Oct 24, 2018

Low light photography is one of the stiffest challenges a photographer has to encounter. Photography is a game of lights and when the light is reduced substantially, we start to face what photographers call impending doom! Low light situations test your camera sensor to the core. All shortcomings of the camera body get properly highlighted. In low light situations, you need to operate with very slow shutter speeds and that in itself is a major reason to worry. Slow shutter speeds doesn’t allow you to shoot handheld. The maximum aperture of the lens becomes a concern too. The ISO handling capability of your camera sensor is also pushed to the limits. Overall this challenge is not only a challenge for the photographer but also for the camera. Let us take a look at the different things we need to take care of in order to achieve sharp images even in low light conditions.


1) Eliminating camera shake:

Camera shakes have to be avoided at all costs if you want tack sharp images. Dslr cameras are quite sensitive cameras and even the minute shakes get recorded. In low light situations, we operate with very slow shutter speeds. Handheld shooting is not an option. The best way to eliminate camera shakes is to use a tripod or a monopod. Make sure that the maximum weight bearing capacity of the tripod is more than double the weight of your camera gear. Hang extra weights from the middle leg of the tripod in order to achieve further stability. In case tripods are too heavy for you, you can use a monopod.

If neither is available to you, you need to find a stable platform to mount your camera on. If the situation permits you to operate with relatively faster shutter speeds like 1/80th of a second, you can shoot handheld. Find the most stable position and tuck your elbow in to your belly. With spread out legs, you should be able to find the lowest center of gravity which will give you maximum stability. You can also lean on a wall or a tree to achieve stability. At the end of the day your shots are going to be the only things that matter.

2) Exposure triangle parameters:

The concepts of the exposure triangle parameters should be quite clear to you. When you are shooting in low lighting conditions, the first thing that you need to do is to maximize the aperture. Boost your ISO to around 800 and check the shutter speed you are getting. You need to decide whether it is acceptable or not. If there is motion in the frame, freezing the motion with such a slow shutter speed will not be possible. Hence you may have to think about getting the motion blur instead. Use tripods if the shutter speed is slower than 1/100th of a second. Operating in manual mode is the best way to proceed.

In such tough situations you do not want to leave things to the camera’s intelligence. Capturing the motion blur can also be a very creative way to tackle the low light situation. Slow down the shutter speed to around 1 second. The aperture will depend on the depth of field you want. Keep the ISO at minimum and increase only if required. This slow shutter speed will help you in capturing the motion blurs. Traffic light trails are great examples of motion blur images. Photographers prefer using fast lenses in low light situations. Fast lenses are those that have very wide open apertures that can let in more light and in turn increase the shutter speed. Use prime lenses to achieve sharp images in low light. Prime lenses are light weight and relatively cheap lenses with very wide open apertures. Hence you can shoot handheld with a prime lens.

3) Focusing:

Manual focusing may not be possible in all circumstances. Camera requires a bit of light to actually focus on a particular subject. If the amount of light reflecting back is very low, the camera will continue to hunt for focus.This drawback is called focus hunting. You need to know the mechanism of auto focusing. There are mainly 3 types of focusing points. The normal or non-cross type focusing points are single directional focusing points that can focus either on horizontal or vertical objects. If a vertical focusing point is made to focus on a horizontal subject, it will be quite slow in achieving focus and may even fail to lock focus.

The cross type focusing is the second type of focusing points. These focusing points are able to track down both vertical and horizontal subjects and hence are faster in achieving focus. Dual cross type focusing points are advanced focusing points that can track down diagonal subjects too, in addition to the vertical and horizontal ones. Entry level dslr cameras have a single cross type focusing point which is also the center focusing point. When you are shooting in low light situations, achieving focus can be a pain. You need to use the cross type focusing point of your camera to try and lock focus. Having dual cross type ones is certainly a bigger advantage but if you don’t have it, you can get sharp images using the center cross type focusing point as well. Understanding your focusing points is very important when you are auto focusing in low light situations.

4) Use of flash:

You can also use an external flash to shoot in low light situations. Flashes, however may not be permitted in several places. Use of flash lights is not the most ethical practice when doing wildlife photography too. However flash enables you to quicken up your shutter speeds and thereby allows you to shoot handheld.

 Low lightphotography doesn’t necessarily mean blurry and grainy images. If you follow the above guidelines, achieving sharp images in low light conditions may not be a very difficult task. It’s time for you to be bold even when the light is low!