man taking a pic of the sun in low light mode

8 Tips On Working With Low Light Photography

Have you ever tried taking pictures at night only to get frustrated because the images just wouldn’t turn out good? Have you noticed that when you try to snap a quick picture of that brand new rug in your living room that the image came out dark? If you have, you’re probably working against the rules of low light photography.

While highly rewarding, taking pictures in low light conditions can be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing.Luckily, there is plenty of help out there in the form of guides and articles, like this one.You don’t have to keep guessing on the best practices for getting the perfect pictures in low light conditions – we’ve got you covered with some tricks of the low light photography trade.

Low Light Photography – How We Define It

Maybe you’re still a little unclear on what we mean by low light photography. Don’t worry; we won’t leave you in the dark.

The term, in the words of Nasim Mansurov of Photography Life, means “anything less than daytime.” In other words, if it isn’t bright and sunny, it’s probably considered low light.

Nasim further breaks down low light photography into 3 categories – visible, low light, and dark.

Visible takes place during the daytime when you find yourself in shadowed areas like under a bridge or between tall buildings.

Low light comes in just after sunset when you can still see everything clearly, but it’s starting to get darker outside. This term is also used when you’re shooting indoors without proper lighting.

The last category, dark, is exactly what the name implies – nighttime when only bright objects are visible.

Our tips can be applied to all 3 categories of low light conditions.

8 Low Light Photography Tricks

Now that you have an idea of what we mean when we say low light photography, you’re ready to get into the grind.

You can often tell when you’re taking a picture improperly in low light conditions, as the image may turn out blurry or noisy.

Noisy is another term for grainy, in case you’re a beginning photographer or aren’t familiar with the terms.

We’ve got 8 tricks for you to help you avoid unclear pictures.

1. Slow Down the Shutter

light trails

Shutter speed is part of the foundational exposure triangle. It affects how much light is let into your camera while you’re snapping an image. The slower the speed, the more light is allowed in. More light entering your camera will allow you to take pictures in darker conditions. But before you venture off to apply this tip to your own camera, we have a couple words of caution.

The first warning is not to rely only on this one tip. As we mentioned, shutter speed is part of the exposure triangle – you need the other two parts working in balance with it in order to get frame-worthy pictures in low light conditions.

Our second cautionary statement? If you intend to take pictures of moving objects, slower shutter speed puts you at risk of taking a blurry image.

You can bump up the shutter speed to compensate for the movement. Experiment with different speeds and moving objects in low light conditions. You may find that the blur adds some extra style to your image.

If you want minimal blur, photographer and vlogger Peter McKinnon on YouTube recommends you double your shutter speed from the focal length of the lens you’re using. But wait, what’s focal length? Josh of Expert Photography defines focal length as “the distance between the point of convergence in the lens to the sensor or film of the camera.” Hint – you’ll want to remember focal length for another trick of ours.

2. Bump Up that ISO

ISO is the second part of that exposure triangle we mentioned before. ISO determines how sensitive to light your camera is. Seeing as low light photography deals with conditions in which light may be very dim, you’ll want your camera to be able to pick up as much light as possible.

The higher your ISO, the more light sensitivity your camera has.Be careful with higher ISO settings, however. The higher it goes, the grainier your image may come out.

Just like with blurred objects, noise can also add some style to your image, so don’t let the threat of some grainy overlay damper your enthusiasm. Also, keep in mind that you can often edit your pictures on editing software like Photoshop later.

3. Widen Your Aperture

man holding a camera

The third and final piece of the exposure triangle is aperture. Like shutter speed, how wide your aperture is open determines how much light enters your camera.

The wider your aperture, the more light is allowed in. So make it as wide as possible when dealing with low light conditions.

In his vlog, McKinnon advises that you play with your camera settings and get familiar with them. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

4. Shoot in RAW

before and after shot of an old man

RAW is a high-resolution image file format that your camera saves the images you take as to the memory card.

Typically, cameras will automatically save images as JPEG files. While still high-resolution files, these are not nearly as editable with software programs as RAW files.

In fact, editing JPEGs can cause damage to the files and lower the resolution quality. RAW files can be edited extensively without losing their higher resolution.

RAW files are bigger than JPEGs, so be sure to bring some extra memory cards along on your photoshoot. 

5. Use a Tripod

tripod sets on different places

Besides potential blurriness, another negative effect of a slower shutter speed is camera shaking.

While some cameras come with an image stabilization feature– which you should definitely take advantage of – bringing along a tripod can really help reduce camera shaking.

The less your camera shakes, the better your images will turn out.

6. Use Every Light Source Available

photo shoot studio

A trick to avoid too dark situations with low light photography is to be crafty with readily available light sources.

If you’re inside, open up the windows to allow natural light to shine in. Position your image subjects nearer to light sources. If you’re wandering about at night, bring a flashlight with
you and shine it on something you’d like a picture of. It also will help when you need to switch your camera settings around.

And although the flash has its disadvantages, you can find clever ways to use it to your advantage. Hillary Grigonis offers some nifty pointers on how to cleverly use your flash without risking any unsightliness to your pictures.

7. Be Aware of Camera Focus

woman in black coat trying to focus her canon camera

Mansurov again offers some sage wisdom regarding camera focus. Darker conditions can cause the autofocus function on your camera to cease being useful, he writes. He recommends using the AF assist function in dimmer environments to help the autofocus.

Some cameras don’t have AF assist, however. Sometimes a subject may be too far away for it to be of help. If either is the case, use a flashlight to help instead. If you forgot your flashlight, you’d have to manually focus your camera on your subject. Turn off your autofocus and zoom in with live view until your desired focus is achieved. Then you can take your picture.

8. Get a Camera with a Larger Sensor

sony camera lens

This tip is one especially for those who do not have a camera already or don’t mind spending some extra cash.

Cameras with larger sensors tend to be more expensive, but they allow for higher ISO settings without risk of that grainy overlay.

It’s smart to be aware of your sensor size regardless of the type of camera you’re using, but it’s especially important for those with DSLR cameras.

Sensor size links up with focal length – remember that? — according to Matt Golowczynski of Techradar.com. If you have a DSLR camera, which allows you to purchase different lenses, you’ll want to be aware of your sensor size and the focal length of the lenses you’re looking to buy. If you don’t match them together properly, you risk picture quality. This could be detrimental to your low light photography.

8 Great Tips for Working with Low Light Photography

You’ve made it to the end of our guide. Now there’s only one thing left for you to do. Get out there and put our tricks to the test. Practice makes perfect, especially with low light photography. Some guides may offer more specific numbers for your settings, but nothing can beat personal experience.

Get out there and have fun.

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