Shooting Low Light Photos

This time of year we get more light every day as the clocks have gone forward but we might still have to deal with less than ideal light levels on overcast or rainy spring days or when photographing indoors. Lots of my students have asked about how to deal with this sort of situation so here goes…

Low light levels can cause our cameras to select either too wide an aperture - causing a shallower depth of field than we would like - and/or too slow a shutter speed for us to handhold our cameras successfully. So to get the results we really want we can approach it in a number of different ways:

1. Use a tripod (or any surface that allows you to be hands free), select the aperture you want and allow the camera to take a long exposure - ie using a slow shutter speed.

This will work if your subject is static or if the shutter speed is not much slower than normal (just a bit slower than 1/60 which remember is the slowest we can usually successfully handhold a camera for).

This won’t work if, you either can’t use a tripod or you don’t have an ideal surface to support the camera with, and if you have moving elements in your photo that are more blurred than you would like.

2. Boost your ISO setting. This will allow you to set the aperture you want and then access a faster shutter speed as you have made the camera more sensitive to the light. As a rule of thumb every ISO setting you go up by doubles the shutter speed. The downside may be digital noise at higher settings of the ISO range of your camera.

The newer the camera the better the ISO performance will be at the higher settings.  If you are confident of your camera's ISO performance at the higher numbers you can stick it into Auto ISO.

3. Use the right metering mode to ensure your subject is correctly exposed, even if some elements of the scene are subsequently over or underexposed.

For example when taking images of stained glass windows we rarely want the surrounding walls to be ‘correctly’ exposed and darker surrounds make the windows stand out so much better.

4. Choose the best lens - if you have a ‘fast’ lens - one that typically goes to below F2.8 - then it can be a good option for low light if shallow depth of field isn’t an issue for you. You’ll find the information around the rim of the front of your lens if you are not sure.

5. Lastly - if you get disappointing weather on a trip and all your photos are a bit flat - turn them into black and white - you’ll be able to create some interesting saves that way.

All the images above used at least one of these techniques. The key is to use the settings to maximise the performance of your camera and use a tripod/support when that isn't enough.

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All images © Sarah Holmes 2021 No reproduction without prior permission.