High Iso portraits from the Omo valley in Ethiopia with the Nikon D5

High Iso portraits from the Omo valley in Ethiopia with the Nikon D5

I am Albi, a German photographer based in Paris. I work with Nikon since many years, up from the D1 till now the D5. I also have a photo blog since 6 years: pictures-by-albi.com; I consider myself as an Amateur. All pictures on this post are taken with the Nikon D5.

Albi in June 2016 in the Omo valley: 1/640s – f/4,5 – 2800 ISO – 70-200mm f/2,8

I went to a workshop “Masterclass with Steve McCurry” to the Omo valley in southern Ethiopia organized by  http://better-moments.com/ , a Danish photo travel agency.

I never work with flash and I thought going in June to Ethiopia there will be light enough…

1/125s – f/4 – 51200 ISO – 24-70mm F/2,8

In fact, I was very happy to had the D5, because there wasn’t that light I did expect: the Mursi, an ethnic group living in small villages far away from any civilization can only be visited in the morning because they drink a lot of an 80% Alcohol in the afternoon, taking pictures will be too dangerous….

we arrived at 10 o’clock in the Mursi village and soon we had this called by Steve “noon-light”.

There was no other solution to made the portraits under trees, in the shadow.

So we had to take most of all pictures on this trip on late afternoon in the shadow, or inside. Also we went to different market places, early in the morning, with very good light, but we had to wait till 10-11 o’clock, because the people arrived very late.

I was so surprised to do pictures in Ethiopia up to 51.200 iso.

I always work in “M” manual mode and ISO auto, and don’t want to go under 1/100s, the D5 works phantastic, with my D3 I was limited to 800 iso, the D4s allowed me to shoot correctly till 4000 iso, but the D5 now gives you much more possibility to do portraits everywhere.

1/125s – f/7,1 – 32000 ISO – 24-70mm f/2.8

This family was very, very friendly: 1/125s – f/4,5 – 18000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

In fact we had all over a very warm welcome, it was very easy to take the portraits, everybody knows that in this place of the world you have to pay for it, but for me it is a win-win relation, they wait for you, they made themselves pretty for you and you came to do portraits.

He owns one t-shirt, no shoes, but he has a great smile: 1/125s – f/7,1 – 6400 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

The grandmother, 75 years old:  1/125s – f/5 – 4000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Almost overdressed, but he is “the men”: 1/125s – f/5 – 5600 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Inside the bar, some drinks, playing cards: 1/100s – f/7,1 – 5000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Beautiful lady, beautiful eyes and proud to be: 1/200s – f/9 – 4500 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Another picture inside the bar of the village: 1/160s – f/3,5 – 16000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

The famous honey alcohol with 80°:  1/125s – f/4,5 – 2000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Traditional body painting in the Omo valley: 1/1250s – f/6,3 – 1600 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

1/1000s – f/5,6 – 2500 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

1/200s – f/4 – 3200 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

1/200 – f/6,3 – 4000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Too much sunlight outside, we had to go inside of their houses: 1/125s – f/3,5 – 11400 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/640s – f/3,5 – 3200 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

On the market place late afternoon: 1/640s – f/3,5 – 2000 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

On the market: 1/640s – f/3,5 – 2200 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

Just before sunset on the market: 1/250s - f/4 – 10000 ISO - 70-200mm f/2.8

Mursi village: 1/250s – f/8 – 2000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Too much sun, we went into the shadow: 1/640s – f/5,6 – 3200 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/200 f/6,3 – 2500 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/200 f/7,1 – 2500 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

On the road: 14/2000s – f/6,3 – 4500 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/2000 – f/8 – 2200 ISO – and the new 200-500mm f/5.6

This new zoom seems perfect for the D5, the weight allows you to “shoot” by hand, but you need a very short speed (1/2000) and an aperture at f/8, so you need these high ISO.

We paid the haircut: 1/125s – f/8 – 4000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

People didn’t expect we paid the haircut to everybody: we had a very warm , and the “shooting” was very easy, I put white balance on “auto”

1/125s – f/8 – 4500 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Steve McCurry showed me this place, that’s his colors!  1/160s – f/5 – 6400 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Same place, same colors: 1/160s – f/5 – 12800 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

6 o’clock pm and a real dark place: 1/160s – 5,6 – 7200 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/160s – f/6,3 – 45600 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

1/160s - f/6,3 – 16000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Late afternoon in the school, 1/100s – f/4 – 5000 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

After the sun went down:  1/200 – f/6,3 – 7200 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

Inside a bar: 1/320s – f/4 – 2500 ISO- 24-70mm f/2.8

The kitchen of the bar: 1/60s – f/3,2 – 11400 ISO - 24-70mm f/2.8

First of all I will say “thank you” to the travel agency “Better-Moments” to organize so well this trip, I like to make photo workshops with a group, you do more and better pictures, there is an ambiance of photography: nobody cares of time, there is no hurry, everybody is on the same “run” of light and takes care. Nikon doesn’t sponsor this post, I just wanted to explain that with the Nikon D5 you are much more free to shoot at any situation without taking too much care of the light, it is just incredible the change of technology in a few years!

