BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Danita Beard

How to Shoot in School Auditorium - Flourescent

I have a slr Canon Rebel 2000 and want to take some pictures in my child's school auditorium with flourescent lights. What is the best speed film and exposure I should use to get the best photos with the camera doing the majority of the work. I also have a tripod I can bring.

To love this question, log in above
2/22/2003 10:40:43 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
First, and this is intended seriously, shift your thinking. The "best photos" (depends on how you define "best") are made with the photographer doing the work. Even though a camera body do some things for you automatically, keep your brain engaged. Work toward understanding what your camera's "auto" modes do under different conditions (mostly lighting levels). I hope you'll understand why I mention this up front as you read the rest.

You didn't mention lens speed (maximum aperture opening), the subject material and activity level (the need to reasonably stop motion), or whether you are allowed to and intend to use flash. The following is based on a presumption you are using the lens commonly bundled with a Rebel 2000, a 28-80mm f/3.5~5.6 zoom lens, and intend to do this using available light (no flash):

a. Camera shake:
Hand held work should not let shutter speed fall below 1/60th second unless you can firmly brace the camera (chair back, pillar, door jamb, etc.). If you can brace the camera, a shutter speed down to about 1/30th can be used and will still stop some motion. At these shutter speeds, you can't stop extremely fast motion, but it will handle things like people walking easily.

b. Average Lighting Level:
My Kodak Master Photoguide (current title is "Pocket Photoguide") has a section for planning existing light work. It shows lighting levels in the average school auditorium requiring ISO 6400 film for exposures using 1/60th shutter speed and f/5.6 lens aperture. I know of *no* true ISO 6400 film, B&W or color, consumer or professional. The fastest film I'm aware of is Fuji's Superia 1600, also sold as "Press 1600" to professionals. This is a color negative film with a *true* speed of ISO 1600, and it's not that grainy considering its super speed (better than consumer ISO 800 films).

Some films can be "pushed" to higher speeds, but this requires special processing by a full-service pro lab, you have to know how to override your camera's film speed sensors to manually set film speed, and the results would have high contrast with extreme graininess very visible in even 4x6 prints. There are two professional B&W films labeled as "3200" (TMax P3200 and Ilford Delta 3200) but their true speed is about ISO 800, they're designed to be pushed to 3200 (by two stops), and as such must be push processed by a pro lab.

You're not going to be able to do this based on the assumptions I've made unless:

1. You use a fairly powerful external flash unit to cover much longer working distances in much larger spaces than encountered in the average home. The built-in flash is too weak, even with ISO 800 film. You would need a flash with a GN rating of no less than 120 (in feet @ ISO 100).

2. You use a much faster lens than is normally bundled with a Rebel 2000 to allow much more light in (lens speed is its widest aperture opening). How much faster? For the average lighting conditions in the Kodak guide, ISO 1600 film would require an f/2.8 lens; for ISO 800, an f/2 lens.

Kodak's guide is very good for planning, but lighting levels are not the same in every auditorium. Visit the auditorium *before* the event you want to photograph to find out what the lighting level is using your camera's built-in metering. Manually set the film speed on your camera and start with ISO 400. Then see what shutter speed it will give you with the lens wide open at both ends of the zoom range. Continue bumping up the film speed manually until you get a 1/60th shutter speed at the long end of the zoom range. Based on the guide and my own past experience, I predict you'll end up at ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 with a lens that can only open up to f/5.6 at the long end.

Additional Issue:
Fluorescent lighting is not the same as daylight and produces a greenish cast with daylight films. Some are worse than others. If you are able to use Superia 1600 (if it's fast enough), it is more forgiving of being used under fluorescent lighting than many other daylight color negative films. Even so, the prints must be made by someone who can do color balancing well when printing the negatives. Tell the lab beforehand that the film was shot under fluorescent lights and ask that they take care with color balancing the prints. There are fluorescent-to-daylight filters, but these eat up about one f-stop of light, they're not perfect because there are too many types of fluorescent lights (warm, cool white, etc.). IMO you can't afford the loss of light trying to use one.

Wish I could give you something magically simple, but the basic problem is low light level. For all the reasons I've walked through, it's why I use lenses no slower than f/2.8 for shooting under similar lighting conditions, and prefer using some of my faster ones that can open up to f/2 if at all possible.

-- John

To love this comment, log in above
2/22/2003 2:50:40 PM

Danita Beard   Thanks for your response. I have a big lens for my camera, a Sigma 70-200mm 1:4-5.6. Would it be better to use that lens in this case or the 28-105mm lens that came with the camera? I have the ability to move up or back for the pictures. This is a dance dress rehearsal and they are going to have the lights on. Do you recommend me bringing my tripod since the movement will be more than walking speed at times and side to side not straight at me? Thanks for your response.

I just found this site and I absolutely love it! I love taking and learning about taking pictures and can't wait to sit down and read more of your stuff on your site1!!

To love this comment, log in above
2/25/2003 6:25:58 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
Your 70-200 is not really any "faster" than your 28-105 even though it's phyiscally bigger. In other words, it won't admit more light; it has approximately the same widest aperture.

I recommend using the shorter, 28-105 and try to keep the focal length you use between about 50mm and 75mm. I also recommend not using the tripod. I've used one in the past for trying to shoot similar events and found it cumbersome and awkward, plus it's very difficult to move to another position. You lose agility. You would also find using the longer lens hand held much more difficult. Longer focal lengths increase risk of camera shake that you cannot compensate for in this situation with a very fast shutter speed. At 180-200mm it can be difficult to accurately compose photographs in the viewfinder.

I encourage you to go there in advance, if at all possible, and use your camera to meter the light level. Your camera normally sets film speed autmatically by reading the DX coding (the bar code) on the side of the film cartridge. You should be able to override this and set a film speed manually. Set it to ISO 1600, open the lens to its widest aperture setting and see what shutter speeds you get with the zoom at about 50mm and about 80mm. Hopefully it will be no slower than 1/30th and if you're lucky it will be 1/60th. You can still do it hand held at 1/30th, but you will have to take very solid stances and time your shots when your subject(s) are not moving much. I've used 1/30th before with an 85mm lens and it poses a lot of risk with camera shake. Not impossible, but don't expect a 100% yield rate either. If you do this, be certain to set the film speed back to reading the film cartridge automatically when you're done!

Having shot some events using available light (no flash) similar to the lighting level you've described . . . wedding ceremonies and a reception in a well-lit art gallery . . . I believe you'll need ISO 1600 film (the Fuji Superia 1600 or Press 1600 mentioned before) and that even ISO 800 film will be too slow.

-- John

To love this comment, log in above
2/28/2003 3:50:12 PM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.