Low ambient light people pictures

Sometimes it is dark, you don’t have a flash with you, you don’t have control of the lighting, and you are asked to take pictures of people who are moving around and having fun.

This weekend, I was asked to take some impromptu photos to help advertise a wine tasting that is part of the annual fund raising for a local public school.

It was a long way to Chicago, I had my Olympus OM-D E-M5, 45mm f1.8 lens, a half a bottle of wine, it was dark, and I was wearing sunglasses. Well, maybe not the last one. Here are some of the resulting images from an awesome evening with great people.

I learned that shallow DOF is really difficult to deal with for group pictures. At f1.8 with the m43 equivalent of a 90mm lens at f3.6 on a full-frame camera, I could not get two people in perfect focus at the same time even when their faces were inches apart.

A major plus was the decent grain that comes through from this camera’s sensor at high gain (ISO 12800 and 1600 for these pictures). The color rendition was almost usable after using Topaz deNoise and Alien Skin Exposure to fix the color data from the RAW file that was captured in very low, very romantic lighting. However, only a good monochrome conversion using the Agfa Scala 200 ISO film setting with yellow filter added in Exposure made the results reasonably pleasant to view closeup.

One thing that was not obvious before I went through this process, was that it really helps to first fix the full color range of the image as completely as possible before converting to black and white. Without the additional steps of smoothing out the noise and adjusting the color tones, the results were not as satisfying.

Here are pixel peeping views of two versions of my favorite photo from the evening. One used the full workflow except that color tones were not adjusted before converting to monochrome. The other is the final version with the extra processing step before converting to monochrome.

I guess it is pretty subtle, but to my eyes, the differences are easiest to see in the more natural look of the dark areas and the removal of the artificially blotchy spots on some parts of the skin that seem to be due to an unnatural yellow cast from the low-level artificial lighting.

If you happen to live in or around Berkeley, and are willing to donate a work of art, or any item (or service) that could be auctioned to highest bidder at the Starry Night event this year, please check it out on the Berkeley Public Schools webpage and let us know that you would like to contribute. In any case, at least stop by and have some wine with us!


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