Low light photography is an interesting aspect of photography . Photographers are often required to take pictures in low light , for instance shooting outdoors after sunset, indoors at a restaurant, low lit mall, home or even at an event like a birthday party, marriage or conference.Capturing pictures of fireworks, street lights, night sky with stars also comes under low light photography .As you practice clicking in low light conditions, you learn the tricks and it is indeed a continuous learning process! I have listed some of the tips that have helped me ,some that I learnt by trial and error , online reading and manuals.This post assumes the reader already knows about the various terms aperture, shutter speed, ISO , priority modes etc that is normally used in photography.If not you can read about it by clicking here.
TIPS -LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
Use Large Aperture
- Set the aperture of the camera to a large value (Click here for an earlier post on what is aperture)
- Remember the lower the f-stop number ,the larger the aperture which means more light enters the camera which is obviously what we want in low light photography . So shooting at f/2.0 lets in more light than shooting at f/18 .
- Decreasing the aperture will allow to shoot at faster shutter speeds
- Use aperture priority mode (best for a beginner) and set to the lowest f-stop value that you can , set ISO to a desired value ,the shutter speed will be automatically set in this mode.
- Manual mode also can be used as you get more confident where all the f-stop , shutter speed and ISO can be set manually.
Use higher ISO Values
- Using higher ISO values in low light photography is a great tip .It helps the camera sensor to be sensitive to the light reaching it . So if you shoot normally at ISO 100 or 200 in day light do not be afraid to increase up to 400 , 1600 or more .
- It is true that higher ISO values can produce a grainy picture but they can mostly be filtered in post-processing.Sometimes a grainy picture is preferred to a dark one!
- Doubling ISO also doubles your shutter speed. Note :If you have already decreased your aperture (f-stop value) to the lowest number and you are still getting slow shutter speeds, then increase the ISO .As you increase the ISO the shutter speed is doubled.
Shutter Speed – Low or high?
Use lower speeds for static or semi static subjects
- Usually for hand-held shots , shutter speed should be no slower than 1/50 or 1/60 th of a second and this also depends on how you hold the equipment to avoid a shake.
- It is better to use a tripod for anything slower than that .
- Another option one can use is lenses with image stabilization (if using hand-held to avoid a shake)
- For focal lengths under 85 mm, shutter speeds at 1/60 or even up to 1/120 can usually give a sharp picture.
Use higher speeds for moving subjects
- if the shutter speed is too low, you will get camera shake and/or motion blur from moving subjects . This can be avoided by shooting at faster shutter speed.
- The downside of shooting with faster shutter speed is getting an underexposed image which can be corrected to an extent in post processing.
- A shutter speed of 1/200th-1/250th of a second should be fast enough to yield sharp results without a motion blur.
- Sometimes depending on the movement , you may also need to increase up to 1/200 or 1/400
- Take control of you shutter speed using shutter priority mode or manual mode.
Invest in a fast or prime lens
- It is a good idea to invest in a fast or prime lens .They have the maximum aperture which in turn means faster shutter speeds.
- The average consumer zoom lens 18 – 55 mm is of course convenient and versatile but usually has only a maximum of aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 and this could affect the sharpness and quality of the image. Professional zoom lens may go up to a maximum of f/2.8 . However a prime lens (fixed) of f/1.4 and 50 mm is four times faster at it’s widest aperture.There are also prime lens which go up to f/1.2.
- If one is shooting at f/8.0 aperture and 1/125th shutter speed and reduces aperture to f/5.6 , the shutter speed doubles to 1/250 th , further reducing aperture to f/4.0 will make shutter speed to 1/500th and so with f/1.4 you can imagine how much more fast the shutter speed can get!
- Camera-shake can be avoided with prime lens as they are smaller and easier to keep still when hand-held.
- Freezing action in low light conditions is a great plus.
- A thing to be noted however is decreasing the aperture also decreases the depth of field , so make sure to get the right focus before shooting .
- Following prime lenses are recommended depending on one’s budget for Canon. There are similar prime lens for Nikon and other brands as well.
- Canon EF 50 mm f/1.4 USM,
- Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 ||
- Canon EF 28 mm f /1.8
WHEN NOT TO USE-
- One may think using flash during low light is an easy way to capture pictures but this can very often spoil the picture as the image can turns out too bright , flat and looks unnatural.I often encounter this while photographing food on a plate . The picture taken in manual or priority modes looks more natural and way different from the one taken with flash .
- Another example is , if one uses the on-camera flash at an event say at a concert, the flash can only reach a short distance and will not even reach the performer on stage especially if you are clicking from a distance and thus will create an unappealing and flat picture. It is better to use the manual mode or the priority modes in this case.
WHEN TO USE-
- If you really want to use flash, for example indoors, it is recommended to invest in an external off-camera flash which bounces light on a surface behind or above the subject say off the wall or ceiling.Use a diffuser or reflective surface to soften the light.If the flash is fired in the same direction as the lens it will give a distasteful and dull look.
- Sometimes when a large number of people are to be photographed in low light one may require flash as well because low light photography uses wide aperture which means you get shallow depth of field.Without using flash here, you will end up with a blurred picture .Remember to keep the ISO at high values , you do not have to reduce ISO just because you have flash.
Image Stabilization lenses
- If your lens has IS (Image Stabilization) or VR (Vibration reduction) it is a great plus and keep it on . This allows to shoot at slow shutter speed without any blurs.
- For a regular lens if you can get a sharp image at 1/250th of a second with a IS or VR you can get it at 1/30 th which is really awesome!
Shoot in RAW
- Shoot in RAW as it helps to recover detail from a picture if it gets overexposed or underexposed. You have very limited options to recover an image using jpeg.
- Underexpose an image intentionally by using the exposure compensation button , this also increases camera shutter speed.
- Shooting in RAW format allows for the most flexibility in post-processing.With a RAW file you can brighten the photo without losing quality in Lightroom or Photoshop ACR by using various sliders (exposure, shadow and white )
Position yourself comfortably
- Learn tips and techniques to position yourself comfortably and be stable when you take pictures .This will help to shoot at very low shutter speeds without introducing a camera shake.
- To keep yourself still, use your left hand to hold and support the camera and lean onto a wall or pillar if available .
- Pull your elbows closer to your body.Sit down with your knee on the ground and use your other leg as support by resting your arm on it and start clicking
- Take a deep breath and hold it before the final click if that helps 🙂