Another word to Steve McCurry who managed this workshop: a very smart friend, very simple, close to us, he is not a technology freak. He took only a Nikon D810 with a 24-70mm f/2.8 in 9 days, he is just hunting the best light, when I say hunting the best light with the best frame, it’s just an obsession, he is searching for those colors that he is famous for…

…by the way I think 80% of you and including me: we think too much technic, too much settings of the camera and loose that time for a perfect frame and a real search of beautiful colors and the perfect background.

Thank you for reading my “Amateur” view about the ISO performances of the Nikon D5.

Albi from http://pictures-by-albi.com/.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • TylerChappell

    Fantastic post. Lots of wonderful photos and portraits in the bunch! Such rich colors as well.

  • Knut-Sverre Horn

    Honestly, I don’t think these pictures show what the D5 is capable of, due to poor technique and processing. Especially the 51200 ISO shot is rather murky; I get better results with a D4s.

    • Bo Dez

      That is just a matter of opinion. I think the pictures are wonderful.

      • Knut-Sverre Horn

        What exactly are you trying to say? Do you think that the series overall does justice to the D5? Do you disagree that a well processed 51200 ISO shot from the D4s looks better than the one above? Have yo actually tried those cameras?

        • Dear Knut, I owned the D3x and the D4s, (you can see on my blog) both took wonderful picures, and I understand that everyone will defend his own camera, but the D5 is just a step more to shoot with high iso’s. the 51200 iso picture was taken with black background and I just arranged only a bit with lightroom and didn’t work out the background but this picture is almost out of the camera…thanks for being interested in my post

          • Knut-Sverre Horn

            I’m not «defending my own camera», and I’m not denying that D5 is the better camera when it comes to high ISO – quite the contrary: The D5 is able to deliver better results than the ones above, given proper technique and processing.

            • fanfan photography

              Can we see your work mister big shot?

            • fanboy fagz

              very suspicious when I see a newly opened profile who comments this…

            • Nikon1isAwesome!

              Well, I too would like to see Knut’s work if he is going to bash the artist and say he can do better.

            • fanboy fagz

              he didnt bash as a creative critique and I as well. hes saying the images dont show the D5 potential. the editing isnt good. and technique for settings isnt correct.

            • Nikon1isAwesome!

              Like Tyler says below, he need’s to get over himself.
              Besides, I can take better pictures with my D700 than he can with his D4s. His poor technique fails to demonstrate the limits of that camera and his over-processing only makes it worse.

            • Bo Dez

              He didn’t necessarily bash creative but it could have been easily taken as such. He did bash, using words like poor and in an, IMO, disrespectful delivery. Elitism is ugly and people generally dislike it so push back.

            • fanboy fagz

              Yea, ok, if he would have left out “my d4s” then it would have been softer. but I saw some of his work. very good stuff. I have a D4 but know what the d5 can as well. Ive seen wedding images of a pro I work with

            • thank you ! it’s always easy to critic….you can critic everything…to better is another story! have a nice week-end !

            • Knut-Sverre Horn

              I was specifically referring to the noise level, not bashing te artistic achievement. I took a snap of our dog tonight and resized it to 1200 px (as the picture above) for you to compare. D4s, 51200 ISO, global adjustmentsonly, just LR – no Noise Ninja or anything.

            • hi hi! very nice ethnic picture, difficult shot with two German Shepherd Dogs behind and a leopard on the left—,)))what’s his name?

            • Knut-Sverre Horn

              Sure! Just google my name (it’s unique), and you’ll find plenty. Some bears for a start? (Hope the link works.)

            • TylerChappell

              Yeah, and I can sayy D750 technically takes more detailed photos than the D5 due to its higher resolution! Get over yourself man.

            • next time I try better —;)))
              have a nice week-end !

            • snype719

              Okay, enough already. You’ve mentioned your point, let’s move on and stop bashing.

