It is widely assumed that good photography can be done only in the presence of ample light. While light is an important component of photography, there are many ways to capture great photographs in low light conditions. There is no doubt that low light photography is more challenging than other conventional forms of photography. However, if done right, this form of photography yields amazing results.
Low Light Photography v/s Night Photography
Most people believe that shooting in low light is synonymous with night photography.
Before proceeding with the tips and tricks to capture brilliant pictures in low light conditions, let us understand the difference between low light photography and night photography. Night photography is about capturing photographs after dark, once the sun goes down completely. In this condition, it would be impossible to get pictures of the dark landscape in the absence of any source of light.
Photographing in low light, on the other hand, is about clicking pictures in the light that is much less-brighter than daylight. For example, just after sunset, it doesn’t get completely dark and you can discern a drastic difference in the light intensity.
In fact, taking pictures in low light can be subdivided into categories, one of which is night photography. Let us see these categories for a better understanding.
When There is Ample of Visible Light in the Surroundings
When the photographer attempts to take the picture of a subject that lies in a shaded region, while the surroundings are brightly lit, it is one kind of low light photography. The main feature, in this case, is that the subject falls under low light, while the surroundings do not.
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When the Sun has Just Set
In this case, the overall intensity of the light in the surroundings goes down without affecting visibility. The photographer is able to clearly see objects and the subject, albeit in a lower intensity light.
When it is Completely Dark
It is the most common scenario for night photography. When it gets absolutely dark, only the brightest object can be captured. Therefore, the photographer requires artificial sources of light or reflecting surfaces to shoot in this condition.
In all these conditions, the general principles of shooting in low light will apply. However, depending on the exact conditions, the photographer might have to alter a few settings to obtain the perfect shot. These general settings are described in the sections that follow.
How to Prepare for Low Light Photography
Like in all forms of photography, it is important to be well prepared in advance for clicking pictures under low light. Some ways in which you can prepare for your shoot are discussed below.
- Think of the locations where you want to shoot. List the features that you would like to highlight in your photographs. Weigh the pros and cons of shooting in a particular place and compare with other locations.
- Read the weather forecast for the selected location, if you are planning to shoot outdoor. It is always good to know the weather conditions beforehand. You may then decide your photography composition accordingly.
- Checking out the phases of the moon during the dates that you plan to shoot will prepare you better for taking those shots.
- Have a good look at the surroundings and search for elements that you wish to include in your photographs. Identify the focal point, the foreground etc.
- Become a part of the landscape before clicking. Instead of shooting from a distance, explore the scene by getting up, close and personal. This effort will definitely make your photographs stand out from the rest.
- Observe the lighting conditions about an hour before and after sunset. This time frame is characterized by a melange of bright colours in the sky. Once you observe the natural light in this time frame, it will be easier for you to choose your camera settings.
This prep work will make it easier for you to capture the best features of the dark landscape under low lights. Preparation is the key to not only low light landscape photography, but also low light portrait photography.
Essential Equipment for Low Light Photography
If you are just starting with this form of photography, you should not purchase a lot of special equipment. Here is the list of an essential equipment you will need for low light photography:
- A good, low light camera, that allows you to control exposure settings.
- A good quality tripod that is not too cumbersome to carry around.
- A remote trigger that allows you to experiment with the quality of the photograph. You may integrate a low light photography mobile app with your camera for this purpose if the camera settings allow.
Ideal Camera Settings for Low Light Photography
Now that you have a fair idea of the preparation you need to do, let us discuss the various landscape photography settings that will allow you to shoot in low light. Because the intensity of light goes down rapidly after sunset, it is important to understand the various low light photography settings of the camera that will allow you to capture the available light in the best possible way.
#1. Fast Lenses
The best lens for low light landscape photography has a small f-stop number. This is because a smaller number means a wider aperture. A wide aperture lets in more light than a narrow aperture. Some of the best low light cameras with zoom function may have a maximum aperture of f/3.5, and those with a fixed focal length 50 mm may have f/1.8 or more.
