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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Photography 101 {Shooting in low light}

{I'm still taking sign ups for my Lightroom 101 course.  If you've been looking into editing and ready to take the next step, the details are here.  I'd love to have you!}

Low light.  It can bring photographers to their knees.  And rightly so.

Inside, winter, shorter days, it all leads to less light.  And less light makes it very hard to capture those precious memories that seem to be flying by at lightening speed.  (No really... where DID the last year go?)
So what's a gal to do with not very much light?  Let me reach in to my bag of tricks and give you a few tips that will help you be more successful at taking photographs in low light settings.
This was shot in very low light, as sadly my whole home is low light!  I opened up the sliding glass door (tip #1) picked the best lens (tip#3) cranked up my ISO (tip #2) opened up my aperture as far as it would go (tip #4) and positioned myself & the subject so the light was hitting her (tip #5)
50mm 1.8, ISO 2000, f/1.8, 1/160

tip #1---Let in the light
This sounds like a duh, but if you've got light outside, and you're inside, let it in!  Just by pulling up the blinds and pushing back the drapes, you'll let so much more light in.  You may not even think that it's a significant difference, but it is.  And it doesn't have to be sunshine pouring in the window either.  As a matter of fact, it's better if it isn't.  Open the doors, throw open the shutters, and take advantage of the available light you have.

tip #2---Crank up your ISO
Higher ISOs make it possible for your camera to "receive" the most amount of light.  As a rule of thumb we keep our ISO as low as possible to get as little grain as possible.  But if you need to set it higher to capture images in lower light, then do it!  Use settings like 800, 1600 and even higher because it's better to have a photo with grain and noise than no photo at all!

tip #3---Use your lens with lowest f-stop
A lens with a lower f-stop has the ability to let in the most light.  Around the edges of your lens you'll see numbers like 1:3.5-5.6.  Or 1:1.8.  Or 1:4-5.6.  The smaller number just after the "1:" is the smallest f-stop that that lens has.  Use the lens that has the smallest number.  In the examples I gave here, it would be the 1:1.8, which is probably a 50mm fixed lens, since 1.8 is the smallest number.

tip #4---Shoot with the biggest aperture
Now that you're using the lens with the lowest f-stop in tip #3, but sure to put that lens to good work by using the largest aperture.  In order to manually select your aperture size, you'll need to be shooting in either Aperture priority mode (Av for Canon or A for Nikon) or Manual mode.  You want to let as much light as possible in your camera as you can and one way you can do that is to have the biggest hole possible.  This is going to sound backwards, but to get the biggest hole, you will need the smallest number, the same one in tip #3.

tip #5---Capture the light hitting your subject
If you have light coming in a window, be sure to position yourself between the light and your subject so the light falls on your subject. This may take some forethought.  Look where the light is coming from and see if you can see it on your subject's face.  If you can see it, then your camera can too.

tip #6---Keep your camera still
As the light decreases, so will your shutter speed.  So you'll need to keep a close eye on your shutter speed to make sure it isn't getting too low.  Keep your shutter speed above 1/60th to avoid camera shake and above 1/125 for squirmy kiddos.  At slower speeds under 1/100, you may want to brace yourself against something stable.  Lean up against a wall or a stable object.  And keep your elbows in.   If it does need to get slower than 1/60, that you'll want to use a tripod or set your camera down on a table or the floor.

tip #7---Edit
If you know how to edit or post process, do it!  A little bit of Lightroom, Photoshop, or iPhoto (and many others) can go a long way to help improve a photo without enough light.  Now, of course you can't salvage a dark photo of blurry images.  But if you have a photo that's descent to start with and just need to add a bit of light, go for it in post production!  Lightroom also has an excellent feature that helps remove that grain that you may have gotten tip #2.  And even the simplest and free editing software will let you increase the light (or exposure) in your photo.  Unfortunately, even the best software won't help a blurry picture.  So make sure your photos are at least in focus incorporating tip #6.

So just because you have low light, doesn't mean you can't take photos.  Your camera and/or your lens may limit you, but try out these tips and see what you can capture!


  1. All of those are good tips. I can't stand using my flash so, I've been trying to work with the (tiny) amount of natural light that we've been given lately!

  2. So nice of you to share your useful tips. And wow wow WOW your photo is perfection. ♡

  3. You have a wonderful blog!! I'm your newest GFC follower from the “Everyday Harvest” blog hop - this is my blog if you wanted to follow back:

  4. Thank you for the tips!

  5. Can a cop "tweak" tip #6? There are three things that seperate a "shooter" from a "marksman" - 1) hand / arm position, 2) BREATHING, and 3) trigger finger. You spoke about hand / arm - but can stress enough - get that left elbow down and in - brace it if you have to! But - if you brace your elbow against your body and take a breath - the elbow will move - try "breath - breath - breath, half exhale, hold, shoot - breath. And finally 3) DON'T SMACK THE SHUTTER BUTTON!! Gentle push is all it takes! ;)

    Great stuff - and I can teach anyone to shoot on the target range!! ;)

    hugs - aus and co.


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