How to Take Higher Quality Low Light Digital Photos

So, you have your digital camera and you don't have to worry about the prohibitive cost of paying for film while you learn it. You get a lot of freedom that you didn't get with a film camera. One of the distinct advantages of digital, is that you can try a shot and if it doesn't work, you know pretty quickly. One aspect that is kind of difficult to grasp 'just like that' is low light or natural light photography. Hopefully, this wiki will 'enlighten' you.


  1. 1
    Be sure that you have the equipment that you will need.
    • Stable platform (e.g. tripod)
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    • Fairly fast lens - A fast lens will have a 'wide open' aperture of 1.8 or 2.8. Because it is counter-intuitive, consider it as a fraction. An aperture of F22 would be 1/22 which is a small number and would be a small opening. An aperture of F1.8 would be 1/1.8 and would be wide open and a larger opening.
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    • The ability to increase your ISO to a fairly high level (e.g. 1600 or more)
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      • Note: You don't necessarily have to have all three to get a great shot, but they each have a contribution to make.
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    Determine the best times to do outside low light photography. Early morning and evening are the best times. If doing it when it is completely dark, you will need to have some way of lighting the scene.
    • The last half hour before sunrise or after sunset if taking outside pictures are the best times for those.
  3. 3
    Decide where you will be taking your shots, what you have and what you might need, to ensure a good quality shot. Different types of shots are:
    • Star trails
      • Any star trail photography will take from several minutes to several hours, depending on what you want, where you are, and what type of equipment you are using.[1]
    • Having a digital camera does not preclude you from being able to do 'astrophotography'.[2]
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    • Look into finding tutorials addressing the type of camera that you have, (e.g. this one is a Canon article.
    • Light trails (traffic and light painting)
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    • With light trails, you can take the often times, ugly, light pollution and do something creative with it at night using long exposures.
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    • Take your camera out of full manual mode and start experimenting with shutter speeds.[3]
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    • Cave photography is not for the faint of heart. Not only are you dealing with very closed in spaces, but those closed in spaces are pretty dark! If you are not an experienced caver, do not go into a cave alone. Even if you are, be sure to bring someone along for safety.
    • Christmas pictures taken by the light of the tree
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    • Late night athletic events
    • Evening birthday parties
    • Sunrise or sunset is a great time to get beautiful pictures.
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  4. 4
    Start experimenting and find a 'basic shot' that works for you and expand from there. Once you have reached a certain comfort level and skill level, try something else.
    • Start with a low ISO (100, 200, whatever your camera might allow, an aperture of about F20 (pretty small) and shoot for a few seconds, using the 'Bulb' feature.
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    • Start with a higher ISO, open up your aperture a bit, and shorten the time.
    • Depending on your camera, find a way to hold open the shutter. You might have to use a remote to start and finish it, a cable release, or computer software. But all, long exposure shots will have to have a tripod. Most, if not all, businesses, and most especially computer/digital items, have an Internet presence these days. Find their website and see if you can find any information on your particular type of camera. Also, to get increased exposure time, you will need to decrease your aperture (F20 or higher). You will get greater depth of field and more exposure time.[4] Try doing this at several times of exposure using whatever method your camera manufacturer suggests.
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    Experiment with your manual settings. The freedom that a digital camera has, that a regular film camera doesn't have, is the ability to get immediate feedback on the shot that worked, so you can know if you are using the wrong method. This gives you the freedom to use the various manual settings on your camera. You can go completely manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority.
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    Really dig into your camera's functions. One of the things that photographers like to use is, exposure bracketing. Your camera will shoot three photos of the same shot, one with more, and one with less than the programmed exposure.
  7. 7
    Experiment with different types and viewpoints of light.
    • Front lighting ("in the eye")
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    • Back lighting ("in the lens")
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    • Side lighting
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  • Some professionals state the 'Holy Trinity of Photography' to be 'focus, composition, and exposure'. In a nutshell, that is what all photography is about.
  • Other professionals say that three things are required: Light, composition and subject. The light equates to exposure, and the focus would be the subject.

Article Info

Categories: Digital Photography