Low Light Photography

February 20th, 2013

Low light photography is something a lot of us find challenging. The idea of taking photographs when there is little light seems counter intuitive but the truth is that these conditions can actually create some of the most stunning photographs. When shooting in low light there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself,

  • Do you have a tripod?
  • Is the subject moving?
  • Are you trying to capture movement?
  • Do you want to use flash?

 

Let’s look at these individually

Do you Have a Tripod?

A tripod is essential for some low light photos as it allows you to keep the camera steady when using longer shutter speeds. If you don’t have a tripod then you could always increase the ISO sensitivity of your camera to get the faster shutter speed but even at very high ISO in very low light you can still end up with a shutter speed too slow for hand holding your camera.

Is the subject Moving?

If the subject is moving then you may struggle to freeze the motion at lower ISO settings as the shutter speed will be too long. You can increase the ISO to try and freeze the action but again you will be limited by how much light there is and the ISO setting of your camera. If the subject is a person you will need them to sit very still while taking the photograph using a tripod.

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To capture this image the camera was set up on a tripod and an ISO of 800 was selected to give me a shutter speed of 1/5sec The couple had to remain very still so no movement showed in the final photo.

Are you trying to Capture Motion?

One of the great things with low light photography is being able to artistically show motion in the picture, when there is not much light the slower shutter speeds required to expose an image mean that it can be easy to show motion in your photograph. This can be great for blurring some aspects of the photo whilst keeping everything else sharp. It’s quite simple as long as you have your camera on a tripod when you take the photo anything that is moving when taken with a slow shutter speed will show as motion and anything that is static will remain sharp. This is how photographers create that silky looking water in landscape shots or the traffic trails or star trails with night photography.

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The low light levels in this shot meant a tripod was essential but because the only moving element was the water, I was able to get the blurred effect using a lower ISO and longer shutter speed

Do You Have a Flash?

Using a flash in low light may seem like an obvious choice but flash can ruin the ambience of a shot and I would strongly recommend at least trying to capture the image using the natural light. Of course this is not always possible and flash can be used to great effect when it needs to be. To take a shot without flash try using the widest aperture your camera will allow and a high ISO.

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Using on camera flash for this shot would have ruined the ambient lighting, so instead I used a very high ISO of 3200 and a wide aperture of f2.8 which just gave me a fast enough shutter speed of 1/50th of a second to handhold the camera and freeze the movement in the guitarist.

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