        • Bo Dez

          Why do I need to try the cameras to enjoy the photos? Seems like the camera did well on this occasion. But thanks for the completely irrelevant points just the same, i’ll file them under “who gives a sh*t” in case I want to refer to them at some stage later in my life, which is disappearing one moment at a time.

          • Knut-Sverre Horn

            Why did you bother to reply to a comment regarding the technical quality in the first place if you just want to enjoy the pictures?

            • Bo Dez

              Why did you bother to slate “poor technique and processing” – You are missing the point entirely and I will say again – it is just a matter of opinion.

            • Knut-Sverre Horn

              OK, will do! Sorry that I missed the point. It was foolish to think that the post was about high ISO capabilities of the D5 when the title reads «High Iso portraits (….) with the Nikon D5».

            • snype719

              Please, just let it go!

            • Senz Smallville

              Knut, keep that in ur world. No bother if no one after u. Your d4 is the best. (enough).

    • akkual

      Fantastic ISO 5000 shots looking like ISO100-400 shots from two generations back, and clearly pretty much directly out of the camera. So what are you talking about.. one ISO 51200 shot without much post processing and you are degrading the whole post on that? Cheese. Yeah, I can too make technically much better looking ISO 51200 shots from my D750.. but I cannot go to those exact circumstances where that shot was done, so I can no way compare my shots to that.

      • fanboy fagz

        you mean that a D3 at 100-400iso looks like a d5 at 5000iso? you can see this because you own/ed both cameras and u can see the difference in these compressed low rez images..? sure..makes sense..

    • Nikon1isAwesome!

      Did you think that anyone thought these shots demonstrated the far edge of D5 capabilities? Do you realize this post isn’t about you?

      • fanboy fagz

        well there is some relation with the article and the pictures. this isnt flickr..its showing his talent with what the D5 is capable of. hes saying the images dont show what the D5 can do. hes not talking about the beauty of the image as a talent or composition or lighting. hes talking about the colors and his technique to not extracting the best from the camera.

        • Nikon1isAwesome!

          His point seems to be to criticize the artist and claim he can do better. All the author wanted to do was: “… to explain that with the Nikon D5 you are much more free to shoot at any situation without taking too much care of the light, it is just incredible the change of technology in a few years!”

          No need to either bash the artist nor to claim (unsupported) that you can do better. As a professed amateur he’s just saying that the D5 is a tool that helps HIM get better shots.

          • fanboy fagz

            sure, I understand, I dont have the D5 and I shoot with a D3 D3s and D4 and a friend I shoot for uses 2 D5 and I know what its capable of. as well the colors and look of the D5 is different than the previous models but here the editing is wrong. the creative talent of the photog is great. the editing and his settings are wrong. btw, you could shoot with a D4 at high iso and still get acceptable images. use great glass and get exposure correct (even overexposing a bit) and you can definitely still use it.

          • thanks! that’s exactly I am talking about, I didn’t go to the edge of the possibilies of the D5, but my “work” don’t need it, it just helps me to be more creative..

    • fanboy fagz

      I understand your point and do agree some images look quite murky. but Ive shot quite a few Ethiopian weddings and its quite difficult to photograph them. editing seems off, not the cameras ability here. I dont understand why use high high just for dof. the “gangster” 3 pics from the bottom is shot at 1/200 – f/6,3 – 7200

      there was no point to shot it at 6.3 when the background is so far back, shooting at 4.5with lower iso would have been better. wb is off as well. again, good pictures, editing is off.

  • Bo Dez

    Beautiful pictures of beautiful people, thanks.

    • thank you so much Bo Dez ! this trip with Steve McCurry was so amazing and we had to do “our best” to show and discuss with him in the evening about the pictures…thanks again

      • Bo Dez

        You did extraordinarily well with “our best”. It must have been incredible to be learning from Steve McCurry and to be amongst these wonderful and colourful people. This is living to me. 🙂

  • K L

    Hi Albi,
    Next time I meet you, don’t try to tell me that you sell shoes.
    You already know what I think of these pictures: great!!

  • Allan

    Beautiful people. Beautiful pictures.

  • Boston C

    Nice portraits. People there are good looking. However I noticed a high percentage show signs of having jaundice. Googling shows a whopping 84% population are affected some way by hepatitis A. It is transmitted through polluted water and food.

    • hello Boston C, they have no shoes, one t-shirt and nothing else, in the afternoon they drink a lot, yes we are at the edge of the world, have a look at “Omo children” at Google, Steve McCurry support this ONG, he give free pictures for them to sell it…you just can belive it!!!

