Every photographer has encountered situations where there was not enough natural light, usually indoors or at night. And even experienced photographers can find low light shooting a challenge. However, there are several techniques and tools that you can use to handle low light situations and get quality photos.
Using wide aperture lenses or prime lenses
Wide aperture lenses such as those with a fixed aperture of F/2.8 will allow you to deal with most low light situations. While these lenses tend to be more expensive, (usually costing between $1000-$2500) they are good investment for professional photographers who need to shoot in various conditions. These lenses are very useful for concert photography and other instances where flash is not allowed.
At a concert where flash might disrupt the performers, and where too many flashes going off will result in bad pictures anyway, using these type of lenses are ideal. The fixed aperture throughout the entire zoom range means that unlike kit lenses with a variable aperture, your pictures will be consistent in terms of lighting. Variable aperture lenses mean that as you zoom you could lose up to two stops or more of light in an image, or be forced to adjust your other settings to compensate. This can diminish the overall quality of the image and introduce unwanted noise or possibly camera shake.
In some situations you may not need a zoom lens, and can adjust by simply change the physical distance between yourself and your subject. In these instances, a prime lens (sometimes referred to as a fixed focal length lens) can be a great asset at an affordable price. Prime lenses can cost between $100-$800 depending on their focal length and aperture. The more affordable options have an aperture of F1.8 while the more expensive options have an aperture of F/1.4 or even F/1.2. These lenses are great for portraiture and are often a favorite of wedding photographers. What these lenses lack versatility, they make up for in quality and in overall savings.
Using speed lights and strobe lights
Speed lights, commonly referred to as flashes or camera flashes, are one of the easiest and most affordable ways to overcome low light situations in your photography. Used mostly by event photographers and wedding photographers , Camera flashes allow photographer to introduce a new source of light and dark surroundings. But since this light source is artificial, it can sometimes affect the realism of a shot while improving the overall image quality. There are many techniques that photographers use to deal with this, but ultimately they typically sculpt the light to suit their needs and their visual style.
Many photographers have taken to using multiple flashes with remote triggers in order to create the lighting they want and also illuminate subjects without introducing harsh light and stark shadows to their images. This allows the advantages of a strobe light set up but in a more convenient and mobile format. Speed lights from brands like Nikon and Canon tend to cost between $75-$500.
Strobe lights are the powerful flashes that you see professional studio photographers use. While there are situations where these lights can be made portable, for the most part they are more suited to a studio set up due to the amount of power they consume and their overall size. These lights are used for fashion, corporate, and commercial photography. Strobe light set ups can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on what your needs are and your brand preference.
Adjusting your camera settings for low light situations
Even without additional components, your camera is capable of taking photos in low light situations. As a photographer you have to bear in mind what your cameras capabilities are, particularly when dealing with the ISO and whether the camera can use higher ISO without introducing an unacceptable level of noise to your image. Typically, higher end cameras such as the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5D Mark III can handle higher ISO ranges than their entry-level counterparts.
Entry-level DSLR cameras tend to introduce noticeable noise when the ISO range goes beyond 1600. Mid-grade or better DSLR cameras usually do not introduce this kind of noise until you go beyond ISO 3200-6400. If you've ever wondered why some photographers spend big money on high-end cameras, this is one of the reasons. Being able to take quality pictures in low light situations, and take advantage of shooting at higher shutter speeds while bumping up the ISO makes an expensive camera worth the steep price.
Adjusting your ISO higher in order to increase the sensitivity of the camera to light is not the only way to compensate in low light situations. By adjusting the shutter speed and making it slower, you allow more light in through the lens. However, this does have the side effect of making the image potentially blurry due to camera shake in your hands. But the risk of blur can be overcome by using a tripod and a remote, a mono pod or by using good handheld techniques to reduce camera shake.
A final tip for shooting in low light situations is to shoot in camera raw. The advantage of shooting in camera raw when dealing with low light situations is that you will have more flexibility to recover data in the image when you're doing your photo processing. You'll also have an easier time of adjusting things like the exposure and the contrast to make sure the image is well lit. Shooting in JPEG is going to make this more difficult and introduce unwanted noise into your image when processing.
Photographers don't need to be scared of the dark. Use these techniques—and your own best judgment—and you'll be able to get stunning photos in low light situations, just as you would in daylight. Don't be afraid to experiment and see what works best for you!
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