10 Useful Low light Photography Techniques

“Photography is all about light” it’s the unwritten rule photographers bear in mind and heart. It’s about capturing a subject just with the right amount of light. But what happens when a photographer takes photographs in low light conditions? Then this rule is taken to another notch of challenge. Low light photography is among the hardest manner of photographing a subject. It takes considerations the kind of camera, lens and settings you are using, that and a steady hand or better, a tripod. However, just like all things in photography, the more challenging the situations, the more complex time of the day it is, the more interesting photography becomes. It is the reason why, low light photography is an art form in itself.

Understanding the concepts and following the proven techniques of low light photography will get you started. Achieving the perfect image in an almost non-existent lighting can really improve the skill of a photographer. Here are ten low light photography techniques one must follow to heart in order to create that stunning images even when lighting seems to be at its almost non-existence. if you would like to learn more about low light photography, you can read Low Light Photography Tips.

Low Light Technique # 1: Go Manual

Shooting manual gives you more control of your camera during low light photography conditions. While it is well agreed that shooting with your camera’s exposure-assisted programs can produce correct exposures, it’s not consistent on low light. Professional photographers agree that if you shoot manual you can monitor your exposure and quickly adjust the settings to meet your required image quality.

Low Light Technique # 2: Single Point AF

Using a fast lens in low light conditions can be quite tricky because you need to at least set your aperture to f/2.8 to get a higher depth of field. This problem is solved by shooting with a single-point AF, which will allow you to focus on a single point on your subject. Getting a clearer shot of your model’s face will be guaranteed instead of the bookshelf in the background.

low light photography
Single Point AF for low light portrait. Photo by Avianto

Low Light Technique # 3: Grip Hard

We all have developed the habit of holding our cameras in a gentle manner. During low light photography conditions we cannot afford to hold ours like a baby. Instead, hold your camera like you would a bowl of beef stew. Get a grip on your lens with your complete fingertips over its large part. Holding it this way will lessen the shake and distribute the weight properly, thus producing an image with more clarity.

Low Light Technique # 4: Tripod, Remote Release and Self Timer

To avoid blurry images caused by hand shake, you need to use a tripod in certain situations. However in places where it is inconvenient to bring along a tripod, using a remote release and self-timer will do the trick. Just put your camera on a steady surface, press the remote release or set the self-timer and you’re good to go.

Low Light Technique # 5: Study Similar Situations

When you’re not shooting your subjects try to watch video footages of similar venues with low light conditions. A party for example, or a rock club gig, these clips is readily available on YouTube. You can get an idea of how people behave and where lights usually come from, especially in an indoor venue. Another option is to sit inside a café and study each corner of the interior and visualize what it will look like on a photograph in its low light set-up. These exercises will help you better prepare yourself when you start shooting an event in low light conditions.

Low Light Technique # 6: Know your Camera

Changing settings on the fly should progress naturally and quickly. This is the challenge of shooting manual, but can work to your benefit if you get to know your camera real well. Even in low light conditions, the light can change abruptly to bright, high contrast and back to near-dark again. Being quick to draw will make you capture perfect images no matter how many strobe and disco lights flashes on and off all over the place.

Low Light Technique # 7: Be Imaginative and Artistic

Don’t always hope for the perfect amount of light to enter your camera lens. Sometimes, the lack of it adds a flair or drama to your photographs. Try to mix and match various angle and levels of lighting with your subject. Use strobe lights, lens flare, shadows and silhouettes to your advantage. Sometimes a woman with a flicker of red light stretch across her face is way better than an image of her face with equal light distribution.

low light photography
Artistic composition in low light. Photo by Nggalai

Low Light Technique #8: Blur is a Friend

Not all blurry pictures are overexposed. Sometimes, when used correctly a blur in an image caused by a longer shutter speed creates drama and appear more artistic. Try to perfect how to incorporate blurs and laser light effects on your low light photography. This looks great on images taken of cityscapes, moving vehicles, head banging concert goers or even a man smoking a cigarette.

low light photography
Little blurred effect on the foreground and incorporating lights. Photo by Pengler

Low Light Technique #9: Correct Camera Settings and Lens

Of course, the most important technique in taking photographs in low light conditions is using the correct settings and camera lens. First you need to increase your ISO to double your shutter speed. Second, use a lens with Vibration Reduction (VR) and Image Stabilizer (IS) because this technology allows you to shoot up to four times slower without producing a blur on your photograph. A favorite lens most photographers use in low light conditions is the Nikon prime lens of 50mm f/1.4G.

Low Light Technique #10:  RAW and Underexpose

Using RAW gives you the ability to still recover fine detail even if you commit a mistake in underexposing or overexposing an image. A JPEG file format doesn’t do this trick, while a RAW image gives you more opportunities to make your photograph better in quality. Also, try to experiment with shooting in underexposed mode by allowing 1 to 1.5 stops of negative exposure compensation because this will increase the required shutter speed and lessening the occurrence of blurring in your photographs.

These are just some of the leading techniques professional photographers are following when shooting in low light photography condition. Master these and you’re on your way to taking awesome photographs, come high or low light conditions.


About Kristine Buenavista

Tin oftentimes takes her folding bike and old camera along country roads. Sometimes, she forgets to take pictures (though she never forgets when she finds great photos elsewhere). She narrates through words and images here. Travel, creativity, laughter, cerveza negra, scavenge hunt for beauty, starry-windy nights are among the things that make her feel weightless.

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