How To Take Low Light Photos
Taking photos indoors as opposed to outdoors can cause frustration for photographers who are used to shooting outside. It’s normal to be more comfortable taking photos outdoors when you have the help of sunlight. On the other hand, if you need to photograph subjects in dark rooms, you might find the quality of the photos to be too dim in the low light.
But don’t be frustrated, we compiled some tips to help you take awesome photos in low light conditions.
Three Ways That Your Camera Controls Light
Essentially, it all boils down to how your camera controls the amount of light that reaches its sensors.
Shutter speed indicates how long the shutter is open, expressed as a measurement of time.
Shutter speed allows you to hold or blur a subject that’s on the move. For example, a shutter that’s open for 1/100th of a second is expressed as 1/100.
A slower shutter speed will allow more light into your camera, but you might risk getting a blurry image. That's where a tripod can help!
If your subject is in motion, you need to increase your camera’s shutter speed to freeze the action.
Aperture indicates how big the opening is that lets light in. It‘s expressed as ‘f-stops.’
Aperture affects the depth of field. Meaning, the larger the opening, the shallower the depth of field is created. A shallow depth of field means your subject will be in focus while the foreground and background are blurred. Smaller openings will lead to everything being more in-focus.
F-stops are counterintuitive, because the smaller the opening, the larger the number. For example, f/2.9 allows 16 times more light than f11.
Your camera’s ISO indicates how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light.
The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to light. In essence, the higher the ISO number, the brighter the shot will be.
With that being said, there is a trade-off here. The higher the ISO, the more digital noise will be added to your image. Digital noise can reduce an image’s fine detail, and make it look more grainy.
You should only increase your ISO is you still need more light after you’ve widened the aperture and decreased the shutter speed.
How Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO Work Together
These three controls are called the “exposure triangle.”
These three variables work together with one another to correct the light exposure of your images. For example, you need a faster shutter speed or lower ISO to open up the camera’s aperture to let more light in.
You’ll find yourself making compromises between the variables when prioritizing one variable over another. This is particularly relevant when shooting in low-light conditions.
Note that there is an in-camera light meter setting that reveals where adjustments should be made for well-exposed images.
Now let’s go through the tips.
Use Fast Lenses
The potential solution here is to use fast lenses to push for wide apertures. A lens that has large apertures is called “fast” because it allows you to shoot with faster shutter speeds.
Thanks to the wider aperture (small f-stop number), additional light will enter your camera, and you’ll be able to capture a good low-light photo without using a flash.
To take great indoor photos in low-light conditions, you need to set your aperture to f/1.8 or f/1.4. In addition, kick the ISO to at least 800 with a faster shutter speed.
Adjust Your ISO Accordingly
When shooting in darker conditions, a large ISO will add digital noise to your images. You want to zoom into these dark areas to see whether the digital noise is going to ruin your photo.
Remember that you can reduce digital noise slightly in the editing process.
It might be best to fire off some test shots in low-light situations to determine the optimal combination for your lens and camera.
Use The Flash
If you want to take some quality photos in low-light situations, opt for a flash.
Adding a flash is sometimes overlooked due to the harsh light it produces in low-light settings. Some photographers use this harsh light to their advantage, as it eliminates the need to compromise your camera settings.
However, if you have a specific image in mind and don’t want to see that obvious “flash look,” you need an external detachable flash.
For example, you can use umbrella lights for product photography.
You can experiment with bouncing the flash by tipping it towards a ceiling or wall. Angle the light so that it is not directly in front of your subject.
If you’re using a ring light for product photography, you’re not going to get the best results. Ring lights are excellent for portraits, but they aren’t ideal for product photography as they can cause hotspots on your image as a result of the harsh light.
If a ring light is all you have, you can cover it with a drape or muslin to diffuse the harsh light to control for this.
Shoot In RAW
When we talk about RAW images, we’re referring to an unedited and uncompressed image file. Shooting in RAW keeps all the data captured by your camera’s sensor. As a result, there’s no loss in quality and more editing power.
Shooting in RAW will produce higher quality and sharper images, no matter what the lighting conditions are.
The RAW image file will also allow you to pull more detail from highlights and shadows. But you MUST edit RAW photos - they look really weird straight out of the camera since the camera did not process them at all. If you aren't a fan of editing, stick with JPG format, which has some processing baked in.
