A graduate of Northwestern Polytechnic University, Peter Hsieh has a passion for photography. He has been recognized as a top photographer in various photographic competitions, including the highly prestigious Sony World Photography Awards, where he was a finalist in 2010 and 2011.
One of the most challenging situations to shoot in is low light. Peter will share with you how to master this challenging situation by using simple yet effective techniques for low light photography, including composing shots in low light and using high ISO settings on your camera.
Low-light photography opportunities are everywhere, such as in concerts halls and theaters, museums, churches, and even the great outdoors at night. The challenge of low-light photography is to capture enough available light so that the scene is not completely dark. Factors that affect low light photography are shutter speeds, depth of field, and sensor sensitivity (or ISO).
Using Shutter Speed to Control Light
The shutter speed controls the amount of time available light enters your camera. The longer the exposure time, the more ambient light will enter your camera through the lens. This includes the red, green, and blue spectrums, which are responsible for producing color images.
Typically in low light situations, the shutter speed is kept short to minimize the amount of ambient light entering your camera. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to capture both available lights through long exposures or shoot with wide-open apertures without producing overexposed images that lack detail when only using the available light.
The trick is to use a combination of short exposure times and wide-open apertures together to take advantage of both ambient lighting and continuous light sources, such as strobes. This technique lets you retain all the detail in an image by preventing it from becoming too bright or overexposed.
Setting up for Low Light Photography
Before you start shooting your low-light photos, make sure that your camera is set up properly. The recommended mode to shoot in if you are using a DSLR camera with a standard kit lens is the Shutter Priority mode (T or Time value on Canon models). If you have a compact digital without a manual option, then try the Twilight or Night modes.
These two modes are recommended because they allow you to set the shutter speed while the camera automatically sets the aperture value. Some compact digital cameras allow for full manual control, which lets you manually set both the aperture and shutter speeds yourself. If you are using a compact digital with minimal user controls, try to find a program mode that lets you shoot with the largest aperture value and slowest allowable shutter speed.
Regardless of your camera type, make sure to use a tripod or some other means of stabilizing your camera and lens not to produce blurry images caused by hand movement. If you are shooting without a tripod, try setting your shutter speed to a minimum of 1/60th of a second or higher. This is the threshold beyond which camera shake becomes noticeable, and image sharpness decreases, especially if you’re using a lens with a long focal length such as 84mm on a full-frame DSLR.
You may need to increase your ISO setting to allow for faster shutter speeds. If your camera allows, you can also use the built-in flash as a means of stopping action or adding light to a dark scene. Just make sure that if you are shooting in an area where flashes are prohibited (such as museums and churches) that you turn off the flash on your camera before entering these areas.