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5D3 Low Light + Manual = Black Photos Please Help


Below is a link to a Flickr gallery i just created and put in 4 low light examples and one daytime photo so you can see what i'm getting.  I will try my best to sum up my issues as succinctly as possible, but thank you in advance for any guidance.  I am more than happy to take advice and upload my results and respond regularly, but i need the help of more experienced photographers in order to learn where my problem exists... so far i'm thinking somewhere within the 12 inches behind the lcd screen.




I'm a super-noob when it comes to this camera... I know DSLRs but this is a leap for me, i learn fast, but need help.  Guidance and test and revise are readily accepted...


I just purchased a 5d3 and it is a huge step up from an old olympus evolt i purchased 9 years ago... I had gotten a hold of the camera well enough and needed a step up into a dslr that produced good video so after a VERY long time put into research i went with the 5d3. 


Well, sadly, I am quite disappointed with the results I am getting with low light and night shots.   After writing out about 11 pages of settings to use in manual mode to produce similar, wonderful shots -to online photogs-, I am getting nothing but black or dark and noisy shots.  Every time.  I have reproduced the exact shot styles and lighting doing research into footcandle information and seeking areas that are exactly the same as sample photos taken from a plethora of different sites online and different artists and I cannot duplicate anything nearly close to what I am seeing online. and even after putting my photos into lightroom 4.4 and manipulating them for a lot longer than i would like to, i still can only turn up with maybe a pile of grain.


so i will try to explain my issue very quickly.  -and by no means do i consider myself anywhere near a professional not even a knowledgeable novice-  i'm a beginner with this amount of depth and control, plain and simple, and this camera is WAY over my head at the moment, but what i can say is:t I learn expremely quickly and retain everything i learn much better than most people so even with a very steep learning curve, I know that with proper direction i will have this camera nearly mastered in few months...


and i am now fairly certain that the issue lies with myself as i must be overlooking something somewhere and i just started on the manual and am up to page 100ish but i havne't come across the fix yet...


i preface saying i want to shoot in manual mode, because i want complete control... but setting it into manual mode is NOT giving me complete control because the camera still is doing things on its own.


so my issue:  i set the iso, wb, +/-, and shutter speed as I want them and try to take a static shot of a rather dark area with very minimal lighting and as i depress the shutter half way the camera attempts to autofocus and while it does... (in live view to give me an idea of what's goin on) the screen immediately comes alive with colors and beautifully well lit images as it focuses and shows me a picture exactly as i want it taken and when i fully depress to capture the image i am left with MAYBE one highlight of the most well lit area and the rest is just black.  The gallery i linked to in the beginning of this post shows only a couple of the results of what i have going on.  in the street and desk with candle shot, -both cases- the camera at half depression of shutter release button while autofocusing lights up showing me an absolutely clear and beautiful picture and it locks focus, then, well you see the exact results. 


i dont understand why the liveview is showing me the picture as i hope it to be taken then giving me something that is absolutely unuseable.


i've tried in P mode and with minimal +/- adjustments I am ending up with very well lit night shots at a shutter speed around 1/200 or 1/400 but i can only seem to bring about a well lit image in manual mode with a shutter speed of maybe a half a second to an eighth of a second or even longer... but the clarity isn't there in many cases.


I can't understand why i set my camera to the same settings i am seeing other peoples' photographs which turn out very nice at night and in very dark areas and when i try i get utter junk...  the serial number's 6th digit is a 7, and it came to me with firmware 1.2.0 so i know it isn't an old model and i DID clear all the settings first as soon as i turned the camera on for the first time.  I fiddled with a few of the menu options, tried different settins for WB as well (custom, kelvin, automatic) in case it was a warmth issue which made no difference.  I think it's somewhere in the exposure value... but i am not sure...  as i go into that setting and move the dial it just either goes to one point in the middle or expands from both ends at the same time encompassing a larger area say -1 to +1  or -4 to +4 etc... though on the back of the camera when i select it using the Q menu option and adjust it there it doesnt give me a live view different scene showing a changed compensation.  On the top lcd it will still move itself around as i aim the lens toward a lighter or darker object even when on manual mode.  Even after fiddling with all the menu options and trying out different things i've gone back and reset the camera to default now 4 times and each time i reset it and then change the settings i still get shots that are all black and dark and grainy and noisy.   i put one daytime shot in the gallery to show that the lenses i'm using are picking up a lot of nice clarity in well-lit areas but for anything dark or even dark-ish, nada.