Stabilize Your Photos
When you need sharp images in low-light situations, you need to deal with slow shutter speeds. When dealing with slow shutter speeds, it’s essential to reduce camera shake entirely.
Camera shake is caused by anything from a heavy lens to tiny hand tremors. So, it might not have anything to do with the low light conditions when you’re shooting.
When it comes to camera shake, you need to practice with shutter speeds and see what works the best for you.
You can accomplish this by investing in a tripod and setting your camera’s timer. You can also use a shutter release cable.
Your camera will also have built-in stabilization features. These features will either be found on the camera’s lens or the camera’s body.
The lens-based stabilization is a floating lens element that’s electronically controlled and counteracts the camera shake.
Be Aware Of Autofocus
Your camera can lose its autofocus capabilities in low-light environments. When there isn’t enough light, the camera struggles to distinguish between objects.
Many modern digital cameras have an “AF assist” light in front of the camera that lights up like a flashlight to illuminate your subject.
When focusing on a subject, ensure it looks sharp in the viewfinder. In most cases, you won’t be able to tell if a camera can focus on the subject until you take the shot. In that case, zoom in and check for sharpness on the camera’s rear LCD.
Be aware that you’ll find different camera techniques on how to take pictures at night versus low-light settings.
You can use post-processing software to enhance your low-light photography. This is where it becomes beneficial to shoot RAW.
In the post-processing stage, you can control the noise, light, and shadows. For example, you can reduce digital noise caused by shooting with a high ISO.
You can also adjust the contrast, brightness, highlights, and sharpness.
Be aware of too much sharpening. Owing to the nature of low-light photography, there’s a higher degree of grain or noise. Sharpening the image will accentuate that noise. Sharpen only selected areas of the photo.
Try not to push the image too far in the editing process. Otherwise, it will look unnatural.
Lastly, don’t edit the image to look brighter than it was when you took the photo. You need to embrace low-light photography from the beginning to the end.
As long as the areas that are hit by light are exposed properly, you don’t need to worry about shadows.
It might take time for your eyes to get used to seeing the images so “underexposed” to light.
Utilize The Available Light
All good photographers need to know how to find good lighting for pictures.
Look for pockets of light and get your subject over to it.
Position your subject as close to a light source as you can. The closer your subject is to the light source, the more light there will be for your camera to utilize. This is where having a studio on wheels is incredibly helpful.
Examples of great sources of light are large windows. Open your curtains and blinds to let the light in.
Remember that light illuminates your subject but the shadows will define it. The quality and quality of the shadows can enhance the image’s look.
You can also invest in the best studio lights for product photography if you struggle to find available light.
Practice And Experiment
It isn’t possible to master low-light product photography immediately. To be great at it, you need to practice and experiment.
You can start by shooting stationary subjects to reduce the risk of blurry images while taking into account all the tips listed above.
If you experiment with all the different camera settings, you’ll get better at low light photography in no time.
If you struggle with lighting in general, consider investing in Replica Surface’s All-white backdrop to help you out. White backdrops are great for low-light environments as they reflect the light that is available to help expose your subject without the use of a flash or other camera trickery. The mobile Replica Studio also helps you find the best light in your home since you can roll it from window to window as your light changes.
To effectively take awesome product photos in low light settings, you first need to understand how the “exposure triangle” (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) can be used to your benefit.
To take great low-light photos, you need to use wide aperture lenses and raise your ISO.
To make the most of the editing process, shoot your photos in RAW.
In addition, learning how to use an external flash is another way that you can fix the problems associated with shooting in low-light situations.
Most importantly, if you are drawn to a little pocket of light, stick with it.
Did you find our blog helpful? Then consider checking:
- Are Ring Lights Good For Product Photography
- How To Light A White Background Photography
- Best Led Lights For Product Photography
- How To Get Good Lighting For Product Photos
- Natural Lighting
- Depth Perfection
- Light + Airy Photography
- Dark + Moody Photography
- Food Styling
- Product + Flat Lay Styling
- Clothing Photography
- Drink Photography: The Splash Technique
- Your Ultimate Photo Resource
- How To Get A Perfect White Background In Product Photography
- What's The Best Backdrop Material For Photography