In recent years I’ve developed a mild obsession with low-light photography; this was a big factor in the decision last month to open my wallet for a Pentax K-5. I went crazy on the weekend and tried to use only moonlight; while it didn’t, strictly speaking, work, the results are still interesting.

My thinking was along these lines: I have a camera that’s alleged to take usable pictures at ISO6400 or maybe even higher, plus I have a lens (the Sigma 30mm f1.4) optimized for extra-low light.

So I put that camera and lens together for the first time, and practiced on a glass of red wine reflecting a hanging Tiffany lamp.

Tiffany lamp reflected in a glass of red wine

Emboldened by the effect, and since my four-year-old daughter had earlier in the evening pointed out that the moon was Really Round, I thought I’d go out and try to capture shrubberies by moonlight.

Let’s start with this daffodil, cranking the ISO to 12800. I was trying for moonlight but the streetlight was unavoidable; having said that, it was yellow and so was the daff.

Extreme low-light daffodil

I got partly out of the streetlights’ reach and cranked the ISO to a truly silly level. I discovered that, without a tripod and some reflective help like for example snow, true moonlight photography remains out of my reach.

Well, that’s assuming that you value realism, as opposed to Impressionist blur. Which, running the K-5 sensor’s output through Lightroom’s excellent noise corrector, is not entirely displeasing; you might want to enlarge this grainy rhododendron bud.

Embryonic rhododendron blossom in very low light

Then I sought still deeper darkness and zeroed in on a branch of something or other with no help but the moon’s. What emerged hardly seems a photograph, to my eyes. Still, I like it.

Camera-sensor impressionism


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From: Ruben (Apr 24 2011, at 06:56)

I'm getting more into low light photography myself, my Sony Nex isn't as good as your K5 but it manages quite well. The main problem I'm facing is that the kit lens is a bit slow but does have stabilization. I also got two faster Canon FD lenses, but they lack stabilization and are manual focus...

Why didn't you use a small tripod or at least some stabilization of some sort? This would've helped you a lot I think.

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From: Val (Apr 24 2011, at 11:47)

That last image is beautiful! This is one of the areas of computer graphics that's always fascinated me -- the colors and patterns that emerge when you push the image processing engine past its limits. Lovely.

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April 18, 2011
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