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How to Shoot in Extreme Low Light Conditions

One of the problems that we as photographers often face is how to deal with different light situations. If you are a professional, or want to be, then you need to know how to deal with any situation that might arise.

Imagine arriving at a paid job only to find out that you had no idea how to make the shots work on camera with the light available! There are a number of solutions to deal with low light conditions, even when they are extreme. Try these tips to improve your photography even when the lighting situation is not ideal.

Add Your Own Light

This is the first step to consider, though it may not be possible in all situations. If you can do it, add more light to the shot. You can achieve this through a number of options. First, if there is a light source in the room, try moving closer to it. Secondly, you can use studio lighting or a flashgun to artificially add in more light. If you want to capture lots of detail without any noise or blurring, this could be the only way to do it in very low light.

Raise Your Shutter Speed

One of the big problems that you often get if you stick your DSLR into auto mode is that your images end up looking blurry. To combat this, you will have to increase your shutter speed. Some photographers can hold a camera steady enough to avoid blur at 1/125, but you might get better results from 1/250 and up. This gives less light to the image, but if you can intentionally underexpose the photographs while shooting RAW, you may be able to increase the light in post-production.

This is a thin line to tread, and if you are changing your shutter speed, you may well find your f-stop has to go much lower than you would normally like. This means you have to watch out for focus problems as your depth of field is going to be very shallow. You may also have to look at our next tip to keep enough light in the image.

Change your ISO

Putting your ISO up means letting your camera deal with low light a little better, so you will get images that are more detailed and have a brighter look. However, there is a price to pay. The higher your ISO, the more grain you will get in your final image. There’s also a big potential problem here for amateurs, because the lower-end DSLRs that are great for beginners are not so great for handling ISO.

You should start to see big problems around the ISO 800-1600 stage, while shooting at ISO 100 is ideal. You have to make a compromise between your shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO: get the combination for your situation which eliminates blur, has a wide enough depth of field to suit the subject, but also does not allow too much grain to creep in. This is what makes it trickier to shoot in low lighting conditions than bright ones.

Stabilise Your Camera

If you are shooting a still subject, then you don’t have to worry about motion blur so much. This is where you can really play around with your settings and push them further – but only if you can stabilise your camera. The best option here is to set your camera up on a tripod, but you may not have one with you. You can try finding a flat surface to place your camera on, such as a rock, the top of a fence, or even a rise in the land.

In the very worst case where there is nothing suitable, make sure your posture is as sturdy as possible: draw your elbows in towards your hips, hold the camera with both hands, and focus on keeping a strong core to eliminate shake. With a steady camera that will not move, you can get away with a much lower shutter speed, which means more light can flood your sensor.