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  1. -     Fast means an aperture of f2 or greater (1.8, 1.4, 1.2 and 1, for example - the lower the number, the faster the lens - some have never been caught ;-)

  1. -     I use 3 fast lenses for low light work

        • 28mm f1.8

        • 50mm f1.4

        • 90mm f2

  1. -    Other fast lenses (though much more expensive)

  2.       • 21mm f2

        • 24mm f1.4

        • 35mm f1.4

        • 50mm f1.2

        • 85mm f1.2

        • 135mm f2

        • 200mm f2

  1. -     Zoom lenses for this type of work (though not as fast)

        • 16-35mm f2.8

        • 24-70mm f2.8

        • 70-200mm f2.8

  1. -     Large apertures gather more light, and give better foreground / background separation

  1. -    I like to carry three cameras each with a fast lens - wide, normal and short telephoto. This way no lens changing is required.


photos copyright 2011 Edward Crim

ut of the light we go, and into the dark places of every day life: nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, wedding receptions and even the great outdoors after the sun has set. So how will we get great photos with so little light (in most of these places flash photography is not allowed)? This is a job for Fast Lenses, lenses that catch much more light than that little kit zoom that came with your camera. Fast lenses feature large diameter apertures, some of which can gather more than twenty times more light than their cheaper counterparts. You want a fast lens (maybe two or three)!

And, in order to get the maximum use out of your fast lenses (particularly the wide angle variety), you also want a full frame camera. I use the Canon 5D, which is currently one of the few full frame cameras available used and at an attractive price (around $1k). I’ve got a whole page touting the advantages of a full frame camera, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Things can happen as quickly in low light as they do in bright light, and you may need a fast camera to keep up with the action (some cameras struggle to keep up when you take a lot of photos in a short time). One factor affecting how quickly your camera writes images to the cards you use is the speed of the card itself (Yes, they vary. Faster cards cost more and you won’t find them at the discount stores). The fastest cards are in the range of 90mb per second write speed (sometimes marked 600X, x being the original speed of 150kb per second). How fast they actually write the data depends on your camera, but you certainly don’t want to slow it down with a slow card!


Fisherman in Forest Park - lit by flashlight - 28mm @f1.8, 1/13 sec, ISO 3200

Even with fast lenses, though, you may need a tripod (outdoors at night particularly). And speaking of steady, when you are holding your camera be sure to hold it properly (like this) and press the shutter release gently (otherwise you may shake the camera and cause blurry photos).

Also remember that depth of focus is very narrow on fast lenses, so focus carefully. When photographing people, at least one eye must be in focus, so focus on the eye closer to you.


f-stop settings are geometrical - in other words, each stop smaller allows half as much light through the lens to the digital sensor and each full f-stop larger allows twice as much (the small numbers are the large f-stops and the large numbers are the small f-stops. This is because they are actually fractions)

A lens that is f1.4 is twice as bright as a lens that is f2; close the aperture to f2.8 and you’ve cut the amount of light in half again (and to one quarter of the light at f1.4). Each full f-stop smaller aperture cuts light in half. Here’s the scale from f1.4 to f16 - f1.4 being the largest aperture (most light).

Your digital camera likely offers settings between these numbers - these are 1/3 increments, about the smallest change in exposure that the human eye can detect. They are put there to confuse you and make life more complicated. That’s why you should take our classes. What are you waiting for? Here they are.

aperture at f1.4

aperture at  f5.6

aperture at  f16