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Low Light Photography tips

September 8, 2011

Grasshopper Bar
Camera club ๐Ÿ™‚

Low light photography is definitely one of the hardest things to do. It’s such a balancing act between camera-shake, noisy photos and getting the actual result you want. So when my friends Miss Piggy and Spotted Puffer were having problems with it, I offered to sit with them in a low-light situation (with tasty snacks as a bonus!) and see if there was anything I could do to help out!

So how did we go with our photo-club? I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, but I hope Miss Piggy and Spotted Puffer found some of my tips helpful!! In case they might be helpful to anyone else out there, here’s a summary of what I try to do in a low light situation:

  • Prime lenses are good for low light. I use a Nikon 35mm F1.8
  • I would try to go for the lowest ISO you can get away with. Higher ISO settings give you more noise, and flatter colour. For most of these I was shooting at ISO 2000.
  • Trust your eyes, not just your light meter. If you’re taking a photo of something that’s supposed to be dark (someone in black clothing for example), your camera won’t know – and will try to compensate. If the scene is supposed to be dark, then it’s ok for the light meter to be in the negative
  • Stabilise yourself by tucking your elbows in close to your body, or if possible – lean on the table and create yourself a tripod with your arms (or… duopod?)
  • Hold your breath when you press the shutter
  • Instead of taking one photo at a time, take 3 photos in quick succession. Often the first photo you take will have camera shake from pushing the shutter release button, and the 2nd or 3rd photo will be the most stable
  • Do whatever you have to do to minimise camera shake. If that means taking the photograph with a faster shutter speed then do it. The photo may turn our darker than you’d like, but you can always make a photo brighter in Photoshop. You can’t make a photo less blurry! (believe me… I’ve tried!!)
  • Around 1/60th of a second is the shutter speed you should be able to hand hold with no camera shake. (slower if you can steady yourself on a table)
  • If possible, shoot in RAW as it gives you more latitude to post-process
  • and FINALLY…. Post-processing is your friend. But it is useless to you if your photos are blurry.

Compare these two photos – before and after post-processing.

DSC_0136.jpg Grasshopper Bar
Shot using a Nikon d7000, with a Nikkor 35mm f1.8 lens. The settings on this photo were f/2.8, 1/20, ISO 2000.

Drastic right?? All I did was pull up on the exposure slider. But like I said, post-processing is useless if you don’t capture something that is in focus and without camera-shake to begin with. I use Lightroom 3 to brighten my photos, and balance the white balance. I find Lightroom 3 to have a really good noise suppression algorithm which cleans up my noisy photos a treat.

If you have any other low-light photography tips I’d love to hear them!! Leave them in the comments, and we can all help each other out ๐Ÿ™‚

19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2011 12:12 am

    Fixed lens is the best for low light photography ๐Ÿ˜€

    • September 8, 2011 9:48 am

      I definitely agree…! Buying the 35mm lens was such a great investment. Love the photos on your blog, the colours are amazing!

      • September 8, 2011 5:54 pm

        Thanks Melly, I use a canon 550D with Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens. That lens also is great to take video

  2. September 8, 2011 1:08 am

    Wow.. 2000!? I tend to shoot at ISO400/800 and if it’s really bad then 1600 and my shutter speed is 1/6. Practice makes perfect and post-processing is your friend!

    • September 8, 2011 9:46 am

      wow 1/6!! I’m nowhere near that steady. anything under 1/10 and I am shakeytown hehe!

      Yeah I am really helped by the d7000 being super excellent in low light… so I can easily go up to ISO 2000 without too much noise. My old d90 started to get pretty noisy at ISO 1600!

      Thanks for your comment!! It’s always really useful to hear what other people do ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. September 8, 2011 9:05 am

    Thanks for the tips. I’d like to add: always eat with food bloggers, they’re the only ones with enough patience to let you get a good shot.

  4. September 8, 2011 11:21 am

    Consider using a wider lens, given that the wider the angle the slower the shutter speed you can use to hand hold and still avoid blurriness.

    I actually very rarely use my 35mm f/1.8 in low lightโ€ฆ I almost always carry my 11-16mm f/2.8 instead for that reason!

    • September 8, 2011 12:15 pm

      Thanks stevo!! That’s a good point too!

      I’ve found wide angles a bit too distorty for close up things, in the past. And I’m a bit too attached to depth of field, I know. But I’ll have to give it another go!

  5. September 8, 2011 11:37 am

    Fab article – I wished I stumbled upon this when I started flogging! You’ve covered

    Two tips
    1) Use water or wine glasses as a tripod to stabilise the camera – it can be unsavoury at fine diners but I’ve never had any issues. This might not work with a SLR though!
    2) Set a 2-sec shot delay to minimise hand shake when firing the camera.

    • September 8, 2011 12:14 pm

      cool tips!! Thanks for contributing ๐Ÿ™‚ I like the water glass technique! Might have to give it a go.

      I also love the term “flogging” lol.

  6. September 8, 2011 12:45 pm

    Man, I have terrble hair in that photo…but that’s another story!

    Now firstly I think it helps to have friends who are willing to help you with your photographic woes (thanks CrunchyTiger)! I whinged A LOT about my photos and it has led to all sorts of help. Being SHOWN what to do is helpful beyond belief.

    Secondly (and serioulsy) I always go to take a photo and still have the lens cap on – what a doofus hey?

    Also, as I don’t have Photoshop or LightRoom I just lighten things up with Picassa, which is OK for the newbies like me.

    I also like the trick you showed me of setting the dial to A, then adjusting the exposure up/down if I need to. That’s come in SO handy since we had our club meeting.

  7. September 8, 2011 3:17 pm

    Thanks for the tips ๐Ÿ™‚ I just recently got a DLSR and am totally new to it all so hopefully all this will make sense after I do a beginners course next week lol!

  8. September 9, 2011 8:10 am

    Two tips
    1) Use water or wine glasses as a tripod to stabilise the camera – it can be unsavoury at fine diners but I’ve never had any issues. This might not work with a SLR though!
    2) Set a 2-sec shot delay to minimise hand shake when firing the camera.


  9. September 9, 2011 8:26 am

    Hi hi!
    Thanks so much for this post!!! I wasn’t taking notes during our sesh,so this is super handy!!!!
    You are a super star!!!

  10. September 15, 2011 1:10 pm

    Nice one…

    will definitely remember these tips next time i’m out shooting something in the dark…!

  11. Armando permalink
    August 29, 2012 8:47 am

    It’s awesome in favor of me to have a website, which is beneficial designed for my know-how. thanks admin

  12. July 7, 2013 4:52 am

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!


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