i have to be missing something somewhere... the settings i've tried most are (as many photos i saw which looked very nice on different blogs had these exact settings) :


ISO  ...  F/ ...   SS


  800   ...  6.4  ...  1/12          very dark

1600  ....  2.8  ...  1/60          black with one barely visible highlight  1/50  black  1/100 black

1600   ...   4     ...  1/200       black   1/60  black with one highlight

3200   ...  2.8   ...  1/1000     black with a pile of noise


and i went to the only camera shop anywhere near me (60 miles away) and explained my situatioin and received a little chuckle from the owner because i knew he was thinking i was over my head and i know at the moment i am, but once i learn a little more i know i will be proficient, i didnt spend almost $8000 on equipment with a thought that i couldnt learn this camera and all the lenses and balancing system.


He told me i had to try a moon shot at  ISO 400, F/ 16, and SS 400 then just step it down until i got a shot i liked but it's all just black or when stepped down to around 2.8 I'm getting a moon that looks like a yellow fuzz ball and a sky full of purple and white noise.


Currently i'm up to about 400 or so shutter actuations and i'd say that about 85% of them are of me failing to figure out how to get any good low light shots.  I live on a resort island and have a large amount of lighting types to pull from so if ANYONE out there is kind enough to give me some guidance or ask some questions that I can answer about my setup. Please, lend me your knowledge. 


Throw me a bunch of settings to try... give me some scenes to try to capture from stars to brightly lit amusement park rides to the pitch black of the ocean and dunes at night, just after sunset, or at sunrise.  I will do anything you guys can suggest.  Give me something similar to what you do and I would be very happy to correspond my settings to yours and see what i get and then upload my shots online for your critiquing and suggestions.  If i get the time this weekend, maybe sunday, i will try to make a recording using one of my phones and upload it onto youtube showing exactly what's going on and i can cycle through all of my menus so you can see what all the settings are, but i just reset them back to default once again and tried out another 50 or so shots at work taking photos of a cabinet under a desk and it's still just all junk. noisy and/or just black.... but as it focuses, well woo baby it does look so crystal clear and lively... then bam- capture of what looks like i left the lens cap on.  i will make this camera work, i just need a little guidance.


sorry for being SO long winded, but i had to explain everything in as much detail as i possibly could... and believe me, i could have made this easily three or four times longer.


thanks, very much...





Be proud of your work and you will always find someone who appreciates it more than you do.


Hi, ReviewFever,


Read this:


but first watch this:


I think these two brief sources are really excellent, and would address all the problems you are having in Manual mode. 


Manual mode takes practice and a bit of patience.  Until you feel comfortable in Manual, and even afterwards really, you probably want to be shooting in Av (Aperture value) or Tv (Time [shutter] value) a lot more than you would be shooting in M mode.  Those modes are better than the noobie modes like "green box" or even P mode, but they make sure you retain a correct exposure as you are dialing in the creative DOF or shutter effects you are looking for.


Good luck!


Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

View solution in original post



I viewed the photos you had on flickr and they look fine to least for the abhorrent light conditions that you subjected the camera to.  I think you have too much of an expectation of the 5DMk3.  Scene lit by 1 candle?  Instead of saying common to the camera, I want to say common to the photographer.  Remarkably, that was a darn good picture you produced...for that lighting condition. 


The beautiful night photographs one sees from this camera (or any cameras for that matter) are produced with a lot brighter lighting conditions than the ones you are testing.  The 5DMk3 is a darn good camera but it has its limitations...just learn to work within them.  While there are reports that the 5DMk3 produces darker pictures than it should, we are talking about 2/3 of a stop.  You are thinking it's off by 4 or 5 stops from what I can deduce...I think you need to re-evaluate your manual exposure concept...They say it's good in low light means that it can take usable pictures at ISO 25,600 while others can't, not that it can somehow set the ISO lower than other lesser cameras for the same lighting condition...everything still has to obey the laws of physics.


