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If the photographic world were still limited to only film cameras, then this would be a very different course, for the simple reason that we would not be able to shoot in some of the situations that you're going to see. The fact is, we just don't have the film technology that can compare to digital when working in low light. Digital image sensors are incredibly sensitive to light and so are ideal for working at night or in other low-light situations. Digital cameras today possess sensors that have ISO ratings and signal-to-noise responses that far surpass any film technology.
So as a digital shooter, you have a new realm of subject matter to explore once light levels get lower. If you're coming from a film background then you might be shocked to find out what's possible in low light with a good digital camera. Now, by good I mean a camera that provides the ability to raise the ISO while still delivering results that offer low noise levels. These days most SLRs and some advanced point-and-shoots offer ISOs up to 1600. Some go even farther with professional grade SLRs providing ludicrously high ISOs, like 125,000 and higher.
Noise is simply those ugly grainy patterns that can appear when you raise ISO, and we'll be looking at noise in more detail later. In addition to a camera that provides good high ISO capability, it's also helpful to have a camera that can shoot in RAW format. Getting accurate white balance in low light can be tricky and because RAW lets you alter white balance after you shoot, editing your low-light images in RAW can be much easier than working with JPEG files. As light levels drop, we will often be taking more manual control of the camera.
So a camera that offers Priority modes and a Full Manual mode can be critical for low light work. A faster lens--that is a lens that can open to a wider aperture--can afford you a lot more exposure latitude when you're working in low light and a lens that's stabilize can make it easier to shoot sharp images. Speaking of stabilization, a tripod or monopod or other stabilization device can be critical for low-light shooting. If you don't have a camera with these features or you don't have a nice tripod, don't rush out yet and buy new gear.
Work through the course, practice with the camera you have, and try to learn exactly where your gear is deficient before you bother investing in something new. Now to follow along with this course, you have to be comfortable with the practice of metering. Also, if you're not familiar with terms like fast lens or high ISO or priority mode, then you need to do a little preparatory study before you head on from here. Check out my Foundations of Photography: Exposure course for more on the fundamentals of exposure and my Foundations of Photography: Lenses course for more about the particulars of lens speed and auto focus and focal length and those concepts.
For the most part, this is a course on shooting in available light, even when there's not very much of it. While we will look at one or two flash issues, this is not a course on lighting or on using strobes. This is a course about shooting in available low light with the idea of getting shots that look like they were shot in low light. So don't worry about investing in any lighting gear. This is also a course that might lead you outside late at night. So depending on the weather where you are, that might mean you need some foul weather gear. If it's cold, you'll need something to keep warm, like a stupid-looking hat, and that won't impede your movement or the control of your camera.
If it's wet, you'll need a way to stay dry and you might need a raincoat for your camera. The only other thing you need is curiosity and a desire to explore a different type of imaging, a type of imaging where light behaves differently from what you're used to, and where your process of shooting will most likely slow down. It can take a while to make all of the decisions required for low-light shooting. So some of the things you're to learn here may lead you to a very different shooting practice from what you're used to. Before we head off in the dark though, we're going to spend some time reviewing some fundamental concepts from the point of view of a low-light shooter.
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