Shooting in low light without a light meter

During the halloween festivities, I had an excellent chance of trying out some very low light film photography almost completely without a light meter. I got some very nice exposures by following a very simple rule. But first, let me describe the lighting conditions. I shot these images at a halloween party that was held indoors during the evening.

Lens and camera settings

My plan was simply to shoot everything with f1.8 and as long shutter speed I possibly could. In this case 1/60 and/or 1/30. I didn’t meter each individual shot separately. I referred the light meter only enough to see that in those conditions, the exposures were leaning towards underexposure — which wasn’t a big surprise. The plan was just to get as much exposure as I could without camera shake. After setting the camera I just shot everything with pretty much the same settings with my fingers crossed. I had my Zuiko 50mm 1.8 lens which isn’t that shaky focal length to begin with and it has the largest aperture that I have.

Pushing the film

The second important decision of my plan was to push the film as much as I could. I shot with Kodak T-max 400 that I pushed to 1600. T-max is an extremely fine grain film. Pushing film tends to do two things; add contrast and make it grainier. I like grain a lot, but I didn’t want my results to be too grainy. I figured that pushing a fine grained film this much would result in a moderate amount of grain. I had some Tri-x also lying around, but I though it might have resulted in too much grain.

I could’ve pushed to 3200, but my Olympys OM-1’s light meter goes only to 1600. I wanted leave me the option to check out the light meter if I needed to so I set it up to as high as it could go.

Nailing the focus with 1.8

Yes, good lick with that! The biggest challenge I had was of course nailing the focus with f1.8. I had so many blurry images because I wasn’t able to see the focus completely in the dark lighting. I though I was doing a good job, but when I saw the results, I realised just much misses I had.

The best shot of the bunch. Such nice contrasty tones.
Originally a horizontal image, but cropped in Photoshop to a portrait.
Clown close-up.
Group shot with f1.8 — not the most brilliant idea, but at least I got an image. Very narrow field of focus.
The white make-up made at least slightly easier to expose in the dark. But check out how nice the grain structure is. T-max is still a very smooth film even when pushed to 1600. The contrast also looks very nice.
Another group shot. The space was actually very small and I had the 50mm lens. There were actually a lot more people and I was standing as far away from them as I could, but everyone wasn’t able to fit into the frame. Shame, but couldn’t help it. My quick solution was to take many detail shots of the crowd. I didn’t want to be a party pooper and announce to 50+ people that they’re not going to fit into the image. Instead I wanted them to just act naturally and do their thing.

 

A fine example of attempting to focus with f1.8. I was absolutely sure that I nailed this shot and was shocked to see I had missed the focus.
Another good example of focusing troubles.

 

2 Comments

  1. Very nice tries anyway! This are hard conditions. I’m just back in film fotografie and know this issues very well when I’m using my Minolta SRT 101. If it has to be straight forward I’m using my newer Nikon with AF. But it’s not as much fun as with the Minolta 🙂

    I’m curious to see more from your pics…

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