The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

14/10/2019 8:00 AM

If you’re interested in sports, concerts, night or street photography, you’ve probably worked with low lighting before. And you’ll know that it’s tricky! Lighting can make or break a photo, so low lighting poses a lot of challenges - but it’s important to remember that your camera is there to help you. 

 

The experts at Ted’s Cameras share their top tips for how to take good photos in low light.


How to set up your camera for low light photography

To start, you definitely want to shoot in manual mode. That way, you’ll be able to adjust your settings as needed.

 

These are the best low light camera settings, plus our top low light photography tips:

 

1. Rely on flash

 

When you’re shooting in low-light settings, flash is your best friend. If your camera has a built-in flash, you can use that but it might only light up the front of your subject, making your photo look flat. Your best bet is using an external source of light, like a torch. This technique is known as “light painting”, and it gives you more control over the way your scene is lit.

The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

If you’re inside, we suggest bouncing the light off the wall, but you can play around with the positioning of the torch until you get the lighting you’re looking for.


Top Tip: Make the most of the light you have. For example, if you’re working with natural light, open up the curtains or blinds all the way.

The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

2. Choose a wide aperture

 

The wider the aperture, the more light passes through your camera’s lens. The best aperture for low light is a wide one, like f1.8. This is a simple way to make sure your photo is well-exposed. To put this into context, an f1.8 aperture lets in four times as much light as a standard f3.5 lens.

 

3. Crank up the ISO

 

ISO is the second pillar of the “exposure triangle”, and it refers to your camera’s sensitivity to light. It’s a number, and the higher the number, the more sensitive your camera is to light. To combat low lighting, turn up the ISO as high as it can go. On many cameras, the limit is 1600. Just keep in mind that raising the ISO might result in grainier photos. You can embrace the nostalgic feel by changing your photos to black-and-white. But if you don’t want to, you can edit the photo using a program like Neat Image, or lower the ISO - which will leave you with a darker but clearer photo.

4. Select a high shutter speed

 

Sensing a pattern here? With low light photography, the solution is often to turn up your settings. The shutter speed is the length of time your camera is open during exposure. To take crisp, blur-free photos in low light, set your shutter speed to a fraction of the focal length. So, if you’re using a 50mm lens, choose a shutter speed of 1/50 a second. If you’re using a 30mm lens, go for a 1/30. Any slower than this, and your photos might come out blurry - especially if you’re shooting moving subjects.

 

Top Tip: When using slower shutter speeds, it is a good idea to mount your camera to a tripod to eliminate camera shake.

The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

5. Use your camera’s AF Assist feature 

 

In low light, your camera might struggle to auto-focus. It makes sense: without good light, it’s hard for your camera to figure out how far away the subject is. Luckily, most digital cameras have an AF Assist light. It’s usually found at the front of the camera, and if you flick it on, it will illuminate the subject to help your camera to auto-focus. 


Top Tip: If AF Assist doesn’t work, grab your torch to shine even more light on the subject.

The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

6. Adjust the white balance to suit the environment

 

What kind of light are you working with? Here’s how to set your white balance to match the conditions of your shoot:

 

  • If you’re shooting on a dreary, overcast day, we recommend “Cloudy
  • If you’re indoors, with regular light bulbs hanging above you, we recommend “Tungsten
  • If the room is lit by fluorescent light bulbs, we recommend “Fluorescent"

7. Shoot in RAW mode

 

At Ted’s Cameras, we recommend shooting in RAW mode all the time. RAW images retain all their original data, so you can easily edit, colour-correct and adjust the white balance of your photos in post-processing. Your camera will also save more of the shadow detail of your images, which is key to editing low-lit photos.


Top Tip: In low light situations, the LCD screen on your camera is going to look really bright. For a more accurate image, adjust the brightness so it better reflects the scene in front of you. You can also make use of your camera’s histogram (if it has one), which gives a much better indication of exposure.


The best camera gear for low light photography

If you often find yourself shooting in low light, you might want to invest in gear that adapts well to less-than-ideal lighting. This includes:

A full-frame camera with a large sensor

 

This is the best camera for low light photography. Full frame cameras are on the pricey side, but they produce much better images in dark settings than cameras with crop or micro four-third sensors.

 

Ted’s Top Picks:

 

The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques
The Best Low Light Photography Tips and Techniques

A fast lens

 

A fast lens allows you to shoot with faster shutter speeds, and it will take your low light photography to another level. Here’s why: many zoom lenses have a maximum aperture of f3.5-f5.6. You’ll get the best results by using a lens with a maximum f-stop of 1.8, so it’s worth investing in a prime lens.

 

Ted’s Top Picks:

 

A torch

 

If you need to light up the scene, you can rely on your torch. It can also help you to see your camera’s controls, which is handy when you’re shooting in low or dark light.

 

A tripod

 

A good tripod will eliminate camera shake and help you to capture crisp images.

 

Ted’s Top Picks:

Spare batteries

 

Shooting long exposures and in Live View can drain your camera battery pretty quickly. To avoid running out of juice in the middle of a shoot, pack a few spare batteries.


Learn more about low light photography gear

Whether you need a new camera or accessories to add to your kit, drop by your local Ted’s Cameras store. Our team can help you to choose the right gear for your shooting style and skill level, and answer any questions you might have about low light photography.


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