Wednesday, September 28, 2011

10 Practical Low Light Photography Tips

Search the internet and you'll find tons of tips for low light photography. Those tips, however, seem to be geared toward DSLR users or people who have tons of photography equipment such as tripods and external flashes. I don't know about you, but I have a point and shoot camera, I don't carry a tripod everywhere I go, and though I do have an external flash, I don't always have it with me. That's where these practical low light photography tips come in!

Avoid Camera Shake:
1) Hold your camera close! This is the most important tip I can give you. Camera shake (i.e. blury photo) is notorious in low light because your camera slows everything down while trying to let more light in. If you have a view finder, use it! If you only have an LCD, bring your camera as close to your face or body as possible while still being able to see your screen.
2) Brace yourself. Most people will tell you to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. A normal person, however, does not carry a tripod with them where ever they go. Instead, you can brace or steady yourself on anything you can find. Outside it could be a light post, tree, trash can, building...Inside it could be a table, chair, wall... If possible, sit down and brace your elbows with your knees, or lay down and brace your elbows on the ground to get your shot. Anything you can do to steady yourself is helpful.

3) Click with exhale. Hold your camera firmly, yet steady and slowly push down on the shutter button while exhaling. Keep your finger held down on the shutter button for a second, don't lift it right away or you'll move your camera.

4) Use the self timer for the shutter button. Most people don't think to use the self timer while they are holding their camera. However, this avoids moving your camera when you press the shutter button.

Get Out Of Auto Mode:
5) Increase ISO. This is probaby the easiest (at least for me) thing to do. The ISO changes your camera's sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more light your camera will sense. The downfall to a high ISO is noise (or grain) in your photo. Most point and shoot cameras get noisy at an ISO greater than 400. If you are willing to risk some noise, there is free photo editing software out there that can help you get rid of a little noise in your photos.

6) Decrease aperture. Aperture is how wide your lens is open. Obviously, the wider it is, the more light it will let in. Decreasing your aperture (making the "f" number smaller) makes your lens open wider and increases the amount of light let into your camera. Camera shake is an issue when you decrease your aperture, however, you can use the tips above to help avoid it. See #8 for another downfall to decreasing aperture.

7) Long shutter speed. Keeping your shutter open longer will allow for more light however, you greatly risk camera shake the longer the shutter is open. A general rule of thumb is that you want to use a tripod for shutter speeds longer than 20 seconds (and that's being generous). Most people can't hold their camera still for even 20 seconds! If you have a "night scene" mode on your camera, this will lenghten the shutter speed while helping you to avoid camera shake. If you want to use a longer shutter speed, it might be a good idea to put your camera down on something, use the self timer, and leave it alone to do it's thing.

Misc: 

8) Do not zoom. Avoid zooming in on your subjects in low light. Camera shake is a factor, however the main factor in zooming is aperture. One huge disadvantage to point and shoot cameras is that the more you zoom in, the wider your aperture goes (the smaller your lens opens). You can not maintain a small aperture (wide open lens) while zooming with a point and shoot. The best thing to do is get physically close to your subject in low light conditions.
9) When all else fails, use your flash. Did I just say use your flash?!? Yes, sometimes a flash just can't be avoided. Diffusing your flash will help avoid those harsh shadows and flat photos. Simply put a piece of semi-occlusive Scotch tape over your flash, cover it with a piece of white toilet paper or tissue paper, or hold a white piece of paper in front of your flash while you take your shot.

10) Play around. The absolute best thing for you to do is play around! Try some of these tips and see what works best for you!

I hope these tips help! What have you done to improve your low light photography?

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7 comments:

Angie said...

Hey Jamie! I just taught my daughter about the toilet paper over the flash trick while we were in DC. I think when I get home, I'll post those pics on my blog so you can see them. I tjink it's INSANE how much of a difference this makes!

Becca said...

These are GREAT tips! My husband hates using the flash on indoor shots, but the tradeoff (blurry, grainy, or otherwise bad shots) is almost always worse.

I think that he will like these ideas.

Thanks!

K-Sue said...

These are great tips! I think you have answered several questions - the zoom question - aha! So that's why it just doesn't work! Thanks!

Melanie said...

This was such a fabulous & much needed post for me! Thanks so much Jamie. I can't wait to see a difference in my low light pics!

KrazzyKi said...

Amazing tips :) Superlike

Lindsi B said...

Wonderful tips! I actually think I learned more from this post than any other post!! Thanks!

retriever said...

Wonderfull fotos, greeting from Belgium

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