Take this one, there was still a lot of light...good lighting is at just before sunrise and right after sunset.

1/125, f/5, ISO 100

 20130105_Huntington Beach_0318.jpg


 Here is one that was taken when it was almost dark, even though you can't tell looking at the picture:

1/1000, f/5.6 ISO 20,000




Diverhank's photos on Flickr

i do believe that i expect a lot from this camera, but the thing that is really haunting me is that the viewfinder adjusts and shows me a crystal clear image and when i fully depress i am getting a nearly black screen. the photos that are dark dont look anything even near what it looks lile to my naked eye. in the candle photograph for instance, i could read the manual from across the room sitting on my couch but the photograph that is very dark you can barely even see that there is a manual there. right above that manual there is a 90" projector running but the illumination from that is barely even picked up by the camera. in the extremely high iso photo of the same scenario you can see the bottom of the screen being illuminated. i dont think that is beyond a normal expectation especially when the camera on the lcd is showing me a clear and well lit image but is saving a nearly blacked out image. im tempted to go to the beach in 2 hours and take some presunrise photos with the same settings you gave to demonstrate that thenphotos i will return with will be extremely dark.


here's the same settings as your post sunset picture, i took it pre-sunrise with the exact same settings.  the lcd showed me a nice photo, well lit, just like yours, but this is what i got in return:


1/125, f/5, ISO 100   (the object in the top right is a street light... it was very bright, so was the ground)

same settings as yours in good lighting.  top right is a street light.JPG

Be proud of your work and you will always find someone who appreciates it more than you do.

i honestly couldnt fall back to sleep after that response because i knew what was going to happen if i tried to replicate your ocean shot... so i packed up my camera and tripod and went down to the ocean as the sun was coming up and took a few shots, well i took about 50 shots and i threw up the ones that i think demonstrate my problem rather well.


they are on my flickr page:


btw the shot of the street light with the 2.5 second exposure is the exact same shot at the same time as the 1/125 shot that is almost completely black.


i also decided to make a video recording -a few of them- and upload it to my youtube channel... which is just up now, let me grab the link...


this was the 5th video i made because after getting only an hour and 20 mins of sleep and stewing (NOT angry at you at all please dont think that, just pissed about the investment and not getting the same results other people do) i had to try to calm myself to the point that i actually made sense when recording it.  i dont have the fortitude to compile and edit down the other 4 videos i took at the moment that show the camera giving me a very clear shot and then producing a black screen and it wouldn't help matters me uploading the full video with me getting angry when the camera is actually doing this.


any criticisms and ideas are greatly welcomed!


i dont want to have a bum camera, but there's probably something else going on here that is causing me to have these problems.




Be proud of your work and you will always find someone who appreciates it more than you do.

I also looked at your photos. So, if I understand you correctly the 5D Mk III works as it should on a normally lighted subject on a sunny day shot? I think we must determine, at least for you in your mind, that the camera and lens are good. So daylighted photos are fine? Right?

Can you borrow another camera? Different lens?


Oh, one thing, it is always daylight on the Moon. You must set your camera accordingly.


EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

yep daylight shots are immaculate. i love them. anything moderately shadowed is bad and going way worse as light gets to semi low. low light is nothing.

i have the same effect with the kit 24-105 L, a tokina 16-28 2.8, and a canon 50 1.8... fairly certain i have ruled out the lenses.

the closest camera shop to me is 65 miles away and they dont sell anything above $1k cameras as there is just no draw for them around here. i dont want to have to take the drive to a canon store 190 miles away but if i have to i will i just need a day off as i work 7 a week. finding another full frame to try is really not possible in my locale 😕
Be proud of your work and you will always find someone who appreciates it more than you do.


There is a possibility that there is something wrong with your camera but I have a feeling that it's just a matter of getting to know your camera.  I don't use live view at all so I don't know what it's doing but it looks like it does not display the view per your manual setting so you should not rely on it.  Rather, look at the LCD display on the top right of the camera and see if your manual settings are too dark or too bright (I normally tell via the viewfinder, it tells you there too).


