Taking Photos in Low Light Conditions

As a photographer, I had been told over the years that light is key. Finding the right light for a specific idea I had in mind became an obsession and would take up so much time, when all I wanted to do was shoot. Just before Christmas I attended a workshop, which changed my mind completely about lighting. Improvising, being creative with the light and having the right equipment became of a greater priority. Knowing that low light can cause blurriness and lead to lots of added time to edit made me look for alternative options.

There are many ways to take advantage of a low light situation, here are just a few:

Shoot Manual
Shooting in manual mode allows the photographer to manually choose all three settings: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, which means complete control over light. If you are not comfortable with shooting in full manual mode, ensure that you put your camera in aperture priority mode and open the aperture as wide as your lens allows permitting more light to pass through the lens to the image sensor. Your camera will automatically set the required exposure time.

Night and Low-Light Photography
Image © Chris Newham

Gloomy day – go outside anyways
Do not consider that a cloudy day is the worst time for taking photographs. Why? Clouds act like giant light-diffusers, removing harsh light flares and sharp shadows that you may get in strong sunlight or when using a flash inside. Overcast days are great for many types of photography: portraiture, close-up and landscape photography. can It can also give a dramatic look to your photographs.

Shoot RAW
Often, people forget to shoot in RAW, or simply choose JPEG because they think that it is “easier” since it doesn’t involve post-processing. It isn’t easier if you’re shooting in low light and when you open up the image in your editing software, you struggle to increase the exposure of the image. If you shoot in RAW, it is possible to add light to images that were shot in darker situations with less quality loss.

Use a reflector
Using a reflector not only provides additional illumination to your subject but also helps to eliminate harsh shadows and to soften light from the flash. Reflectors can be bought very cheaply, or you can make your own. If you choose to do this, make sure that you use materials that are white, and non-tinted, or you can end up with colorcast on your images.

Hachiko Vespa Panning
Image © Kuro no Kishi

Accentuate movement
In low light conditions, movement is easy to accentuate. Add an interesting effect to an image by using the panning technique – slowly pivoting the camera to follow your subject against a stationary background (the busiest background – the better) while pressing the shutter button. This technique will produce an image with more or less sharp main subject and colorful abstract background.

Go slow
Purposely shooting at a slower shutter speed can obtain a somewhat more artistic image, especially in low light. Make sure that you use a tripod to stabilize your camera, or at least something that will help to steady the camera. This is particularly important when you have shutter speeds longer than 1/60 of a second.

Tips for low-light concert photography
Image © Lindsey Carter

Crank up ISO
Yes, this means your image may suffer from noise, but it will allow using a faster shutter speed to avoid blur caused by camera shake. Higher ISO values make the sensor more sensitive to light. With higher ISO settings, more light will be recorded with the same shutter speed and aperture, which is exactly what we need in dim light conditions. You can reduce the noise with some post-processing. When shooting RAW, you have more control over noise and better image quality at the end.

Use an external flash
The use of a flashgun helps you to control where the light is going. You could direct the light so that it hits your subject from a different angle, or deflect it so that the image is softened.

Light Painting or Light Drawing Technique
Image © Giorgio Cannizzaro

Be creative
If you’re shooting in the dark, play with lights. You could play with a glow stick, sparkler, or torch and create light graffiti or paint with light. This is a fun technique. Make sure you wear dark clothing; set your camera to a long exposure (20+ seconds or a bulb setting is suggested) and plan what you’re going to do if you’re working in a group.

Some more low light photography tips
• Reduce camera shake by using a tripod, monopod, or bracing the camera against a sturdy support.
• Use a remote release or self-timer to reduce camera shake even more when using a tripod.
• If your lens has image stabilization – don’t forget to turn it on.
• Consider creating HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo.
• Converting images to black and white will fix the color noise from shooting at a high ISO, colorcasts, and other color distractions, while adding a classic look.

Even a low-end digital SLR camera can produce some great low -light shots if you use the right tricks and add some creativity to it.