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Low Light Tips

Low-light photography is all about trade-offs. No matter how high-end and expensive your camera, low light still presents a challenge. The main problems are un-intentional "blurring" due to low shutter speeds and under-exposed images due to lack of light (or over-exposed and washed out colour due to use of the flash). The bigger the zoom on your camera, the greater the challenge in low light. Here are some ways to deal with the challenges of low-light photography. These tips also apply to problems with blurry photos in any lighting conditions.

Use a Camera Tripod

Shooting in low light generally means shooting at slower shutter speeds. For sharp results, use a camera support. A tripod is the best camera support, but anything that helps steady the camera—a monopod, edge of a chair, a handy wall or tree branch, etc.—will give you sharper photos of stationary subjects.

Use the Camera's Scene Modes

Many digital cameras come with scene modes such as "night scene", "night portrait" and "fireworks" or similar. These settings automatically lower the shutter speed, adjust the ISO up and increase the aperture. Read your manual and experiment. With "city lights" you can use a tripod and very slow shutter speeds - and a lot of variations. With "night portrait" your flash comes into play, and using the old-fashioned through-the-camera viewfinder (rather than LCD) can also be handy.

Use your Camera Flash

Use your inbuilt flash for "night portrait" situations. Know the limitations of your flash - usually a range of a couple of metres. With a flash unit that swivels, you can bounce the light off walls and ceilings to get more natural lighting effects on your subjects (and avoid the "stunned mullet" look of your subjects). If you can, avoid shooting under fluoro lights as everything ends up with a green cast (or check your white balance settings to offset fluoro lights).

Use a Camera with Image Stabilisation

If you use a camera with a large zoom (eg 10X-50X), a built-in image-stabilisation system is very helpful. Using such a camera will let you get sharp hand-held shots 2–3 shutter speeds slower than is possible with conventional lenses of the same focal length.

Check your Photos as you go

The great advantage of digital is that you can playback your photos and re-take if they are no good. It sounds obvious, check for blurry photos, as no amount of photo editing can fix this. Adjust what you are doing, insist on more light in the room so you can increase your shutter speed, ask your subjects to "hold/smile", and steady your hand on a support.

Increase the ISO setting (if your camera allows)

This will allow you to shoot at higher shutter speeds, reducing the effects of blurring. The ISO 400 setting lets you shoot two shutter speeds faster than you could at ISO 100 setting.

Adjust your Shutter Speed (if your camera allows)

Lower the shutter speed in low light at the same time as avoiding any blurring. Read your manual and experiment.

Bracket Exposures

Many cameras have built-in automatic exposure bracketing, which makes this very easy to do, but it's not all that difficult to do manually, either. And if you've gone digital, you don't even have to pay extra for those extra frames. Dim lighting and contrast lighting can fool an in-camera exposure meter, and low-light shooting encompasses both. To be safe, it's a good idea to bracket exposures: Take one shot at the exposure you think is correct, and then shoot additional frames, giving more and less exposure.

Photo Editing

You may be able to rescue shots that appear too light or too dark using Photo Editing Software (for example, by adjusting light, contrast, and saturation) and you can also correct any "red eye" in photos taken using a flash.