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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Crank Up the ISO for Night Shots

For those of you who don't live in New England (or watch TV news) we had a bit of a blizzard here this past weekend. Considering that nothing (at least nothing I know about yet) blew off my house and the snow was powdery and easy to shovel, it was actually kind of a fun storm. The wind howled mercilessly and at times I thought the entire house was going to get lifted off its foundations and dropped in a snowy Oz. It didn't.

It was too cold and windy to go out shooting the day after the storm, but by that night I was really restless to shoot some pictures. I noticed the little spiral tree on my front lawn looked pretty from my office window (on the second floor), so opened the window and tried to get a shot. There was a small bookcase in the way, so I couldn't get a tripod close enough to the window to frame the shot I wanted. There was also a roof overhang in the way, so I actually had to lean out of the window (keep in mind it was about 15 degrees out and the wind was still howling) to get this shot using a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom on my D90 body. But the only light was from the tree and so, without a tripod to steady the camera (the lens has no image stabilization), I had to use the max ISO of 3200. I have rarely had to use that speed before, so it seemed like a good experiment anyway. But even at that top ISO speed, I had to shoot at a shutter speed of 1/60 second (at f/4). And trust me, steadying the camera on a snowy window sill with the wind hitting me at 40 mph was still an adventure. Luckily I don't think any neighbors were watching in the middle of the night.

I think the quality of the shot is pretty good considering the high ISO. I can see noise pretty obviously in the snow at the bottom of the frame, but it's not a distraction. And the colors in the lights themselves are pretty true to their real colors. So, while I would probably not use such a high speed as my first option, when the situation calls for it, it's nice to know I can go there. Of course, some cameras claim a top ISO of 100,000 these days (for shooting what exactly--bats in a cave at midnight?), but 3,200 did a good job here. The next evening I went outside and shot the same tree (from street level) on a tripod at ISO 200 and that shot is posted below--you can tell me if you see much of a quality difference. (It is better, no question--but the question is: by how much?) I'm going back out tonight to shoot it from the street with a longer lens--I'll play some more then!


Victoria said...

Well... I think I like the first better than the second and part of it is the "noise" (maybe?) that causes the blurring of the lights at the base of the tree. Somehow, the high ISO shot seems more "artistic" to my eye!

My sister (who lives in Dover Plains, NY near the Connecticut border) was snowed in and I'm not sure if she is dug out yet! I'm happy the storm missed us and left us with less than one inch... the older I get, the less I want to have to shovel!

Meanwhile... I thoroughly enjoyed the image of you leaning out the window in high wind with no VR on your lens in order to get a picture!

Victoria said...

Oh... and Happy New Year!