Digital photography is simple when you have the perfect conditions and a lot of light to work with. Sadly, conditions aren’t always as we would like them to be, so it’s essential to work with as much light as possible to avoid being disappointed. The quality of a photographer can be seen from the way he knows to use the camera and by creating his own, adequate conditions to take photos, even in low light situations.
Low-light conditions usually interfere with our photos in so high percentages that even seasoned smartphone manufacturers, like HTC and Nokia, give a special attention to the camera, preparing it for these kinds of environments. When the camera does not help, we can. In the following paragraphs, we are going to discuss and present the best practices on how to take good photos in bad lighting.
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Taking photos in low-light situations
Many professional photographers know that the ideal time of the day to take photos is in the Golden Hours – the beginning or ending of a day when the light is softer, warmer and directional and the sun is not already on the sky to create those tedious shadows, like it is in midday. Unfortunately, photos cannot be taken only in the mornings or evenings, photographers need to take photos whenever they find the perfect moment.
Whether it is on vacation, at a party, at a wedding or just a simple evening, taking photos in unfavorable conditions could be a little challenging. Low-light photography is a broad term which can also be used to refer to take pictures in indoor environment or at a concert.
Now here’s what you need to know:
1. Put the Sun to your back
Sometimes you cannot avoid taking photos in midday because you are on tour or on an organized trip when you have to do it. So it is very important to try not to capture deep areas where the shadows appear and try to place yourself between the sun and the object. Keep an eye on the sky and move around until the sun is at the back and you will discover the best position.
2. Use the flash
One of the easiest solutions is to use the built-in flash from your digital camera, but often this solution may be worse than taking photos in a low-light environment. Using a flash light will overexpose the subject and the depth of the field will look flat.
A good and easy way to soften the power of a flash light is to use something to cover it when it’s taking photos, such as a tissue or other opaque material, to diffuse the light.
If you own a professional camera, like a DSLR, a good option is to buy an external flash light because it allows to be manipulated and to be turned in various other directions, so that the light will bounce and enlighten the subject from a non-directive angle.
3. Use a tripod
In low-light environments, the digital camera takes more time to save a picture than normal (reason being the need to allow as much light hit the sensor as possible). So it’s very important to keep your camera steady to avoid blur. For this, you can choose to use a tripod to mount the camera on top of it with no need of making other changes to your camera’s settings.
As well as the tripod, you can improvise a little by setting the camera on a steady surface, such as a table or floor. The tripod cannot be carried in every place you go so this solution might come in handy sometimes.
4. Decrease your aperture (f/stop)
Essentially, a camera is like a box that opens and lets the light in. The amount of light that gets inside is controlled by a cheeky setting, called the aperture, which is a time-based variable. Basically, the wider the aperture is, the faster your shutter speed will be and the photos will be sharper.
Put your digital camera on manual settings and set aperture to the lowest number possible on the camera, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8. This will allow more light to enter through lens into the camera.
5. Boost your ISO
If you already decreased the aperture to the lowest value and you still get blurry photos, increase the camera ISO (sensor sensitivity). ISO controls the sensitivity to light and the higher it is set, the more sensible will be. While in normal outdoor conditions the ISO has to be set normally at 100/200, in indoors or low-light outdoors can even be set to over 1000. So, if ISO is raised to 400 or 800 you will get a decent photo with a limited amount of noise, but if it is set at a 1600 it may seem a little too much. It is very simple to figure out which setting to choose, just take a photo and see if the shutter is going too slowly and if your picture is blurry.
6. Shoot in burst mode
I don’t know if you ever thought at his kind of solution, but “Burst Mode” permits taking a number of continuous shots. With pictures being being saved one after another, the chances of getting at least a decent one are pretty high.
Practically, when you press the button to take a new picture a vibration is introduced to the camera because of your hand’s movement. If you use burst mode the shake will affect your camera only the first time, so technically, the others should be better. The bad part is that usually, only expensive cameras come with a burst shot technique that captures pictures at high quality. Usually, burst shots are taken at less than the camera can actually provide. Fortunately, many of the high-end smartphone cameras these days come with burst mode feature built-in.
7. Shooting in RAW format
This option may not be available for all digital cameras, but if you can choose to save all pictures in the RAW format you should do it. This format is very versatile and will allow you to recover some detail from a picture if it is overexposed or underexposed with post processing programs.
8. Use filters
If you’re trying to take a photo on a sunny day, you may also think at some filters that may help. A filter is a camera accessory with a square or oblong shape which is mounted on the front of the lens. For example, a polarizing filter mounted will reduce reflections when it is rotated. If you don’t have one, maybe you own a UV filter which will cut down the ultra-violet radiation from your picture and also will protect lens.
9. Post processing
There are a lot of photo editing programs in the market which can help you reduce noise and improve the quality of a picture. Adobe Lightroom is a nice example, being a very easy-to-use program that offers different features specialized in editing photography. When using it, be careful with the amount of reduced noise because this will also soften your photo and lose details from it.
10. Be careful about auto-focus
It is very possible to lose the auto-focus capabilities in low-light conditions when the camera cannot differentiate objects between them anymore. Many DSLR cameras have AF assist which has a little LED that will light up when there is not enough light. If the picture is still blurry, try to focus again by half-pressing the shutter/auto-focus button.
11. Move closer to the light source
As I said before, light is very important for photography. So when indoors, you should preferably search for another source of light. For instance, you can open up the curtains from windows, light some bulbs or just go closer to the subject to get that desired picture.
Last but not least, the best advice we can give is to practice and then practice again.