Photographing in Low Light.

Recently I was asked about capturing images in less than ideal lighting situations. So todays post is inspired by that question, and I am going to explain how I go about capturing images in less than ideal lighting situations.

From day one, my favorite compositions have been night shots. Some of my better known compositions were taken in complete  darkness ,or light that was very dim at best. The technique I used during these night shoots, prepared me for shoots in places like high school gyms, where we have light, but the light is not very well adapted for the camera or the photographer.

This first photo is an example of how we can learn to shoot in low light situations.

Night shot with flash to illuminate the tree

Night shot with flash to illuminate the tree

As a test, I shot this image several times before dialing in the correct settings. As you can tell by the image my only real light source was the full moon, and as most of you know, often times when you photograph the moon, we tend to overexpose causing a blowout in areas of the exposure. We can combat this by bumping down our iso, or using a higher f-stop or cutting down our exposure time. The point is, several steps can be used to control blowout. For this image I choose to illuminate the foreground with a flash to insure my foreground would be visible. My settings for reference. ISO 400 F stop of 10, 15 seconds of exposure, and a first shutter flash. I accomplished my task of fore lighting the tree, but the longer exposure time did in fact cause the moon to be washed out. The composition however proves my point that photographing in low light, is a dialing in process, and often times you will have to take a few test shots to insure your composition. Now what if we can’t use a flash to light up our foreground? I can guarantee you, that if  walk into a high school gym and start snapping with a flash unit, it will be a short matter of time before someone asks you to stop photographing because your flash is distracting the players. So the question is asked what do you do?

This is my technique, and although my camera has some options within its programing to assist the image quality, the suggested methods should provide you with the ability to capture quality images in less than ideal lighting situations.

IF you have the means, I would suggest a lens that has f-stop capabilities of F-1 to 2.8. These wide open apertures allow you to capture all available light, and maintain higher shutter speeds. The issue here is that these lenses are expensive and most people do not own lenses like this. If this is not an option, than it is time to use what we know, and put into place our low light experience.

Although some grain will be present, you will have to bump that ISO setting up. The images below were taken with ISO’s between 5000 and 6400. My f-stop was between 4 and 5,6 and I maintained a shutter of 1/250 and 1/320 of a second. Ideally I would have prefered a shutter speed of 1/500 for action shots, but you have to take into consideration your cameras capabilities and the equipment you have to work with. It also helps if your camera has low light noise reduction software built-in to offer you better captures in your final compositions. I have found that my camera does well in this category and the key to successful captures is the knowledge of your camera’s capabilities. Unfortunately and until camera manufacturers deal with high iso noise issues, it is a problem that we will have to deal with or at least be able to work around.

My shots using these techniques.

iso 6400 @ 1/320 ,100mm

iso 6400 @ 1/320 ,100mm

iso500@ 1/250 100mm

iso5000@ 1/250 100mm

The final images have very little grain present and I used Lightroom to do my editing . Note that I did not use any sharpening or noise reduction in the edits, proving that the camera’s software and knowing its capabilities are key to the capture.

I hope that my suggestions, have helped you with this long-standing problem. If I can elaborate on any of the topics please contact me and I will try to offer suggestions or tips.

Thanks for the read, and remember to shoot the light.

Mike

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