Challenge

Light Up The Corners - 2019

A challenge for photographers: “Light Up The Corners” event

The “Light Up The Corners” event brings a lot of fun activities to the Forum in Peachtree Corners, including two runs: The “Twilight Trot” for younger runners and the four-mile “Glow Run” for the more ambitious runners.

It also brings a lot of challenges for us photo enthusiasts. In this short article I will describe some of the challenges and provide tips on how to turn them into memorable photos.

The activities start well before sunset. The “Twilight Trot” is in the “golden hour”. Taking pictures at those times is straightforward and mastered by most of us.

The four-mile “Glow Run” starts about sunset and the runners return just at the end of twilight. That presents a lot of problems. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Fading light

In the half hour or so after sunset the light fades rapidly. My approach is to set the camera to “Auto-ISO” and let it adjust the sensitivity while the aperture and shutter speed is under manual or aperture-preferred control.

Since light will be low the aperture should be close to wide open, however there is a problem with depth of field. More on that shortly. The shutter speed should be as slow as possible. That too has issues that I will get to.

There is another problem. In this setting, and especially as the daylight has faded there may be bright lights in view that can affect the cameras metering. I usually go to full manual control as it gets darker.

Light Up The Corners – 2019

Depth of field

As the aperture is opened up the depth of field decreases. I usually work at f/4, the widest my 24-120mm zoom lens provides. At 24mm the hyperfocal distance is about 16 feet. That means everything will be acceptably sharp for 8 feet to infinity. That works for me. At a setting of 50mm the sharpness extends only from about 12 feet to about 20 feet when focused on 16 feet. That begins to get touchy. I don’t zoom in on the action.

Cameras with smaller sensors, and their shorter focal length lenses, will provide better depth of field. When you are using a smartphone you pretty much need not worry.

Motion blur

Runners will go past at a good clip and 7 miles/hour is not a bad number to work with. That means the runner, seen from the side, will move about an inch in 1/125 second. That will result in very noticeable blur unless you pan with the runner. From the front is is not as bad.

ISO setting

Set the camera on Auto-ISO and let it go as high as the camera wants. Keep an eye on bright lights in the field that might cause the camera to under expose. Use either the Exposure Compensation control or go manual ISO if that works better for you. Chimping to see how you are doing is perfectly acceptable.

Use a noise reduction app such as Topaz DeNoise AI to get clean images even from the highest ISO settings.

Focusing

We are used to letting the camera do the focusing. That is fine as long as there is enough light. At some point as it gets darker the camera focusing will become too slow or wont work at all. By the time the fast runners come back to the finish line it is dark enough that I can’t depend on my camera. I go to manual focusing and set the distance to around 15 to 20 feet, noting on the pavement where that is. I even tape my lens focusing ring with gaffer tape so it won’t move. I then let the action come to me and take photos when the runners are at my set distance.

I get a lot of fun out of photographing this challenging event. It takes a lot more care than shooting in daylight, but that makes it that much more rewarding when I come up with a few good photos.

Summing Up

For low light photography I suggest:

  • Stick to wide angle lens settings – 24 mm to 50 mm on full frame cameras and their equivalents for good depth of field.
  • Open the lens fairly wide. My setting is typically f/4.
  • Shoot at 1/125 sec, maybe 1/60 sec if the action is not too fast.
  • Let the ISO go as high as the camera wants – modern noise reduction apps can take care of the noise.
  • Switch to manual focus when it gets too dark. Set for a specific distance and let the action come to you.
  • Have fun!