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Photo Tip Thursday: Low Light Photography

For this week’s Photo Tip Thursday, I’ll be talking about shooting in low light.  Taking photographs in low light can present some serious challenges to overcome when it comes to taking outfit photos.

The glaring problem here is the small amount of light you have to work with.  This means slowing your shutter speed down drastically to let in as much light as possible.  Remember though that you can’t use shutter speeds below 1/125th of a second reliably while hand holding the camera, otherwise you risk seeing some camera shake in your photos.  So here’s where you have to do the one thing that I told you to try and avoid, raising your ISO.  Raising your ISO will allow you to increase the brightness of your photos and also maintain a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake, at the expense of adding some noise to your images.  Each camera handles ISO noise differently, so you’ll have to experiment just how high you can raise the ISO before the image quality starts to suffer.

Camera Settings: f/1.2, 1/125, ISO 1000.  Raising the ISO too 1000 allowed me to use a fast enough shutter speed so that I could get the proper exposure while still hand holding the camera.

Another thing to think about is maximizing the amount of light on your subject.  If you’re taking photos at dusk, have your subject face in the direction of the sunset/where the sun set.  Even if it’s already set, or if it’s just a particularly cloudy day, there will still be more light hitting your subject when they face in the direction of the sun, rather than facing away from it.

Camera Settings: f/1.2, 1/125, ISO 300.  This photo was taken right as the sun was setting.  By having Grace face in the direction of the sunset, I was able to get the proper exposure without having to raise my ISO nearly as high as in the photo above.

If the sunlight isn’t enough, find a source of soft, diffuse light and have your subject face it.  Make sure that it doesn’t cast shadows on your subject, particularly in the facial regions.  Light sources positioned directly above your subject tend to cast these harsh shadows and are best avoided.  Also check the color temperature of your photos.  Artificial lighting {street lamps, headlights, etc.} often emits light in color temperatures much different from that of sunlight.  You’ll probably have to fine tune your white balance manually to achieve the most realistic color representation in your pictures.

Of course there’s always using flash as well.  I’d try and avoid using flash if at all possible however.  On camera flashes tend to produce a really harsh, direct light that washes out the colors on your subject and often causes red-eye.  Even off camera, hot-shoe mounted flashes are quite tricky to use, and often only yield the best results when they are “bounced” off of a nearby wall or surface so as to soften up/diffuse the light emitted by them.  I’ll discuss those in an entirely different post in the future.  For now stick with raising the ISO and creatively using artificial light sources to improve your low light photography.

My final tip when it comes to low light photography is to familiarize your self with noise reduction when you’re editing your photos.  Photoshop Elements {as well as the full-fledged version of Photoshop} have a noise reduction filter.  Simply click the “Filters” tab at the top of the screen, then select “Noise” in the drop down menu and click “Reduce Noise”.  In Lightroom {as well as other programs}, noise reduction is controlled by a slider labeled “Luminance”.  Move it too the right to reduce the amount of noise in the photo.  How far you move it should depend on how high you had to raise your ISO.  Be careful not to over-do this as it can make the image look really wacky if you aren’t careful.

Thanks for reading!  Make sure to check back next week, I’ll be doing a post on indoor photography.

  1. Great tips! Shooting in low light can definitely be a challenge!

  2. Hilary Rose says:

    Awesome tips, thanks for this!



  3. I've definitely learned my lesson about shooting with too high an ISO – thank god for the luminance slider in Lightroom.

    Josh – The Kentucky Gent

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