Trends in photography come and go, and natural light photography is all the rage in today’s world. With such a strong trend toward ultra-bright, sun-soaked shots, it’s hard not to feel totally stumped if you’re taking photos in a low-light setting. But if you’re into photography, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in some situation taking photos after the sun has set, in a candlelit room, or by the light of a fire.
The best photographers know how to master a great capture in any setting. In fact, a low-light photo can become its own unique style of art. And the more you learn about how your camera functions, the more you can feel confident creating beautiful photos, even without a strong source of light. Read on for our five essential low-light photography tips. Once you learn them, you’ll be ready to document memories in any lighting environment.
1. SHOOT IN MANUAL
When you’re dealing with a low-light setting, shooting in automatic modes of any kind simply is not going to cut it. Professional photographers always rely on shooting in manual mode anyway, and for good reason. Manual settings allow you to control the aperture, ISO, white balance, and other vital settings with a much more refined degree than you could ever achieve even in a partially manual setting. To make the most of the low-light setting:
- Raise the ISO to increase the amount of light coming into your camera. Keep the ISO as low as you can go without the subject being too dark. Sticking to an ISO no higher than 1600 is a good rule of thumb.
- Lower shutter speed. The longer your shutter is open, the more light will enter the lens. Yes, this will increase the blur of your subject, but as long as you’re not shooting a sporting event, you should be able to get your shutter speed down to at least 1/30 of a second with no problem.
- Widen your aperture. This will make for a more shallow depth of field, but it will also bring in more light. Try aiming for an f/1.8 aperture to bring in much more light without sacrificing the depth of field too much.
2. BRING YOUR OWN LIGHTING
Once you’ve toggled with your manual settings, it’s time to bring in some external sources of light. This may not be necessary for every situation, but if you’ve already raised the ISO, lowered the shutter speed, widened your aperture, and still need more light, it’s time for some external light sources. You can achieve this by setting up professional photo lighting or using an off-camera LED light. Generally, try to avoid the built-in flash on your camera, which will make your subject dull and over-exposed. An external flash is a better option.
3. KEEP YOUR CAMERA STEADY
If you’re keeping your lens open longer in order to let in more light, you’ll want to counteract this by making sure your camera is as steady as possible. Even if you think you’re holding the camera steady, you may be just shaky enough to blur the photo. Instead, stick with a tripod if you’re going to be staying in one place, or a camera stabilizer if you’re going to be moving around the room. A camera stabilizer can be worn around your body to minimize shakiness and produce more crisp photos.
4. EMBRACE THE BLUR
On the other hand, sometimes embracing blurriness can work to your advantage. The trick is to know when the blur is appropriate and when it ruins a photo. As a rule of thumb, a little bit of blur works when you’re trying to convey motion in a photo. If a newly married couple is running off on their honeymoon, a blur is appropriate. If people are on the dancefloor and lights are spinning, the blur will recreate the feel of the event. But you do not want to capture blur if someone is speaking or you’re trying to get a headshot. Use this technique wisely.
5. EDIT IN BLACK AND WHITE
When manual settings and external lighting aren't enough, you can always fix up a photo during the editing process. Be careful not to go overboard in the edites, which can be obvious and overworked. But a tasteful brightening of a photo, changing levels, or balance of color can go a long way to create a beautiful photo in low light. If you've worked on a photo for a while and can still can't seem to get the right edit, try changing the color to black and white. This can salvage a photo that has dull color or lack of contrast.