The Beauty of Low Light Photography

Winter is arriving and this means fewer daylight hours and so less time for shooting. You might have already stored your camera away into hibernation until spring arrives, but winter is the perfect time to shoot very moody, emotion provoking photos.

Low light photography can be intimidating because there’s a lot to learn, but with a little bit of practice and learning you’ll be on your way to some fantastic photos.

Emotional Photography

Dim, shadowy photos can bring out a vast array of strong emotions, from a cozy and warm feeling to a gloomy and sad emotional response. A lot of your shooting in winter will probably be indoors and this is perfect for controlling the lighting and so the mood of your photo. Under exposing your photos is a good way to add even more mood to your photos.

Lighting Conditions

As we’ve already said, when shooting indoors you have complete control over your lighting, you can use lamps, torches, flash guns or natural light, whatever you can think of. But if the conditions are too dark and you can’t get the shot without it appearing blurry then you can use a tripod or increase the ISO for a faster shutter speed.

If you’re shooting outside during the morning or evening, or even midday it stays quite dark depending where you live, so for lighting there isn’t as much choice. The sun during these times has some great lighting conditions though, often creating a pink or blue glow, especially further up north in the Arctic Circle for example. For these times when the light is dimmer you may need to use a tripod or else increase your ISO to avoid blur. One thing to look out for when shooting outdoors is gaps in the clouds and sunrays appearing through these, because these can give your dimly lit photos a contrasting, bright area which adds even more emotion to your photo.

Grainy Photos

Grain (noise) on photos is shyed away from by many photographers, but in low light and black and white photography this can have a great effect, and even adds another dimension to the photo (in a good way). Whether you like it or not, the darker your photo is, or the darker certain areas are, the more grainy these areas will appear. If you want to add more grain to your photos though you can increase the ISO until you get the desired effect, or else add it in post processing in Photoshop.

The Technical Side

Shooting in low light isn’t as simple as point and shoot, it requires more thought that an image taken in bright sunlight. First thing you need to do is decide how you want your image to turn out, namely what areas you want to be visible and which in shadows.

Next you need to choose the appropriate shutter speed to achieve these effects, but make sure it’s at least 1/60s zoomed out as a general rule to avoid blur. This only applies if you’re hand holding the camera, but for low light photography often a tripod is used and then shutter speed isn’t an issue for stationary subjects.

Aperture is another important choice and it totally depends on what you want to achieve. If you have a single point of interest you want sharp then a wider number can be used (smaller f number) while if you want everything sharp then narrower apertures would be required. One thing to note though is aperture drastically affects the shutter speed, where wider apertures speed up the shutter speed and lighten the images, narrower will be much slower and darken them.

Improve Your Skills

Learning how to shoot in low light can have benefits across all other types of photography, not just in shooting dimly lit scenes. You’ll experience underexposed and overexposed images a lot, and learning how to shoot in low light will help you know why this is happening and how to prevent it. Practicing your newly found skills is important to improve, of course that’s obvious, but to help you along with this practice shooting in your house and changing up the lighting conditions, for example try shooting fruit under a lamp, and then try shining a torch on one side or use off camera flash to get a similar effect.

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