Not every photo you want to take will magically come with the perfect lighting. That means that you need to learn the tips and tricks required to overcome less-than-ideal lighting situations, like learning how to take better photos in low light. Though shooting in dim lighting might seem like it would be prohibitively difficult, armed with the right tips, you can learn how to master low light photography.
Find High-Quality Ambient Light
Not all artificial light is made equal (nor is natural light, for that matter!). The key to low-light photography is finding good ambient light that will help your images stand out. As Mango Street points out in their video, positioning the model such that there is light behind them will help separate the model from the background. This is important so that the model is a stronger focal point in the image and isn’t lost in the darkness.
Another tip is to find a shoot location that offers lighting from the front or sides, that way the model’s facial features and body will be illuminated. This light needn’t be super bright, either – just enough to help our eyes distinguish them in the shot, as shown above.
Slow Down the Shutter
By slowing down the shutter speed, you give your camera more time to collect the light it needs to get the shot. At the same time, the slower your shutter speed, the lower the ISO you can use, and that’s helpful for keeping digital noise (which looks like film grain) to a minimum.
Of course, there are problems that can arise from a slower shutter speed…
First, if you use a slow enough shutter, you’ll find that motion blur becomes an issue, unless the model is absolutely, perfectly still.
Second, changing shutter speeds means you have to get out of full auto mode and shoot in something like shutter priority mode or manual mode. This isn’t really a problem apart from needing to learn how to shoot in those modes if you don’t already. Third, the slower the shutter speed, the more likely you are to induce camera shake, which will result in a blurry mess of a photo.
You can get around this problem by shooting with a tripod. By stabilizing your camera with a good, solid tripod like the Sirui A1205 shown below, you are able to negate the effects of camera shake and get clear, sharp photos, even in dim lighting.
What’s more, a tripod opens up different creative possibilities for you. For example, this Sirui tripod has a retractable dual-stage center column that allows you to change the perspective of the shot from ultra-low to above the normal human eye level. Additionally, the A1205 tripod has easy-to-adjust leg angles that help you get more interesting and dramatic low-angle shots as well. This tripod also has a built-in monopod to make it even more versatile.
Furthermore, by using a tripod in low-light situations, you can shoot video, panoramas, and time-lapses more easily (particularly if your tripod has a ball head, as this one does). If you have an off-camera flash, you can mount it on your tripod and shoot hand held. You can also get in on the action by keeping your camera mounted on your tripod and remotely triggering the shutter for a self-portrait or group shot. The point is that working in low light requires that you approach things a little differently, and where you might seldom use a tripod in the daytime, at night, it’s virtually a must.
Get Your Focus Just Right
Today’s cameras have excellent autofocus systems that help you get the sharpest images possible. But when you shoot in a low-light situation, autofocus systems can struggle to obtain focus. That’s because they rely heavily on detecting contrast to determine where the subject is, and without much light, there’s not a lot of contrast with which your camera can work.
You can address this situation in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, you can add more light to the scene, whether that’s moving to a better lit location or simply shining your phone’s flashlight on your subject, as was done in the screenshot above.
On the other hand, you can switch your lens to manual focusing so you’re in control of getting the focus just right. Granted, manual focusing is a whole different animal, but if you learn how to do it, that’s just one more notch in your photography toolbelt!