Taking great photos in broad daylight is no challenge to even a beginner with a low-end camera. But photos in low-light conditions and indoors can get quite tricky even for the experienced professional. Let’s take a look at some tips you can keep in mind to master low-light photos once and for all!
The main problems with photos in low light
If you know your exposure triangle well, you’ll know that you’ll have three main problems to deal with:
Aperture that is too wide:
A wide open aperture is the best solution to a dark environment – it keeps your shutter speed and ISO at an optimal level. Unfortunately, it might lead to having some of your subjects out of focus.
Shutter speed that’s too slow:
A slow shutter speed is also a good solution to dealing with low-light. The problem is if you have shaky hands or an unstabilised camera, this may lead to a blurry photo.
ISO that is too high:
High ISO is nice only if have a top-of-the-line DSLR that can handle it. And for phones and compact cameras? Forget about it. In fact, even some DSLR entry level cameras have a hard time with high ISO.
Now that we know all the problems we’re facing, let’s learn how to deal with them.
For DSLR Users
Use the built-in flash (or your external flash) with a diffuser
This is the option that will cost you the least amount of time and money. As I mentioned in a previous article about eBay product shots, a cheap $15 flash diffuser (or equally priced external flash diffuser) may come in handy in a series of situations. Low-light photos are a good example.
Invest in a lens with stabilization
If you already have one, that’s even better. If you don’t – time to get one! On most standard 18-55 lenses with stabilisation, you can hand-hold shutter speeds around 1/60th without a problem. And if you have a really steady hand, you can even go down to 1/30th or less. It’s a good option and it keeps the noise away.
Invest in a prime lens with a wide aperture
While slightly more expensive than the stabilised 18-55, a prime lens is a great solution to this issue. For indoor shots, 24mm and 35mm lenses work best. They can get quite pricey, though. Nikon’s cheapest prime is the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX. Canon’s – the 50mm f/1.8 II. Both are very good lenses for their money and do their job well. As for me, here’s my all-time favorite:
While shooting with a wide aperture may be useful, it might lead back to the problem I mentioned above – subject in front in focus, subject in back – blurred. The least you can do is to close your aperture below the absolute minimum. I find that apertures between f/3.2 and f/2 work best.
And if you’re really serious about getting the shot right – ask your subjects to stand in one line. That way they will both be in focus and you’ll also be able to use wider apertures (f/1.8 or wider) for some good bokeh.
Invest in a body with better performance at higher ISO
Uh-oh. By far, this is your most expensive option. If you already have a pro DSLR that performs well even at high ISO, this is a great option – otherwise, stick with the other three I mentioned above. Most entry-level DSLR bodies start to produce unbearable color noise a little above 1200 ISO. More professional bodies can go to ISO 3200 and even higher without breaking a sweat… or in this case… making any noise? (pun intended)
Your best case scenario would be this:
Your worst case scenario (if you go anywhere around 12800 ISO) – this:
For Point-and-Shoot Users
Use the built-in flash with a diffuser
I would definitely NOT advise you to rely on amazon or eBay here. The only ones available seem to be poorly rated, so get creative and make your own diffuser. Napkins, paper, semi-transparent tape, ping pong balls? I’ve heard it all. Find what’s best for your camera and whip up a quick DIY.
At their best, your images will probably look like this:
Combine a slightly higher ISO and slower shutter speed along with resizing
Have you ever noticed that most professional photographers upload their work resized to a very small resolution? This is done to prevent pixel-peepers from spotting any flaws in the image (blurriness, noise and so on). Even if you’re not a professional, you can do this too. Increase your ISO a tiny bit and decrease the shutter speed the same amount. In full size, people may notice some slight motion blur…
…but resized, it looks pretty good.
For Smartphone Users
Get a smartphone with a wider aperture
Unlike DSLR cameras, phones have small sensors, thus require smaller lenses, thus barely produce a shallow depth of field (bokeh). Here are the current mobile leaders with widest apertures (the lower the f number, the better):
1. HTC One – f/2.0
1. Nokia Lumia 920 – f/2.0
2. Nokia Lumia 900 – f/2.2
2. Galaxy S4 – f/2.2
3. iPhone 5 – f/2.4
3. iPhone 4S – f/2.4
3. Sony Xperia Z – f/2.4
4. Galaxy S3 – f/2.6
4. Sony Xperia Active – f/2.6
If you currently own one of the top smartphones, I have good news for you! Most likely, you’re probably already all set to make photos better than any other phone out there, so just snap away and don’t worry. And if you’re still not happy with the results, keep the resizing trick in mind.
Make a DIY flash diffuser
I have heard of some iPhone cases that feature flash diffusers, which seem pretty good. If you’re not using an iPhone, get creative with any materials you have lying around and find a way to soften your flash. Your images should be identical to ones taken with a point-and-shoot and diffused flash.
Taking photos in low-light is quite the challenge. If you get creative and use everything you have at your disposal, you can take great photos even in complete darkness. Think before you act and I assure you the number of good shots you take will increase.