Watch the lights around you and think about how they move. Thinking of your frame in terms of ‘seconds’ and not fractions of a second requires a different creative process. Think about how movement of things will be recorded by the camera, how the moving lights will draw lines in your frame. If this is the type of low light shooting you do, then consider how these lines affect your composition and the reading of your image.

You can also set you camera for a long shutter speed, 30 sec, a higher aperture, and run around with a flash light and create photos like the one that you see on the far left.

Go against the grain, hold the camera to intentionally give your photographs movement. This concept can be fun on its own, but can also be the foundation for another great low light technique. Move your camera and paint with the existing lights.

SLOW SHUTTER SYNC or SHUTTER DRAG is an effect that I really enjoy in my own photos. Mixing a flash with a slower shutter, allowing the ambient light to balance the exposure creates more pleasing low-light photographs. In fact, if you find yourself shooting inside anytime throughout the day, this tip may also apply to these situations. This technique requires some understanding of how to handle your specific flash. In fact, the more you know about your flash the better. FLASH EXPOSURE COMPENSATION is also useful, but its a bit beyond this blog entry.

During a shutter drag, the burst of light from the flash will freeze the motion of the subject it illuminates while the ambient light in the background of the image reveals the movement of the camera. This has a nice effect and is a great low light technique.

Have a question or comment? Leave us a note below.
I hope that one or more of this week’s tips will help you in the low-light portion of the 12×12. Stay tuned for the final tip this Friday!

Known for his Classically Twisted Nudes that push the viewer to discover new views of beauty, Syx Langemann has been photographing his own unique world since 1993 and can be found at Vancouver Photo Workshops teaching students how to capture theirs.

Syx is also one of the judges of the 2011 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon.

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