#2. Long Exposure
Shooting at slow shutter speeds ensures long exposure. Long exposure is important to utilize all the available light in the best way. It is vital that you do low light photography without flash, in order to capture the natural lighting.
Start with the slowest shutter speed of your camera and click a few shots. Then vary the shutter speed and compare the output. In general, a longer exposure will give you brighter pictures, retaining most of the feature of the subject. It is ideal to have a tripod with you to support your camera during this time. If, however, you don’t have a tripod, you should try to stabilize the camera on some kind of stationary support like a big rock, or a dustbin.
You will notice that shots of the ocean that are taken with shutter speed up to 20 seconds transform the ocean into a smoky wonder. The lapping waves assume a surreal texture and the image gets a magical makeover.
Similarly, you can create magic with a very long exposure when clicking the stars in a moonless sky. In these conditions, it is possible to capture stars as strips instead of dots, thereby changing the feel of the photograph.
In the same way, fireworks can be captured with slower shutter speeds to look like a trail of light in swirls and spirals. The same holds true for photographs of moving traffic with vehicle lights turned on.
Another easy way to maximize available light is to increase the ISO. This is particularly helpful when you don’t have a tripod to stabilize the camera for long exposure, or when you cannot use a slow shutter speed. Again, you will have to experiment with the ideal ISO for your conditions to balance the grain and image quality.
#4. Depth of Field
You should aim at achieving maximum depth of field in low light photography. This is essential to highlight the fine features of your subject in low light conditions. A narrow aperture usually does the trick, but you should ensure that the photographs are sharp.
Check out Shooting with a Shallow Depth of Field
#5. White Balance Setting
In this kind of photography, lights are crucial. All the available light should be captured. At the same time, the white balance setting of your camera is vital. If you have this setting on the “auto” mode, you might compromise with the appearance of various hues. Therefore, it is better to change the white balance setting to “manual”.
#6. RAW Format
Shooting in RAW gives you the flexibility to experiment with the image during post-processing without compromising on the picture quality. Thus, as in all forms of photography, shooting in Raw is also recommended when you attempt low light photography.
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Tips for Landscape Photography Under Low Light Conditions
With the above-mentioned settings of your camera, you are ready to start clicking in low light. Wait. There are still some fine tips that should be kept in mind before you start. In photography, lights from any source are vital. Low light photography requires a strong sense of judgement regarding the perfect lighting. When the available light is already low, you should aim at making the best and most creative use of all the available light. Let us see how.
Use Shadows and Light creatively
If your subject is only partially lit, you might want to play a bit with the available regions of shadow and light. Juxta-positioning of these regions may give you a unique and sharp image, and maybe even a three-dimensional touch.
Learn all about Shooting Shadows Correctly
Use Backlight Well
The backlight provided by the setting sun or the bright hues of the sky can be tapped to give a glow-like texture to the edges of the objects that are in the front. This simple thing can transform plain images into eye-catching masterpieces.
Use Reflecting Light
Landscapes tend to reflect the light falling on them. This light, though indirect, can still be used to good effect in low light photography. Water, ice, wet rocks and snow reflect light very nicely. A judicious use of these elements in your photograph is bound to create magic.
Use Flashlight When Needed
Shooting in low light condition doesn’t mean that you have to restrict your creativity. If you feel that the surroundings are too dark, you may use a flashlight to add a little bit of light that is required to highlight the features of the subject. However, care should be taken that the flash isn’t directed straight to the subject, otherwise, low light photography would lose its essence.
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Add Effective Foreground
The importance of foreground in any kind of photography cannot be doubted. The same is true for low light photography. A simple addition of effective foreground in a picture has the power to increase the impact of that photograph several notches higher.
Know more about the Basics of Foreground Photography to Create Depth
With the right camera settings and the general tips to be kept in mind, you will be able to start your journey of low light photography. However, there is no substitute for practice. The more you click, the more you will learn about this technique. If you feel we missed out on some aspect of shooting in low light, please let us know. We are happy to hear about your experiences too.