 I use manual a lot myself but only when I can gain something out of it.  You should trust the camera's ability to measure (average) light and use the manual mode to compensate for the lighting condition of your subject and to control depth of field based around the camera's metering.  You seem to have confident on what the light condition should be but then you mentioned that you are a do you know what the correct light settings should be?  To rule out the camera as a culprit, I'd borrow another camera or a light meter and compare that against your camera's determine if the camera's metering is off.  I just saw your video, it does look like there's a lot of light...Don't know what to tell you at this point.


It is smart to view other people's settings (like f stop, shutter speed, ISO, etc) on the pictures you like and try to duplicate but keep in mind that there's no way for you or me to know if our lighting conditions match theirs. To blindly use their settings is not going to work.  I would look at their fstop and shutter speed and learn the effect you can get but you need to set everything else to match the light condition you're in.  To do that you must trust that you have the current light condition.  Either you invest in a light meter or you learn to trust your camera's light meter.   Right now you have zero trust...some people can instinctly tell the correct light conditions but that usually come after years experience.  I used to be able to do that in the old film days but even then, never in low light conditions...I find that the camera's sensors are way more accurate than my brains so I've learned to rely on it.  I hope that you will confirm the camera's metering ability and if it matches with other camera's learn to trust it...also you have to learn to deal with noise for any ISO above 400...there's no getting around it.  The camera has built-in noise filtering but I de-noise using photoshop.



Diverhank's photos on Flickr

Yes, for sure, don't rely on Live View for your settings. I personally never use it.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

@ebiggs ill give those settings a try this evening and then again around midnight in various areas of my island (lit pools, clubs, amusement park) and see how they come out... tyvm for values to try.

@diverhank i am a bit of a novice but ive used dslrs for years just not ones as powerful and well rounded as a mk3. i did a ton of research for on average 3 to 4 hours every single day for a month -ask my wife she told me i needed therapy for obsession- and i compared endless photos and videos taken by tons of cameras and watched easily dozens of hours of videos and reviews and even looked for problems people had with their cameras before i dove into the 5d3 feeling it would be best suited to my needs. after trying the exact same settings on my camera in similar conditions (low lit halls, churches, sunrises and sets, star shots, too down cityscapes at night) i have not been able to mimic even closely the results many many photographers have produced, even after fooling with them in lightroom. as for the camera giving me warnings for exposure, i havent made it there in the manual yet, but i hope to get at least to page 200 tonight and cross over that section as i dont want to jump around it... but i have noticed that i get two flashing items on the top lcd one is an asterix and the other is a three rectangle layer showing one clear one mottled and one dark box on top of eachother all jogged askew. i noticed that this morning but i run home and prepare my yardsale which i am still doing with my wife at the moment and it ends an hour before i go to work this afternoon -citywide sale only once a year couldnt pass it up- so i habent had the opportunity to look i to the manual for what they meant yet as since it is a city wide sale theres thousands of people coming over and over who traveled here to be here the one day a year we do it... but i did wonder if that was an exposure related warning...

and i am still bothered that a $3k camera displays a wonderful photo and outputs what it has been. it could be that it is compensating for my off settings in order to brighten and lock focus, i just dont know at this point. believe me i am humble enough to say i would be very happy to know im the faulty part and just need a little adjusting myself to output what my brain wants to see in the result. lol though i am a bit.more perplexed by using the same settings in the other poster's picture of a sunset and i honestly got just a nearly pure black photo.

thanks for your help guys i really appreciate it. and any other thoughts are always welcome!.
Be proud of your work and you will always find someone who appreciates it more than you do.

I guess I am a little confused....still, not really unusual for me. But are you setting the camera in Manual mode? Or are you letting the camera set itself in some auto mode?


If you are in a low light situation and are using high ISO numbers like 3200 you still need to have the SS low, too. But your example had it set very high. Basically canceling out your high ISO setting!

For low light use high ISO numbers, slow shutter numbers (I.E... 1/2 to 1/15) and open, or also low, F-stops (I.E... f1.4 - f2.8)

Of course all situations are different but these are basic numbers to give you an idea where it needs to be. This is manual mode, too, with you making the determination.

If you are using the cameras auto metering modes, there are several you can select. Possibly you have Spot meter selected for instance where it would only meter a very small area of the photo.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!