Low Light Photography Tips

Low light photography is something that we all must deal with as photographers. Whether you’re taking photos with a point and shoot during an evening out, shooting a wedding party or capturing a landscape at dusk it’s important to understand the basics of shooting with low light. Photography is all about light. Low light photography is no different, and it offers new challenges and opportunities for creativity. Here is a helpful infographic on the subject:

low light photography

Low Light Photography Infographic (Click for Larger Version)

Information provided courtesy of Snapsort

Additional Low Light Photography Tips:

1. Crank up the ISO. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light that is reaching it. The additional noise that is generated by using a high ISO can be filtered out somewhat in post-processing. Sometimes the extra grain adds a little something special to the shot. Shooting in RAW format allows for the most flexibility in post-processing.

2. Use a larger aperture. The larger the aperture, the more light is entering the lens. Shooting at f/5.6 lets in more light than shooting at f/18 (remember, the lower the number, the larger the aperture).

3. Slow down the shutter speed. More light is captured the longer the shutter remains open. Keep in mind that a good rule of thumb for clear hand-held shots is no slower than 1/60 of a second. Use a tripod if you’re shooting at anything slower than that, though I have had success at slower hand-held shots using lenses with image stabilization.

4. If you do have to use a flash, try to avoid the on-camera pop-up. It tends to flatten the appearance of the image because the light is hitting the subject directly. Invest in an off-camera flash, angle light so that it is not directly in front of the subject, and use reflective surfaces and diffusers to soften the light. Strategically placed constant light (such as tungsten lamps using soft white bulbs) work excellently for providing additional ambient light without sacrificing the atmosphere of the setting.

5. Use your camera’s exposure compensation capabilities. The scale on many of today’s DSLR’s allow from -3 to +3 stops in 1/3 stop increments (my 7D is +/-5). Dial the exposure compensation to the positive side to purposefully overexpose the photograph.

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21 responses to “Low Light Photography Tips”

  1. Mark says:

    I see some misleading info here. You recommend IS or VR lenses but fail to mention this is for hand-held shots only. When mounted to a tripod, the IS or VR should be TURNED OFF as all of the lens manufacturers recommend. And it should be made clear that IS/VR is only good for minimizing “camera shake” and will do nothing for “motion blur”.

  2. Dewan Demmer says:

    Helpful Thanks. I find shooting in the dark can be a change and this gives some helpful hints.

  3. francis says:

    actually.. it’s BOKEH not BOKAH.

  4. Sheryl says:

    How do you shoot a model walking down a catwalk with bright lights shining on the runway?

  5. Jack Bingham says:

    I have alot of problems shooting indoors in low light and in manual mode, I shoot with a 50D what can I do to make it easier. I have a Canon speedlite 430EX11 as well, any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers Jack

  6. Rod Arroyo says:

    The proper grip, stance, and bracing against something solid – plus breathing out – is critical when you can’t use a tripod.

  7. Karl Baker says:

    Take a notepad with you also.. I always find making notes of what camera settings I used last time makes things a little easier

  8. galih jati says:

    shooting in a very low light needs to be very stable..tripod is important, high iso low noise, or you may use very low iso but it will need very slow shutter

  9. Its a risky matter shoting with poor light , but the results ofther may deserve the risk
    Thanks for the post

  10. marisia says:

    Great ways to learn how to get snd create different affects with your camera’s

  11. Alex Lane says:

    Thanks for the tips! I have recently picked up photography as a hobby. Low light pictures continue to be the most difficult for me. I am slowly understanding ISO, Aperture and shutter speed, but I’m not always sure how to know which one needs to be changed to affect the light as opposed to the others. Do you have advice for me?

  12. John M says:

    FYI: There’s a technical fault/error in the advice given in this article;

    It’s a very common misconception that “The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light that is reaching it”.

    ISO has nothing to do with the process of exposure – ISO is a process of “brightening” the captured image AFTER the exposure is taken.

    In fact, with many modern digital cameras, you will actually reduce Dynamic Range (the range of high & low elements in the image) as you increase ISO.

    It’s actually much better to use the lowest ISO possible.

    Regards, John M

  13. David says:

    Great post. Low light photography is one of my favorite choice. You can prove your creativity in this area. This kind of photography is a bit tricky but the result is awesome.

  14. m. matheson says:

    Yes….very helpful thanks.

  15. Roonie_70 says:

    Very helpful. Thank you.

  16. Dee says:

    I’m new to photography and this is probably the best info I’ve come across on this subject. So many helpful tips.

    Thank You

  17. Jeani says:

    I’ve heard the opposite with iso, noise is hard to get rid of, where underexposure is much better than overexposure, iso should never really be above 3500 for any reason for a good photograph

  18. Patricia Grindley says:

    No need for a notepad, Karl Baker, unless you shoot film. Your camera records all the settings and they can be found in the metadata.

  19. Really helpful article! Being a photographer in Spain I don’t get as much low light opportunities as when I was in Scotland. I will definitely try the long exposure evening shot of the sea.

  20. Alex Jones says:

    Thanks for Sharing this post. I am gonna use your tips in the future.

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