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Shooting in low light

From: Foundations of Photography: Exposure

Video: Shooting in low light

The ability to shoot in low light is one of the truly great advantages of digital photography. Digital image sensors are so sensitive to light that you can shoot images that simply would not have been possible with film. If you are not used to taking your camera out at night, you really should start. The world looks very different when illuminated by moonlight or streetlights, and you might find subject matter that you've never noticed before. Now obviously, when you are shooting in low light, you will need to raise your ISO to try to get your shutter speed up to something reasonable for hand-held shooting, and that means you will have to know how high you can go with ISO before you hit unacceptable noise levels.

Shooting in low light

The ability to shoot in low light is one of the truly great advantages of digital photography. Digital image sensors are so sensitive to light that you can shoot images that simply would not have been possible with film. If you are not used to taking your camera out at night, you really should start. The world looks very different when illuminated by moonlight or streetlights, and you might find subject matter that you've never noticed before. Now obviously, when you are shooting in low light, you will need to raise your ISO to try to get your shutter speed up to something reasonable for hand-held shooting, and that means you will have to know how high you can go with ISO before you hit unacceptable noise levels.

Bear in mind that when you're in low light your camera will most likely open you aperture as far as it will go, which means depth of field will go down. If you need deeper depth of field, then you'll need to switch to aperture priority mode and set your depth of field where you want it. Now this will cause your shutter speed to slow down, so you might need a tripod. Because of their low-light ability, digital cameras are also great for shooting concerts and performances, assuming your have permission. When shooting a concert or performance, you'll face a few issues. First, stage lighting is usually colored, so white balance will be a challenge.

Just leave your camera on auto white balance or shoot in RAW. If you get home and find that your images have a bunch of weird red and green light in them, that's probably because there were just red or green lighting, and there is really nothing you can do about it. You are going to have to give up on getting really normal-looking flesh tones. Second, if you are trying to shoot something that's moving-- a musician or a performer--then you might find you have trouble freezing your motion. Now motion control is a function of shutter speed. So when you're shooting a concert or performance, you are going to want to be in shutter priority mode. Start with a shutter speed that's going to be good enough for hand-held shooting, so maybe like a 30th or a 60th of a second.

At that speed, if something is moving very quickly, it's still probably going to be a little blurry. So from there you can try increasing your shutter speed. Now, if something is moving very quick, you may find that if you've increased shutter speed to the point where you can actually freeze that, your image is going to be too dark. That's okay. Take it anyway. You might be able to brighten it up in your image editor later. To work around this and to give yourself a safety net, bracket your shots. Take some at a shutter speed that's good for hand-held shooting, and then take some that are a little bit underexposed.

One of those will probably work out well. Another way to get around objects, or people that are moving too fast to freeze: simply don't shoot them. Shoot other performers on the stage. Shoot their reactions. It's best to not to try to tell the story of the performance you're shooting, because that's going to lead you to shooting wide shots where we can't see very much and where you have more motion control issues. So if you're really focusing on close-ups of performers, especially ones that aren't moving too fast, you'll probably be okay. They will warn you ahead of time, but you want to be sure that your flash is not firing. Now, if you're in a priority mode, if you're in shutter or aperture priority mode, your flash will never automatically pop up, so that's not a problem.

Just be sure that you never go into full auto mode, where it could come up on its own. Also, you want to turn the beep on your camera off, so that it doesn't disturb people around you, and you probably want to turn of the image review--that is, you don't want image is popping up on the screen after you shoot a picture because that messes up everyone's low-light vision. Permission is a very important issue when you're shooting concerts and performances: not only do you need the permission of the performers; you might need the permission of the owners of the hall. A lot of times performance halls are union spaces that you're not allowed to shoot in unless you're a member of the union.

Obviously, all of these techniques take practice, but you should find that low light should never be an impediment to good shooting.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Exposure
Foundations of Photography: Exposure

64 video lessons · 84164 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 8m 44s
    1. Welcome
      1m 56s
    2. What is exposure?
      4m 8s
    3. A word about camera brands
      2m 40s
  2. 9m 32s
    1. What is a camera?
      2m 53s
    2. The shutter
      3m 53s
    3. The aperture
      1m 33s
    4. Exposure defined
      1m 13s
  3. 13m 50s
    1. Modes
      2m 7s
    2. Pressing the shutter button
      2m 54s
    3. Autofocus
      5m 22s
    4. Light metering
      2m 3s
    5. White balance
      1m 24s
  4. 29m 26s
    1. Shooting sharp images
      1m 58s
    2. Noting shutter speed
      4m 3s
    3. Taking control of shutter speed
      1m 30s
    4. Stop defined
      2m 50s
    5. Shutter priority mode
      4m 34s
    6. Exercise: Shutter speed
      40s
    7. Reciprocity
      3m 13s
    8. Controlling motion
      7m 8s
    9. Shutter speed increments
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Go work with shutter speed
      1m 9s
  5. 26m 3s
    1. Depth of field
      1m 53s
    2. How aperture is measured
      2m 42s
    3. Aperture priority mode
      4m 57s
    4. Lens speed
      53s
    5. Shooting deep depth of field
      3m 53s
    6. Shooting shallow depth of field
      2m 50s
    7. The depth-of-field preview button
      4m 24s
    8. How shallow should you be?
      2m 47s
    9. Exercise: Go work with aperture
      1m 44s
  6. 16m 26s
    1. ISO: The third exposure parameter
      6m 27s
    2. Assessing your camera's high ISO
      5m 32s
    3. Shooting in low light
      3m 32s
    4. Exercise: Shooting in low light
      55s
  7. 14m 30s
    1. White balance controls
      5m 37s
    2. Adjusting white balance manually
      4m 25s
    3. Shooting raw
      4m 28s
  8. 6m 3s
    1. How light meters work
      1m 47s
    2. Why are there different modes?
      4m 16s
  9. 33m 59s
    1. Exposure compensation
      4m 0s
    2. Intentional overexposure
      2m 40s
    3. Intentional underexposure
      1m 42s
    4. Controlling tone
      2m 31s
    5. The histogram
      10m 4s
    6. Real-world histograms
      5m 49s
    7. Tone and color
      2m 16s
    8. Auto exposure bracketing
      3m 58s
    9. Exercise: Go work with exposure compensation
      59s
  10. 12m 56s
    1. Dynamic range
      2m 24s
    2. Exposing for highlights
      4m 15s
    3. Fill flash
      3m 11s
    4. Three solutions to the same problem
      3m 6s
  11. 12m 26s
    1. Manual mode
      2m 6s
    2. Manual mode and light meters
      4m 52s
    3. Manual exposure exercise
      5m 28s
  12. 12m 1s
    1. Custom modes and A-DEP
      1m 39s
    2. Program shift
      3m 52s
    3. Exposure compensation with program shift
      1m 58s
    4. An exercise in reciprocity
      53s
    5. Scene modes and in-camera processing
      3m 39s
  13. 8m 16s
    1. Shooting with post production in mind
      3m 46s
    2. Exposure strategy
      3m 51s
    3. Goodbye
      39s

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