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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera’s ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
We've worked pretty much exclusively with natural light in this course. You've seen a couple of flash examples, but for the most part, we're just working with the light that we find. As you've seen very often when working in low light, you're working with a very long shutter speed. The shutter is open for a long time so that the camera can gather up as much light as possible to create an image. While it's gathering, you can actually manipulate that light that's there. You can add more of your own and create a painting effect. I don't mean an image that looks like a painting, but you can paint things with light to control what's illuminated in your frame.
We're going to do that right now. You probably can't see it right now, but we've got this cool assortment of gnarled twisted trees here, and sitting in them middle of them is Heather. And what I want to do is create an image where she's lit up and the trees are not. Now you might think, well, why don't you just put a flash on your camera? Well, if I do that, it'll light up the whole thing. I like the way the trees are lit up by the ambient light. I would just like to have her lit up a little bit more. So we're going to paint her with a flashlight during a long exposure.
You can think of these shots exactly as you would a normal flash picture. And I don't know how much you know about flash, but typically the workflow is, you decide on an exposure that gets you good ambient light and then you figure out how much illumination you need from the artificial light that you're using. So that's what we're going to do here. I've gone ahead and framed my shot using the techniques that we showed you in the landscape shooting lessons. I have gone up to a really high ISO so I can get quick shots so that I can adjust my framing.
I've also focused using the same technique. I had Heather turn a flashlight on, and I focused in that bright spot. So my frame and my focus are already set. Now I'm ready to think about exposure. And I've done some experimenting here, and for exposure, I thought mostly, first and foremost, about depth of field. My camera, of course, would love to go open all the way to 2.8, because I've got a fast lens on here, but if I do that, the depth of field is going to be so shallow and some of these trees are coming out right in front, that I've tried to stop down a little bit.
Now I could stop down to f/8 or something and have a lot of really nice deep depth of field, but if I do that then Heather has to sit still longer. So I've decided on f/4. At f/4, my camera has decided that it needs about 20 seconds. Now we've got some artificial light in here, so we're going to have to turn this off to take the shot, and it's going to be much darker. That's why it needs 20 seconds. So what I'm going to do first is take a picture without any light painting. Greg, could you kill the light? As you can see, or not see, it's very, very dark. Heather, you ready? Heather: Yep! Ben: So she's going to hold real still.
Ben: I'm Mirror Lockup enabled. So I'm doing this 20-second exposure. This is gathering up just ambient light in the scene, and I want to see what that looks like to see if I have my exposure set properly, to see if I've got a good amount of ambient light, because most of the tree is going to be illuminated by that ambient light. So we should be coming up on the end here. I'm at ISO 1600 right now, which I trust, noise-wise, and here's our shot. That's looking pretty good.
It's actually a fair amount of ambient light. As you can see, it almost looks like daytime. What's going to make this look really different is when we get the light on her. Now I'm thinking of this is a black-and- white image, so I'm not going to worry too much about color temperature. I'm also exposing to the right a little bit. I've got the exposure up higher than I want. I don't really want the image this bright, because I want it look like a night shot, but I'm going to be able to darken image and get those ambient levels back down. So I'm feeling good about my ambient levels. Now we're ready to the light painting. So what's going to happen here is I'm going to do this exact same exposure, because I know that's right for the bulk of it, and Greg is going to go run and hide behind a tree and shine a flashlight on her.
Now, of course, if I was by myself I can go do this on my own. I'm fortunate enough to have a trained lighting person here. So he is trying to not get too much light on her, and we've done some experimenting and figured out about how much is the correct exposure. When he's shining light, he's just counting off time to himself so that we can control if we do an experiment and he needs more or less. Ben: Are you ready, Greg? All right! Greg: Yeah! Ben: So kill the lights and get into position. So he's got his flashlight on, and what's going on is I need him close to her because I don't want spill from his flashlight falling on lots of other bits of the tree and other things.
So he needs to be pretty close to her, but if he's too close to her, he's in the shot. So he's hiding behind the tree over here. Greg, I can see your back. Can, you get forward just a little bit, a little more? That's good, and now I'm seeing the light in your hand. He's holding his hand around-- Okay and he's shining the light on her. Now he's shining it very, very dimly, because at ISO 1600, the camera is very sensitive to the light that he is shining. So he's really having to control it. I think we're ready.
So again, I've got mirror lockup. I've also got my remote control here, so I'm going to use that to reduce camera vibration. So I'm flipping up the mirror, and it's open. So it's a 20-second exposure. He's, through some experimentation, already decided how much light is going to work out, and he's just painting it up and down her body. She's trying to hold very still as this arctic blast sweeps through right now. So, she's really got the hard part of the job right now, and I'm waiting for the camera to finish. Now there are a few different elements that we're balancing here.
We're balancing shutter speed for controlling ambient amount of light, aperture for depth of field, and ISO for how strong the light painting is. That's the exposure. Let's take a look at it. So, it's a very subtle effect, but this is working. She's just got a little bit of extra illumination that puts her higher than the ambient light level. We have simply painted her with light until she is visible. Now I had decided going into this that this was going to be a black-and-white image. So I'm not worried about the fact that the color temperature of Greg's flashlight is different than the ambient temperature.
If I was, he could gel his flashlight like we showed you how you can gel a flash. So again, the parameters that I'm balancing here, I've got the ambient light levels which are a function of my basic exposure settings: my shutter speed and aperture. But I'm trying to go for a certain amount of depth of field, so I've gone to a smaller aperture. Now, I can turn my ISO up and down. Obviously that changes my exposure in the way that you would expect. However, when my ISO is higher, a little bit of flashlight goes a lot farther, so you want be very careful if you've got a really bright flashlight, if you're having trouble controlling it, you're getting way too much light on there, the way you deal with that is to turn the ISO down. And you can still control your ambient temperature with your shutter speed and aperture.
If you're dealing with a human subject, you want to try and keep your shutter speed a little bit lower so that they don't have to stand there forever. Also note that in addition to a flashlight, you can use the strobe from your flash, like an external strobe. So we can put her out there and flash a strobe at her or flash the trees with them. And there, again, we're trying to balance ISO versus flash power, but we have an additional control, which is we could dial the power of flash up and down. So this is very basic light painting. It's a way of taking control of a low- light situation and adding either more light. You can do is to create subtle effects like we're doing here or really over-the-top effects were things are lit up far more than they should be.
It takes some practice, but it's pretty easy, and the great thing about digital is you can see your results. So get out there, give it a try, and see what happens as you play the various parameters.
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