When we hear about low light photography, the first thing that comes to our mind would be night photography. Actually, it is not only night photography, there are other low light situations that we would be going through in this article. We would also see the techniques we can use to get a good shot in low-light conditions.
Let us see, what are the different low light conditions which we will be encountering while photographing a subject.
Low Light Photography Conditions
- Night conditions: In this condition, we can only see the brighter subjects or the ones which get illuminated by artificial lighting.
- After sunset: This is the time after the golden hour of photography. Good time to try long exposure photography with artificial lights.
- Dark/ Shady areas in daylight: In this case, we will be shooting indoors with less light or no light entering the room.
Now, let us see what all techniques we can use in the above described low light photography conditions
Tip #1: Use the Lowest Possible Aperture
When the light is low, one of the best options is to go for the lowest f-number/ aperture number possible in your camera. Lower the f number, higher will be the aperture opening. It will help you to go for a higher shutter speed by allowing more light to enter into the camera.
Now the question would be, which model should I use? The answer to the question would be to go for the Aperture priority mode. In this mode, select the lowest possible f number and the camera will give you the best possible shutter speed. You can also use the manual mode in your camera in low light photography conditions.
Tip #2: Shoot at Higher Shutter speeds
One of the main reasons for getting blurry or unfocussed images during low lighting conditions is because of the slower shutter speed. So, getting the right shutter speed is very critical in capturing good images. What would be the right shutter speed?
There are 2 things that determine the minimum shutter speed required to avoid a blurry image.
- Focal length of Lens: Here, the basic rule would be to use the shutter speed which is reciprocal of the camera’s operating focal length. Say, you are using a 70-200mm lens to shoot a subject at 100mm, then you should go for a minimum shutter speed of 1/100 to avoid camera shake or blurry image. This is the reciprocal law.
- Full Frame Camera versus Half frame camera: This factor decides, whether you need to add any multiplication factor to the focal length. Suppose you are using a full frame camera then you don’t have to use a multiplication factor. If you are using a half-frame camera then you need to multiply the focal length with the crop factor to get the minimum shutter speed. For a half-frame camera with a crop factor of 1.6x, the minimum handheld shutter speed would be 1/160 ~ 1/200.
Tip #3: Increase the ISO
In my opinion, this would be the last parameter to be tried. Increasing the ISO would result in increasing the noise in your image. It will appear in the form of grains. We will have to increase the ISO to a level to ensure that we get the correct exposure / a good image. Doubling the ISO levels would help in getting a higher shutter speed (double).
So, you need to understand the noise levels at different ISOs for your camera. Higher noise will make the picture look grainy. So, if we get a “1 stop” underexposed image with a setting of f2.8 aperture, 1/200 shutter speed, and an ISO of 200, then we need to double the ISO to 400 to get the correct exposure. Most of the half-frame cameras are good up to ISO 800. Full frame cameras show very less noise up to an ISO of 3200.
Tip #4: Use Camera/ Lens with Image Stabilization
If your camera or lens comes with Image stabilization then it would allow you to go for a still lower shutter speed in handheld shooting conditions. You can get a good image in a shutter speed of 1/80 by enabling Image Stabilixation in the above condition. Vibration reduction (VR) and Optical stabilization (OS) are the other names for Image Stabilization. Latest lenses with optical stabilization will allow going for a shutter speed up to 3 times lower.
Tip #5: Use a Fast Lens
Now the question would be, what is a fast lens? Lenses with a lower f-number/ Aperture number is a fast lens.
Let us take an example to explain it better. Consider 2 lenses say, Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens and Canon 70-200mm f4.0 lens. You are shooting a subject with Canon 70-200mm f4.0 lens at 200mm and you are getting a shutter speed of 1/100 at an aperture of f4.0, as a result of which you are not able to capture a good image. Now, you have switched to Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens. You can get a shutter speed of 1/200 at the lowest f-number of f2.8 (supported by this lens). So in this case, the canon 70-200 f2.8 lens is a fast lens when compared to the other lens since it allows one-stop extra light into the camera when compared to the other one.
Tip #6: Right Camera holding technique
If you are shooting in low-light, make sure to use the right camera holding technique. Always make sure that camera is in a stabilized position.
Use the palm of your left hand to hold the bottom of the lens or the camera. Keep the elbows closer to your body. You need to stabilize yourself also to get a good image.
Tip #7: Use a Tripod / Monopod
Use a Tripod or a Monopod to capture an image at lower shutter speed. Now the question would be, whether to use a tripod or a monopod? In my opinion, a tripod is the best option amongst the two.
In the case of a monopod, we need to balance it properly. But in certain conditions, we will have to use the monopod. If you are doing bird photography, where we need to trek some distance to get the shot, then carrying your tripod along with the camera would be tough. In such situations, a monopod is very useful.
Tip #8:Use Remote cable release or Time trigger
Remote cable release and time trigger can be very useful if you are doing a long exposure photography or night photography using a tripod.
Remote cable release make use of an additional cable and electronics. Connect it to the camera to trigger the shutter release, instead of using the inbuilt camera shutter button. This can remove the vertical shake caused by the camera’s shutter button. Setting in-built time delays for triggering the shutter is another option to avoid the vertical shake.
Tip #9: Underexpose and Shoot in RAW
If the light condition is so poor that you are not able to get a decent image after trying all the above methods, then try under-exposing the image. Make sure to capture the image in RAW format, not in JPEG.
In RAW format, you will be able to recover the details from the image. You cannot recover it if it was shot in JPEG. Now the question would be, By how many stops the image should be under-exposed? It depends on the camera. So, understanding your camera is very critical to decide how many stops the image can be underexposed.
Tip #10: Autofocus Issues: Use Manual Focus
When it is too dark then there is a chance that the auto focus function may not work. In this case try to use AF assist beam option, provided in the camera. But this is useful only if the subject is close. For far subjects, use torch light to get the subject in focus.
If you use a torch, then after auto focusing, make sure that the auto focus option is switched off so that camera will not try to refocus.
You can use manual focusing as the last resort. Most of the DSLR/ Mirrorless cameras will have this option on the lens. You can slide the AF/MF switch to enable manual focus. After doing that we need to adjust the focusing ring in such a way that the object appears sharp in the viewfinder. So, use manual focus for low light photography.
Tip #11: Use Inbuilt or External Flash
Another way of capturing good images in low light is to use the inbuilt camera flash or the external flash. Inbuilt camera flash will be useful if the object is near. Use external flash for a distant subject. This technique will add artificial light to the scene.
Please use a flash diffuser to get a soft light on your subject. Otherwise, it will result in an unpleasant image. Using flash is a good option when shooting in dark or at night. You can go for cheaper inexpensive flashes from Godox or Yongnuo instead of going for the expensive Canon and Nikon flashes.
After going through the above mentioned low light photography tips, try to understand these techniques and practice them. This will help you in getting good shots in any lighting conditions.