Some of the most stunning photographs are taken in low light. Whether it’s capturing stars in the night sky, or a burning orange sunset, low light photography is fascinating to look at.
However, taking photographs in low light can be tricky, as you have to balance your key components - focus, exposure and composition - with very minimal light.
Our cameras revolve around exposure and the technical knowledge required to capture low light photography takes a lot of patience and practice.
To help speed things up, we’ve pulled together 7 tips on how to take stunning low light photography.
Be prepared to vary your shutter speeds
When it comes to low light photography, mastering shutter speeds is essential. The longer your shutter stays open, the more light can enter the camera, which helps expose the image correctly.
Your shutter speed depends on your subject and how much light you have to work with. For example, if you’re taking a photograph of a sweeping landscape at night and want to capture the detail of the night sky, then a slower shutter speed of up to 30 seconds is best.
However, if you’re trying to get that perfect golden hour shot, a slightly faster shutter speed is ideal as you won’t need to expose your sensor to the light for as long as if you were capturing a landscape image.
Invest in a sturdy tripod
As you’ll be working with very slow shutter speeds, it’s essential that you keep the camera as steady as possible, to avoid any motion blur. If your shutter is held open for longer to let in more light, any tiny movement of the camera will result in a blurry photograph.
Depending on your budget, a carbon fibre tripod is best as it is both sturdy and lightweight. When looking for the perfect tripod, you should keep its mobility in mind. A bulky and heavy tripod will be awkward to carry, which isn’t exactly practical if you’re a nature or landscape photographer.
Use ISO in the smartest way possible
When taking low light photography, it can be tempting to use the highest possible ISO setting to get the right amount of light. However, this can ruin your image with grain and noise. The higher the ISO, the lower the quality of the image, as you’ll be left with a large amount of grain on the photograph.
Try and set your shutter speed and aperture according to the subject you’re trying to capture, then play with the ISO to get the perfect exposure.
Set your white balance manually
Many photographers are guilty of setting their white balance to auto for every shot they take. However, in low light, it can make a big difference to set your white balance manually.
Doing this will also help you get better colour in your images and give you a better result post-editing. Manual white balance also allows you to capture better contrast and sharper images.
If you don’t feel confident with setting your white balance manually, try playing around with the different white balance settings to find the image that best resembles what you see with your own eyes.
Shoot in RAW
If you want to get the most out of all of your images, especially low light photographs, shooting in RAW is recommended. Most cameras will offer RAW capabilities, but it is best to check with the manufacturer first.
Shooting in RAW allows you to capture as much data in your images as possible. Even if you can’t see it in camera, when it comes to editing, you’ll be able to make the most out of your images.
Even underexposed images can be saved if they have been shot in RAW, as they have undiscovered details in them that can be uncovered by simple edits such as increasing brightness or decreasing contrast.
Use off-camera flashes
If you’re using a flash for your low light photography – for example, if you’re taking portrait or still life images – avoid the pop-up flash that comes with your DSLR.
Instead, opt for an off-camera flash that you can easily move and use as a directional flash. This helps you fill in any unwanted shadows and have more control over the lighting of your subject.
Choose a fast lens and shoot in aperture mode
Another way to control your exposure when shooting low light photography is to focus on your aperture. This is controlled by the lens you have on your camera body, as some lenses are faster than other lenses. The lower the f-stop number on a lens, the faster it is and the better it will be for your low light photography.
Using aperture mode can also help when it comes to getting the right exposure, as this mode sets your shutter speed automatically.
Shooting stunning low light photography can be frustrating and it’s important to keep in mind that mastering this skill can take time. However, by shooting in varying low light settings such as night time, sunset, sunrise and even indoor still life, you’ll soon be able to quickly and easily adjust your settings accordingly.
If you frequently head out to capture low light nature or landscape photography, make sure your equipment is completely protected with our specialist photography insurance.