It’s been ingrained in our minds from the moment we first held a camera that good lighting is the key ingredient to great photos. Though that is true, there are times you may find yourself in sub-optimal lighting conditions. The good news is that low light doesn’t have to equal bad photographs—there are steps and techniques you can take to capture great photos even when the light isn’t ideal. Let’s go through a few of our top cameras and dig into some tips on how to capture great photos no matter the lighting conditions.
What gear should you use?
The single biggest issue people deal with in low-light photography is minimizing reductions to image quality from unwelcome visual noise. When digital sensors get pushed to their limits (high iso, low light levels, even ambient heat), random color and brightness variations start to show up at the pixel level which robs photos of contrast, color, and detail. Noise reduction technology has improved tremendously over the two decades of the digital photography era, but sensors with relatively large pixels always have a certain advantage in being less susceptible to image noise. If you want large pixels and you also want a lot of detail and resolution then you want a large sensor. Full Frame cameras have enormous sensors that are often some of the best at owning the night. Here are some of our favorite values in no particular order:
- Nikon D600: one of Nikon’s most affordable full frame bodies, compatible with most of Nikon’s substantial legacy of manual focus lenses as well
- Canon 6D: sure, the 5D-series cameras have more features, but the 6D is great for night photography and leaves more room in your budget for lenses.
- Sony A7 Sony manufactures sensors for most of the industry and they put a great one in the A7.
Tips for shooting in low light situations
Learn your camera gear and access your location early so you can learn how to properly adjust your settings. Here are a few basics you'll need to consider:
- Shooting at a high shutter speed will help avoid blurry images. However, your settings are all dependent on the location and subjects you’re capturing. You can take more control of your shutter speed by shooting in Shutter Priority Mode or Manual Mode.
- If you’re okay with a little blur in your images, you might want to try your hand at long exposures. Daytime and nighttime exposures do require slightly different techniques. In low-light settings it’s best to use a longer shutter speed.
- Get more light by using a wide aperture setting which allows more light to enter the lens. Setting a larger aperture lets in more light so you can use a faster shutter speed to avoid shake, or use a lower ISO to avoid noise or grain.
- Use a faster lens. Faster lenses have larger apertures. For example, if you change from an optic with a f/5.6 maximum aperture to a f/1.4 optic, you’ll have 16 times as much light coming through the lens when it’s wide open.
- Use a tripod. If the subject isn't moving then you might be better off with a longer shutter speed that lets you use a sharper aperture (most lenses aren’t at their very sharpest wide open) and more depth of field from your focus. A tripod is also beneficial to avoid camera shake, which could result in blurry and unflattering images.
- Bring a flash or a source of light. An off-camera flash offers a less direct form of light and prevents your image from looking flat like if you used an on-camera flash.
- Always shoot in RAW. This gives you more room to play with your editing process.
What tips do you have for capturing photos in low-light situations? Share with us!