  • BG

    Quite surprised by the low light levels you apparently had (given the exposure parameters). Good thing the camera performed. 😉

  • geofflivingston

    Excellent work, thank you for sharing these with us.

  • not sure what you’re all seeing,but Nikon colors are ugly. Nikon do know how to make cameras, but they really need to work on colors.

    • Nikon1isAwesome!

      Damn Nikon colors. Here is a terrible D700 shot using the pedestrian 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 lens.

      • captaindash

        Are you saying that shot is straight of of camera, untouched? If not, then it’s not Nikon colors.

        • Nikon1isAwesome!

          Another ugly Nikon shot. OOC JPEG.

    • One of the prime reasons we buy nikon is ” those ugly colours”.

  • AKH

    Thanks for a very interesting post and some very nice pictures.

  • m35g35

    Nice job and thanks for sharing!

  • PMak

    So many armchair photographers here. I wouldn’t say the editing is off at all. It’s all about perception and a desired result. The images are quite lovely and give a feel of an experience.

  • Nemanja Rakic

    There is always someone out there that says they would do a better job or whatever. All professionals without a website or portfolio. Guess we just have to take their word for it (roll eyes).

    Anyway great shots and my fave would be the african kid looking thought the big branch with facepaint. thats a money shot right there 😉

    • thank you very much, yes money helps —;))) but no money: no pictures, we can discuss about that for hours…herhaps : thanks Hans Sylvester & Co…have a nice week-end !!!

  • Spy Black

    “…the Mursi, an ethnic group living in small villages far away from any civilization can only be visited in the morning because they drink a lot of an 80% Alcohol in the afternoon, taking pictures will be too dangerous….”

    Either that got lost in the translation, or this is the most psychotic group of people I’ve ever heard of…

    • sorry for my bad english, but as you can see the Mursi on the picture….they are friendly before noon, our local guide (you can not visit them without a local guide)….as you can see on the picture they have strong arguments…thanks for your comment!

    • http://omochild.org/store/
      have a look, yes it’s a kind of psy… and a kind of just another way of living and thinking, difficult fo us to understand

  • TwoStrayCats

    Albi: you’re so funny! Amateur. Oh, come on. What a beautiful set of portraits you’ve done here. You worked well with those people, Albi.

  • Aldo

    This is a lot of work…. excellent work…. being there and taking a nice photo is 90 percent of the credit.

  • Scott

    Great photos. I like all the 24-70 shots.

  • Beautiful pictures of people that much of the world may not even know about. The boy by the tree may be my favorite. Some people just get too focused on technology when it’s not what matters most. I’m also an extreme tech geek (and pixel peeper) but I know where to draw the line, and I appreciate a good photo project for what it is. You captured photos that not many people will be able to do, you should be proud! 🙂

  • Yes the 5 rocks and it is so good to hear you emphasize on the moment not on the technology.
    I encourage everyone to check out Albi’s website, http://pictures-by-albi.com, and blog for more insights into looking at the wold.
    Good work Albi!

  • thank you Julian!!

  • SimenO

    What is the point? Only bragging? Almost all of the shown images could easily have been composes with longer shutter speeds or shallower DoF or both. Backgrounds without context or meaning can easily be more diffuse. Still sitting people can easily have longer shutter speeds. Are the high ISO just lazyness or bragging or both?

    • Scott

      What is this comment’s point? Only trolling?

      • SimenO

        If your point is that you would use exactly the same shutter speed and apertures as Albi, in all cases, just say so. But please also try to make me understand why. I’m not trying to troll, just understand why he choose as he did.

  • Michiel953

    I don’t understand the very high ISO’s. If the light was that bad the images would have been darker, but instead they look like they were mainly taken in overcast but still bright daylight.
    And what’s with the 24-70 zoom (without info on fl used)? Most images look like they could have been taken with a 35 and an 85 (take the 1.8’s and save on money and weight).

  • Bo Dez

    Not so difficult to understand. I’m captivated by it. It’s such a shame most of the world has been lost to globalisation, commercialisation, and homogenisation. We must celebrate what remains of human difference and do our best to understand it before we lose something truly beautiful – freedom.

  • Hi Albi,

    Just curious about something.
    You mentioned Steve McCurry a few times in your post and that these images were taken during one of his workshops. I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, this workshop was before all the recent controversy surrounding Steve McCurry and manipulated images ? Has your view of Steve McCurry and his photography changed, or been affected, by the information brought to light regarding his work ?


