How to Take Photographs in Low Light

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Light is the most fundamental aspect of all photography. When you capture any image, what you are actually capturing is the light reflecting off your subject and its surroundings. So when you are taking pictures in low lighting conditions, such as at night or in an unlit room, it can be difficult to achieve satisfactory results. However it is not impossible, and with a little knowledge and practice you can make the most of the light available to you.


Using the flash on your digital camera to introduce more light to the scene artificially is the most obvious way to solve the problem of low lighting. However, flash photography has many drawbacks.

When it comes to taking pictures of people or animals, using a flash can spoil your shot by distracting the subject or causing them to blink. There’s also the age-oldproblem of ‘red eye’, which although with a digital camera can be eliminated during processing using photographic software, can ruin an otherwise excellent portraitshot.

A flash can also lead to a shot that looks artificial as it will tend to illuminate closer objects while making backgrounds and other elements look dull. On top of this, many built-in flashes concentrate light onto the centre of the image, leading to ‘flash fall-off’ at the edges of the image and a lack of contrast around the edges of the picture.

With a standard point-and-shoot digital camera it can be difficult to take good photos using the built-in flash. But if you have a digital SLR camera you can use an adjustable external flash gun to bounce the light off walls, ceilings or other surfaces to create a more natural lighting effect. A handy tip is to cover the flash with tracing paper, which will also help to diffuse the light and give a more natural result.

Use a big lens

The amount of light entering the camera through the lens is also a crucial factor. If you’ve got a digital SLR camera you can improve image quality in low-light conditions by using a bigger lens. The size of the lens determines the maximum aperture opening (measured in f-stops), and consequently the amount of light that enters the camera.

When it comes to lenses, the lower the f-stop number the larger the aperture, so when purchasing a bigger lens for low light photography go for one with a low aperture number, such as f1.4.

Exmor Cmos sensor

night shots require steady hands

The key to getting a crisper image in low conditions is increasing the amount of light getting to the image sensor inside the camera. With a standard digital camera the sensitivity of the sensor is limited as a result of the network of tiny wires running across it. This means that the image has to be electronically boosted, inevitably resulting in digital ‘noise’ that spoils the overall quality of the picture.

The Sony Exmor Cmos sensor has solved this problem by placing these wires behind the sensor, allowing more light into the sensor naturally. This means that the image does not need to be artificially boosted to such a high degree, resulting in low light photos with significantly reduced picture noise, even on a point-and-shoot digital camera.

Play with the ISO settings

higher ISO means more noise

Finally, you can play around with the settings on your camera and see what works best with the light available. You can change how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light by altering the ISO setting. A higher setting, such as 800 or even 1600, will pickup more light, but it will also increase the amount of image noise.

You can also use a lower shutter speed to keep the aperture open for longer and allow more light in, but to reduce motion blur you will need to use a tripod (this is especially true if you’re shooting HDR). This method is also not effective for capturing moving subjects. If you are not comfortable playing around with these settings on your camera, then it’s best to switch them to auto and take your chances.

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