Friday, March 03, 2006

Tips for low light shooting

Well, let's get off to a useful start. Tonight, I'm going to write about how to get the most out of your camera when shooting in low light levels. Here's some really basic tips:
  • Use a tripod. In low light, your camera isn't going to be getting enough light so that you, the photographer, can get a sharp, unblurred picture when the camera is handheld. This is because the shutter must remain open longer or your digital sensor must be active longer in order to ensure enough light is collected. A camera mounted on a tripod is really steady for those long exposures (generally considered anything longer than 1/30 of a second).
  • Increase your ISO. ISO is a measure of the sensitivity of your digital sensor or your film. In low light, you may need to increase the ISO, either through changing a camera setting for digital cameras or using a more sensitive film (a "faster" film) with a higher ISO rating. The increased sensitivity will mean faster shutter speeds, reducing the risk of blur. This increased sensitivity comes at a price though--usually seen as color noise in digital images and as increased graininess in film images. If you're using a tripod and have relatively static subject, you might not want to increase your ISO because of this reduced image quality.
  • Use a flash. Modern digital cameras aren't miracle machines. Sometimes, you're going to need to have additional light from another light source to get that image. So, if your images are too dark and your flash isn't turned on...try turning it on and using it.
  • Try the self-timer to reduce vibration blur. Many cameras come with a self-timer. This is great for low light where vibration can induce blur. Simply brace your camera, on a tripod for example, and use the self-timer feature and then don't touch or disturb the camera during exposure.
  • No tripod? Use what's around you! You need an available light photo, the light is dim, and you don't have a tripod? Well, look around! Maybe you can put the camera on top of a garbage can, a low wall, or a park bench. Use pocket trash to make sure your camera is level and aimed properly--a folded hanky can be put under an SLR lens for example to keep the camera level. Use the self-timer to reduce vibration.
  • Try bracing the camera! Also in the category of using what's around you is the idea of bracing the camera when shooting in low light. Brace the camera against a solid wall, a tree or light pole, or some other solid object. I have been able to literally handhold a camera at 1/4 second shutter speeds and get sharp images because I braced the camera against a concrete pole.
  • Consider the color of the sky. To my eye, skies look more dramatic just after sunset, but before they go completely dark. So if you like low-light night shots, try to time your activities to take advantage of the color of the sky for more dramatic photos.

If people come up with more tips, I'll happily add them here--just leave me some comments.