Low light photography

How many times have we heard the old adage that ‘photography is all about light’? Thousands, but it’s true – light makes all photographs. When there’s an abundance of good quality light, there’s no denying that it becomes easier to take a good picture. That doesn’t mean you have to stop shooting when the light starts to disappear or avoid low-light photography altogether, though; things just get a bit trickier and you have to know how to set your camera up to make the most of the failing light. 

Low light photography means capturing a good picture with minimal lights around. Keeping the shutter open long enough and wide enough to let in sufficient light is what low light photography means. Today's cameras include several features to improve a dimly-lit photo, including adjustments for flash, color, focus and depth of field.


The biggest solution to low light photography is flash light or the external speed light. The problem with this is that not all situations can benefit from using the flash. Not only does it interfere with your “moment” socially and artistically, but the flash can flatten out your digital images. This is especially true for a flash that is built-in on digital cameras. The built in flash (and a flash in general) has the effect of lighting your subject on the front only which compresses the depth in your digital photos. Compressed depth can really decrease the beauty of your subject in your digital photography.


Really, a good way to combat the problem in low light you can try using a higher ISO. In digital photography, a higher ISO allows you to take photos in low light situations. Your ISO simply means the amount of sensitivity of light falling on your sensor. For example take traditional photography as a comparison to digital photography. Traditional photography ISO will be film sensitivity. (ISO in traditional terms works with film speed as well.) The only set back in digital photography ISO is noise. If your ISO is perfect for the photo yet there is a significant increase in noise you can use software to sharpen up your digital photo. If you don’t push the ISO higher you may find the problem with camera shake if a tripod is not in hand. 


Another example for the use of ISO could be- Let’s take for example you are taking dome shots indoors, like someone speaking, or playing an instrument. Perhaps the flash is not appropriate in this situation. In this case (which happens a lot in digital photography) you would simply adjust the ISO to a higher setting. If you set the camera on “ISO Auto” your digital camera will then detect that a higher ISO is necessary. Alternatively you can set the ISO yourself. This higher sensitivity can give you the opportunity of gaining the right exposure for the shot.




1. Fairly fast lens - A fast lens will have a 'wide open' aperture of 1.8 or 2.8. Because it is counter-intuitive, consider it as a fraction. An aperture of F22 would be 1/22 which is a small number and would be a small opening. An aperture of F1.8 would be 1/1.8 and would be wide open and a larger opening.
2. Stable platform (e.g. tripod)
3. Determine the best times to do outside low light photography. Early morning and evening are the best times. If doing it when it is completely dark, you will need to have some way of lighting the scene.
  • The last half hour before sunrise or after sunset if taking outside pictures are the best times for those.

4. Decide where you will be taking your shots, what you have and what you might need, to ensure a good quality shot. Different types of shots are:

  • Star trails
    • Any star trail photography will take from several minutes to several hours, depending on what you want, where you are, and what type of equipment you are using.

5. When shooting with a fast lens in dark conditions, getting sharp shots can prove tricky. Shooting at f/2.8 gives you an increased depth of field, so you need more control over what you're focusing on.

Using single-point AF allows you to focus on a specific point, so you can get a clean shot of an artist’s face rather than the guitar headstock.


6. Multiple exposures

Take multiple exposures without moving your tripod. Personally, I don't use dedicated HDR software but from time to time I will layer two exposures together and use a layer mask to paint in areas of the image that exceed the latitude of a single exposure.


7.Shoot raw

We say it a lot, but people often forget. Always shoot raw so that you can adjust white balance later, if needed. This maximizes your chances of getting more ‘keeper’ shots.