Last month I was at a guest at a friend’s wedding.  dSLR in tote, I was eager to test out my 55-200mm lens during the ceremony. Loving the zoom, I was able to get up close to the action from the comfort of my pew seat.

1/80  f5.6  200mm  ISO800  P

But SO many of my shots turned out like this.  Not loving the blur-

1/8  f5.6  180mm  ISO400  P

Shooting on the program mode setting, the camera chose a shutter speed of 1/8.  For moving subjects, and my unsteady hand, I know that’s way too slow.  I ran this scenario by my brother-in-law, pro wedding photographer extraordinaire, and he recommended  a shutter speed of twice your focal length. So in the shot above, I was zoomed out to 180mm … do the math and I should’ve looked for a shutter speed around 1/360.

Wanting to test this out, I turned to the old trusty photo assistant to experiment – an expert at movement during all the wrong times. We started in the living room, early afternoon, with the natural light more so above the house.

First attempt, focal length of 65mm.  I turned to shutter priority, 1/160.

1/160  f4.2  65mm  ISO400 S

Whoa, so I froze movement but waaaay to dark.  How can I add light?  What if I upped the exposure bias?

1/160  f4.2  65mm  ISO400  EV+5  S

Nothing.  How about upping the ISO?

1/160  f4.2  65mm  ISO3200  S

Awful.  Grainy.  Dark.  No.  Ok, let’s turn to aperture priority just to see how long that shutter needs

1/8  f5  65mm  ISO400  A

That dreaded 1/8 again.  I won’t have it.  What if I go back to shutter priority but add in the flash (excuse the expression on his precious face..)

1/160  f4.2  86mm  ISO400  S   flash:on

Not beautiful, but flash + fast shutter speed is looking to be my best bet of the bunch, for moving subjects in low light situations.  Perhaps I “need” a better flash, or a better lens for this scenario?  My eye HAS been on the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX lens …

My subject then moved to a new location, helping confirm the notion that there really is no substitute for good natural light. Here he’s by the sliding glass door with the afternoon sun pouring in.  Look how nice 1/160 looks now

1/160  f4.2  70mm  ISO400  S

I can even go to aperture priority and still get a decent shutter speed

1/60  f5  66mm  ISO400 A

At this point I was not-so subtly told to take this party outside

1/50  f5  68mm  ISO400  A

So we headed out onto the deck.  The sun was now diffused by clouds.  Wanting to freeze movement, I turned to shutter priority – perhaps a bit too fast, and the ISO a bit too high, but I see that with the right natural light, anything is possible.

1/400  f6.3  116mm  ISO800  S

1/400  f7.1  116mm  ISO800  S

But often we don’t have the luxury of natural light at our disposal.

So question:  moving subjects in low light – what is YOUR secret?