Low Light Digital Photography

You'll tend to like low light photography because of the element of surprise – you'll never know exactly what you’re going to get – no matter how accurate your guess is, especially with longer exposure times.

It’s pretty much the same as any other discipline of photography – light being captured on a sensor & the same rules apply. The basics of photography are still very important. The larger the aperture (e.g. f1.8) the faster your shutter speed will be. The higher the ISO the more sensitive to light the sensor becomes & visa verse. This brings you right to the essence of low light photography, longer exposure times, so a tripod is (mostly) essential.

To get increased exposure times (longer shutter speeds), you will need to decrease the aperture (e.g. f22). The smaller the aperture the longer the exposure times become & the more depth of field your images will have. 

Low light photography is possibly one of the easiest to master, or at least get a good grip of – some might disagree, but if you’re experimenting, just about any result is successful…and that is a good place to start.

Everybody has their own method for low light photography, experiment, think, take your time & shoot again. Taking light reading when there’s little or no light is hardly easy & it’s usually too dark to see anything, so it’s very important that you know your camera well. Also it’s a good idea to use the timer or a shutter release cable to minimize camera shake.

Start by setting your ISO to 100 (or as low as the camera allows, often it’s 200) & your aperture to about f22 or smaller, then depending on the light condition, shoot 3 images – at about 5 sec, 10 sec & 20 sec. This usually gives you a good starting point to work from, often you’re looking at shooting closer to 20 seconds or even longer, depending on the lightning, or lack there of. But you will be surprised how much light there is that you might not even have noticed. 

Sometimes in very low light conditions you will need to use the bulb setting on the camera. This allows you to keep the shutter open longer than the camera allows with it’s pre set settings – usually about 30 seconds.

While in Bulb Mode – If you connect a shutter release cable, you can keep the shutter open until releasing the cable. If you are using a remote control, press once to open the shutter & again to close. Just remember that the longer the exposure time is, the more digital noise you’re likely to get, specially in the darker areas of your picture.

Something to look out for - sometimes shooting with a tripod attracts attention from the police. Check with your local authorities about rules & regulations for shooting with a tripod. A way to get around this is to not shoot in the city. Sea side shots work really well too, specially just at sunset while there is still a small amount of light. Capturing water moving back & forth over the rocks with an exposure of about 10 seconds, can give very interesting results. Also, experiment with different white balance settings – sometimes this can give you some really interesting results.

If you’re willing to sacrifice space for quality, then shoot in RAW. The quality is far beyond that of JPEG, but this is a whole new subject. If you want to know more about this, read this RAW vs. JPEG

Practice – experiment & practice practice practice!!! Get to know your equipment & even read the manual. Don’t be afraid to ask questions & don’t be afraid to take bad pictures. Without bad pictures, how could you possibly recognise your best ones? Now get out there, turn off the lights & start shooting.

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