Hey Stick

Do you ever give advice about cameras? I notice in your site that there a large number of shots taken in low lit areas.

I am building a website as a hobby of restaurants in Tokyo Bangkok Seoul etc (No where near ready for general viewing yet) and often have trouble getting a good shot in lowish  lighting - for example in a place you know Bourbon St.

I have the Cyber shot Sony 7 MPX and have and rarely use a flash  as I find it distorts colours and stuffs up the contrast.

I have and can use photo shop but the core shot has to have enough light and colour.

Anyhow I was wondering what camera you use and if you use a tripod for low lit shots?



Andy -

Stick forwarded your question to me.. it's a good question and will go well in the photo weekly on Stick's site.

First, there is no single answer.  And there is no easy answer.

Every restaurant and lighting source will present a different set of variables.  How these variables affect the picture will be to varying degrees, and your acceptance of the imperfections is dependent on how imperfect the images you're willing to accept.

For instance, to start I'd recommend you read the first 5-8 weeklies about white balance, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and the basics.  You need a good working knowledge of these areas.

Every one of these variables, ISO, aperture, focal length, focal distance, sensor size, white balance, ambient light, light sources you control, all of these variables come in to play and need to be properly and thoughtfully balanced to achieve anything close to professional results, even or website images.

I can tell you what camera and lens Stick is using, both are fine pieces for low light, available light, use.  The Canon 5d Mark II and the 35mm F1.4L lens.  Using available low light you also pick up all the ambient light temperatures from stage and prop lights.  For your purposes you'll want to control the light and to control the light you'll need to add external lighting..  And when you do this, then the 35mm F1.4L lens probably would no longer be your best choice.

Are you talking plates of food, or a bar area or a seating area?  More of an entire floor area?  You see, more variables.. that much be reconciled with the variables I listed above.

In short, for low light work you need to know photography.  You need to know gear.  You need to be able to walk into a venue, evaluate, and know for certain which gear will work the best and provide the results you want.

Basically this is a job for professionals.. more so than many other types of photography.

HOWEVER.. if you were willing to learn to use a flash properly.. then you could get away with a much less expensive camera and lens.  With a flash, "low light" is no more.  Instead of a $2900 body and $1300 lens.. you could use a $700 body and $300 lens and a $300 flash.  Of course a $300 flash only gives you so many choices, so investing in say three wireless flashes that you could learn to set up properly.. would give you good results.

I haven't been able to give you a good definitive answer, much depends on how much you can budget for gear, and how much time you can budget to learn the gear.

What I can do is help you narrow things down a bit.

1.  The camera Stick uses for his low light shots, lens included, cost about $4400 USD.  This is just a single lens.  Without a flash he's shooting at High ISOs which means his shots won't have maximum detail and the lighting will never be suitable for your uses.  Without a flash, you'll be picking up all the ambient light temperatures in the restaurant.. and there are usually at least 4-5.. Balancing these for the right look, if it can be done in a specific circumstance, takes skill.  Years of skill.

2.  If you use a proper flash, you can shoot at ISO 100, get great detail, sharp images, acceptable colors, and so on.

3.  How well you light your scene/subject, depends heavily on how many lights you have, how you use them, and your ability to control the lights.

Your current camera.  Do yourself a favor and don't take any "experience" from it away with you.. except that you get what you pay for.  It's probably a decent camera on the beach or outdoors in natural light.. but there is stops.  Don't think because the flash sucked on this camera, then flashes suck.

Something else you could do, is call me and schedule a workshop designed specifically around your needs.  If you understood the basics (ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, focal distance, etc, etc), and I mean really understood them.. then we could learn to use off-camera portable strobes in a single day workshop.  If you come in with no skills and we need to start from scratch, 3-4 days.  This is very individual.

I hope this helps, and of course I was assuming that you wanted images of the quality which would enhance your website..

Let me know if you have more questions.  Always happy to help.





Thanks for your comprehensive reply yesterday. I was unaware that Stickman's site had your photography weekly section. I am now, and have read the first 7 or 8, as suggested. I have been in Tokyo for a few years.

Mostly I try to take two pictures, one of the restaurant inside, and another of the food. Here is an example of the kind of shots I have taken: http://www.chequebin.com/restaurants1  They are in Tokyo. Many I am happy with but others are disappointing and there were another set of shots I wanted to take but did not because I knew they would fail, mainly due to lighting.

Today, I went in and priced some cameras today and Canon EOS 50 D: Body 41.000 BT, with 18-55 lens it is 45,000 BT. with the 18 - 200 lens is 61,000 Bt, The Mark 2 body is 99,000 Bt.

Would the EOS 50D be satisfactory? And if so what would be the best lens?.....I read that any zoom sacrifices clarity compared to a fixed lens. If anything a wide angle is more useful than a zoom.....This is especially true in Tokyo.



Hi Andy -

I'm glad you found my column.  You're not the only one who hasn't noticed it yet.. need to find a way to make it stand out more.

About your questions.

1.  Remember, the APS-C sized sensor cameras (crop frame, 40d,50d, Nikon D300, etc) have a smaller sensor which affects to areas.

a.  Low light sensitivity.  Takes more light than a full frame camera (Canon 5d Mark II, Nikon D700, etc) for a given noise/detail level in the image.  This is very important if you want to use the camera without the benefit of a good off-camera light system.

b.  This size sensor multiplies the focal length of the lens by 1.6x for Canon, 1.5x for Nikon.  So a 20mm lens really has the field of view of a 26mm lens.  This is important if you need the wider angle.

Both of these area seem to be important to your area of photography.  There are ways to use a Canon 50d effectively for your uses, and it is a very good camera.

1.  Use a crop wide angle zoom lens.  The 10-22mm comes to mind. 

2.  Use the above lens with a very well thought out off-camera lighting system.  This was the relative small maximum aperture of this type of lens isn't such a factor, you can shoot the camera at lower ISO's where the noise isn't so bad, and the lighting makes for a nicer image regardless.

And no.. a zoom lens is not 'necessarily' less sharp than a prime.  This used to be the case in the past, but most professional series zoom lenses are better than consumer primes (fixed focal distance), and just slightly less than professional series primes.  The differences are likely not that noticeable for your uses. 

What matters is to pick the right lens for your purpose, being mindful of that particular lenses characteristics.

You need to choose one of two styles.

1.  Available lighting.
2.  External lighting.

For available lighting the 5d Mark II and either the 24mm F1.4L or the 35mm F1.4L would be the way to go.

For external lighting.. many models and lenses would work, like the 50D and the 10-22 wide angle zoom.. but not the external lighting becomes very important.


I am

Please submit your questions to QandA@Bkkimages.com  All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.