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Shooting in Extreme Lighting Conditions, Bright Sun and Very Low Light ISO Expansion, ND (Neutral Density) and Polarizing Filters

Father Dan, a DPA student of both Hinda Schuman and Rick Wright in Philadelphia sent the following inquiry prior to shooting the annual Gettysburg Remembrance Parade. His concerns were shooting in very bright sunlight and shooting flags and candles at night. Father Dan also has some helpful advice for other students which I thought worth sharing. See his comments about attacking your subject and some of his photos below.

I will visiting Gettysburg this weekend for the annual Remembrance Day Parade – from where I got the photo I call “flag boy” which you showed on the WEBinar and should have received a copy along with the Little Round Top B&W photo.

I will probably stand in the same spot as last year. I hope to get some different angles and I want to “attack my subjects” more. Last year I stood back from the action but I know the best photos are when, like a tennis player who “rushes the net”, the photographer needs to gets close to the subject.

I suspect it will be a sunny day and I purchased a Number 4 ND filter. I am not sure if the number 4 ND is too dark? I do have a NC (Neutral Clear) filter which works well in most circumstances.

At night, after the parade, the soldiers cemetery tombstones are lit with 3000 luminaries beside small 12 inch flags of their states and regiments.  My brother is after me to get the perfect shot. I am bringing a tripod and a cable shutter release. If you have any suggestions about how to get the shot I will appreciate a few words. A problem is that in the background there are many people walking about the grave-sites so leaving the shutter open may be good for the foreground but not the background.

My best good light lens is a 50 mm F 1.8 lens. My other lens is F3.5. My camera is a full frame (35 mm) sensor.

Father Dan


Photo by Father Dan McLaughlin, DPA student Philadelphia

Johns reply,
RE: Menu ISO Expansion

Father Dan,
Sounds like you have most of the issues thought out. I don’t know that youll need the ND filter. If it really is much too bright you could lower your ISO all the way. On your camera turn on ISO expansion (probably in custom settings), at the low setting it will go down to 100 ISO, instead of the factory default 200, and stop down the aperture to f11 – 16. You should be fine during the bright sun. Unless you are trying to limit depth of field in which case the ND will help, the problem being then its difficult to see through the camera. I usually use a Polarizing filter during the day instead of an ND, but the effect is similar.

At night with ISO expansion turned on, you can go up to 25,600 ISO however at the cost of digital noise, a trade off. I would limit myself to 6400 max. If you begin to see the effects of Digital Noise at the higher ISO ratings you can turn to NIK Dfine noise reduction software in post production for a quick painless cure. The tripod is a good idea. If you stop the lens aperture down (f8-11) you can dial in such a long shutter speed, approx 30 sec – 2 min, (youll have to experiment here), you can make any moving people disappear altogether, could be an interesting effect.


Photo by Father Dan McLaughlin, DPA student Philadelphia
See more of Father Dans photos here:

Also check out the following night, tripod and exposure tips:

Comments to “Shooting in Extreme Lighting Conditions, Bright Sun and Very Low Light ISO Expansion, ND (Neutral Density) and Polarizing Filters”

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