Looking for tips on shooting low light photography? You've come to the right place. Low light photography can be a tricky area for many photographers, especially less experienced photographers. It’s easy to understand that lighting conditions won’t always be perfect, but figuring out what conditions count as “low light” and how to deal with them can be a bit more complicated. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for shooting in low light, but there are a few things you can try that will, most of the time, improve your low light photography.
What is Low Light?
We might think of low light as being the amount of light we have at dusk, dawn, or during the night. These conditions can certainly be described as low light, but there are other low light conditions that we tend to forget. Indoor lighting, unless it matches the level of light you have outdoors during the day, is often “low” light. You can also encounter low light outside at times other than the evening or early morning, like when it’s an overcast day or if you are shooting in the shade. There’s probably some crossover between these different conditions in terms of the measurable amount of light present, but for our purposes, we’ll look at three main types of low lighting and how to deal with them.
In the Shade
If you shoot outdoors in a shady area – anything from the shadow cast by a large object like a building to the area underneath a bridge – you’re likely to get blurry or noisy photos if your camera is set up for normal daylight photos. It can often seem like there’s plenty of light in these situations when really the light is low enough to cause problems for your camera. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to fix this.
Blurry photos taken in shady areas are often the result of a shutter speed that is too low for the situation. Using a faster shutter speed can help to clean up the photos. Alternatively, you can use the image stabilization feature of your camera (if it has one) to get a sharper image without the need for a fast shutter speed.
If you’re going for a faster shutter speed, keep in mind that other camera settings can affect this. Lowering the aperture, using a faster camera lens, or increasing your camera’s ISO can all help to increase the effective shutter speed you’re using.
Indoor lighting can be as bright as daylight, but often, indoor lighting isn’t sufficient unless you’ve set it up yourself. If you’re shooting in a poorly lit indoor environment, you might start with the tricks that help with shooting in shady areas – but that won’t always cover it! There are some solutions that are more useful (or more accessible) when shooting indoors if the light is low.
One of the advantages that indoor shooting has over outdoor shooting is control over your light source. You can’t move your subjects closer to the sun, but you can move them closer to the window or the source of artificial light! This is a good first step, if you can easily execute it, and it might solve the entire lighting problem.
If camera stabilization is part of the problem, and your camera doesn’t have a feature that corrects this on its own, you can also stabilize the camera on your own. Hold your camera close to its center of mass and rest your elbow on your knee, or an object in the room, to reduce the camera shake.
Shooting in RAW is another option for low indoor lighting, which gives you the opportunity to correct the lighting after the fact. RAW images contain a lot more information than other formats, so you can adjust highlights and shadows in post without sacrificing the quality of the image.
In the Dark
At night, or in other near-total dark conditions, most of the above won’t be very useful, since you have almost no light to work with in the first place. It’s a unique situation, but not by any means impossible to shoot in, so you just need to know how to prepare!
The first thing to remember is to bring a tripod. Self-stabilization with handheld shooting can only go so far, and it certainly doesn’t extend to nighttime photography. A tripod is absolutely necessary if you’re going to be taking pictures at night, unless you want lots of motion blur.
It’s also a good idea to bring your own light sources since there won’t be much else. Even a flashlight can help you get some nice shots of an otherwise totally dark subject.
You should remember that you’ll probably need to focus your camera manually in super-low light, as autofocus won’t function in truly dark conditions. You can also illuminate your subject with a flashlight to allow the autofocus to find it, then turn autofocus off so it won’t continue to adjust when the flashlight goes off.
Just like all obstacles you’ll encounter in photography, low lighting problems can often be solved with proper preparation, lots of practice, and of course, editing. While you shouldn’t rely on it entirely, photo editing can definitely clean up images that suffer from low lighting conditions. You can even enroll in a Lightroom editing course to learn all the most important tricks of cleaning up photos in Lightroom. I hope you found my top tips for shooting low-light photography helpful. Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged, and you’ll have the hang of low light photography in no time!
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