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Low Light Photography with the Feast of Black Nazarene

January 9, 2012 was the Feast of the Black Nazarene. It’s a big religious celebration for Roman Catholics here in the Philippines.  Millions of barefoot devotees risked their life and limb just to wipe the wooden Black Nazarene statue with their white towels, touch it, or pull the rope attached to the Andas (“Carriage). It’s a photo opportunity not to be missed!

Together with my photography friends from Grupo Potograpika, we positioned ourselves at around 1:30 pm on the top of the Feati University overlooking the McArthur bridge where the procession will passed by.  I was a good high vantage point.  However, there were so many issues with the carriage that by the time it arrived on the bridge, it was already almost 8:30 pm.  Most of us decided to abandon the rooftop position after sunset to go to the fenced area on the ground floor to get better lighting on the devotees compared to the lighting we will get as show in the last photo “View from the Roof”.  I really regretted not bringing my 580EXII flash.

Finally, the carriage approached the bridge and the excitement begun. The moment we are waiting for, the fruits of our 7 hours wait, our opportunity to take photos of the action.

The challenge now is the low lighting. Only sources of light are the street lamps.  I switched to ISO 800 & 1600.  The Canon 40D is rated around ISO 800 for it’s low light efficiency. Even with my Sigma 18-50 f/2.8, I needed more ISO so I switch to ISO 1600 bearing in mind I will just do noise reduction using Nik Define via Lightroom during post processing.

The Rope and The Andas “Carriage”  ( f/3.2, 1/50″, ISO 1600, Manual Mode)

The first photo above was taken at 1/50″ to freeze the action. You might think 1/50″ is too slow but with a slow moving subject (carriage) coupled with a wider angle (zoomed at 33mm), it did the job at ISO 1600.  ISO 3200 is not an option due to extreme noise for the Canon 40D.

The Towel Wave (f/2.8, 1/6″at ISO 800, Av Mode)

It’s exciting to see and hear the roar and celebration of the crowd when doing the Towel Wave when the carriage moves forward after getting stuck coupled with the music of the brass band playing the theme.  For this Towel Wave photo above, I shot in AV mode selecting the fastest aperture I have f/2.8 and switched back to ISO 800 so I can get a slow enough shutter speed to blur the towel and the banner movement.  Why not stick with ISO 1600 and just adjust aperture or shutter speed?  Main reason is I get less noise with ISO 800.  If would like to use ISO 400 but the shutter speed will be to low and will blur most of the photo.  Second, since I was shooting wide at 33mm at far from the subject, even at f/2 .8 renders enough depth of field (area of focus) required.  Third, I have the right shutter speed balance to show blur on the hands, towel, banner waving juxtaposed against the standing crowds.

Candlelight (f/3.2, 1/30″, ISO 1600, Manual Mode)

For the photo “Candlelight”, I used spot metering and metered on the bright side of the scene.  This is a good technique for dramatic low lighting because the rest of the scene the light will fall off.

If you want to see some of the other photos take during the event, please follow this link:

View from the Roof (f/2.8, 1/30, ISO 1600, Manual Mode)

Update:  With the new models of DSLR that can go up to ISO 6400 and still acceptable with noise levels, the possibilities are more. Of course, the same above  principle still applies.

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