    • Bo Dez

      I have met Steve McCurry. I am of the personal opinion that the recent controversy was blown well out of proportion. He is a man of great depth, skill, vision and integrity.

    • Dear Harv. the last day of our trip we have seen all raw files from Steve (800), 3 of them could just go to print! Amazing!!, in the last 6 month he was at home 10 days…his team did something wrong, I think. But he is such a nice and wonderful man, great heart, big storyteller….I even think and can tell you that he isn’t able to work with photoshop; by the way: today i will “arrange” a picture with lightroom, the same picture in 3 weeks wouldn’t be “arranged” with the same settings…

      • Michiel953

        You looked carefully at 800 files? Impressive.

        • We spend all the afternoon (about 3 hours), Steve only takes two or three subject a day, but on one subject he can make 20-40 pictures, it’s just a more professional way, and so we “passed” quick all bad shots (he do like us too —;))) and the best (for him) we analysed: I learned a lot

    • sorry for the new reply: i have seen https://nikonrumors.com/2016/05/28/photographing-a-jnu-protest-march-delhi-india.aspx/
      you did great work, and all the comments aren’t about your nice pictures:sorry for you: the world is wrong! please go on to show the different ways of thinking, living and acting… yes we need it !

  • purenupe1

    “the Mursi, an ethnic group living in small villages far away from any civilization can only be visited in the morning because they drink a lot of an 80% Alcohol in the afternoon, taking pictures will be too dangerous….”

    Dangerous how? Why do you refer to them as an ethic group when your in their home land…your an ethnic visitor.

    • I agree, I am an ethnic visitor. Have you see my picture in the comments with the two guys and the AK47? The local guide told us that if they are drunken in the afternoon it is impossible to handle the situation…I just want to tell the reality..

    • captaindash

      You are assuming that everyone in that country is the same, with the same heritage. People from different, remote areas of the land might be culturally and genetically different from others in the same country. You are thinking in terms of skin color only.

      • purenupe1

        It is easier to use the name of the tribe and convey their cultural than to use a generic term like ethic to imply different from the norm. Genetics and cultural are mutually exclusive events. Genetically speaking all humans can be traced back to a single point regardless of skin color. I understand his use of english may have contributed to the mis communication though.

        • Before I went to this place, “purenupe1” and “captaindash”, I didn’t know that the mursi wifes had the best “dot” with the biggest plate on her lips (they need to put out 2 tooth to fix it !! ) and by the way 15 km away there is another tribe who never will take a mursi wife, because they feels those plates so ugly…you see in this country culture and feelings are so different, at this place on earth we are all beginners of understanding the human beiing

      • Before I went to this place, “purenupe1” and “captaindash”, I didn’t
        know that the mursi wifes had the best “dot” with the biggest plate on
        her lips (they need to put out 2 tooth to fix it !! ) and by the way 15
        km away there is another tribe who never will take a mursi wife, because
        they feels those plates so ugly…you see in this country culture and
        feelings are so different, at this place on earth we are all beginners
        of understanding the human beiing
        hope you see both this comment
        have a nice evening !

  • Ritvar Krum

    obviously we came a long way (from “iso 800 = unusable” till this), but the progress has has stopped from D4 (befopre D4s) and iso 25600+ are still unusable even in these thumbnail donwsized web photos…. please nikon (and its fanbois) stop this nonesense – marketing or praising iso capabilities and introduding those stupid high pushed isos like there would be somekind of gain something vs previous gen. Because there is none and all what nikon did, with D5, is introduced more agressive noise reduction and reduced DR in low isos – thus reduced IQ vs previous gen and still did not gained a full stop less noise vs D4.

  • Why are they all black? You know, there are other races in the world.


  • Siech

    Terrible photos.

  • PhilK

    Fabulous pics.

    I have nothing to nitpick. As much as I am interested in the technical aspects of photography, when I see a collection of people like this, where the photographer has done a great job of portraying their subject, and the technical aspects are just fine and even perfectly compelling, the minute technical details fade into the background and become nearly irrelevant to me.

    Thanks for sharing, Albi. I hope you continue to do more photography and share it with us when the time is right. 🙂

    • thank you PhilK ! I agree with you–:))

    • KnightPhoto

      Well said Phil, +1. Great job Albi!

  • JJeremyBBenthem

    Those pictures are like… Meh. I could have done better with a lesser camera.

  • Ted McDonnell

    Your shot of the boy or girl behind the tree is superb

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