How To Take Low Light Photos Without A Flash
There are a number of reasons why you may need to take photographs in a low-light situation. One of the biggest situations is wedding photography as there a number of churches that do not allow flash photography during the ceremony.
Low-light photography requires a sensitive camera, a high-quality lens, and a little bit of patience. Below are a couple of suggestions for equipment that can make the process easier.
- DSLR cameras that are sensitive enough for low-light photography generally fall within the semi-professional line. These for Nikon are the D300 and the D700. For Canon, the semi-professional line includes the 7D and the 5D. You can expect to pay between $2,000.00 and $3,000.00 for these camera bodies alone.
- The best lenses for this type of photography are medium-range portrait lenses that have a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. One such lens is Canon’s 85mm f/1.2 L ($2,200.00 on bhphotovideo.com), which is fast enough to shoot in near darkness with very little trouble.
- A tripod is a good idea when shooting in low light without a flash because shutter speeds are usually slower.
While having the right equipment will help you succeed in taking low light digital photographs, you will also need to have a starting point for settings, which we go over next.
- The suggested maximum aperture above was selected for a reason. A lens that is not capable of having a wide aperture will hinder your ability to take acceptable photos in low light. An aperture of f/2.0 should allow you to handle most situations and the better quality of the glass will make photography at smaller apertures more productive as well.
- ISO plays a key point in taking pictures in low light as long as your camera can handle higher sensitivity levels. This is the reason that I recommended the semi-professional cameras above. Each of these cameras has been tested to provide acceptable images at ISO settings reaching 6400.
- Shutter speeds in low light photography are usually much slower than you would use with a flash. Having a higher ISO and a larger Aperture allow you to speed up the shutter speed. Keep in mind that just because you can see in low light does not mean that your camera can.
Using the equipment and settings that I suggested above, you should have not have any trouble taking low light photographs of acceptable quality. Like with any new shooting style, I recommend testing your settings and your camera’s capability prior to doing anything that you would consider important. Failing to do so can result in unusable images that you may not have the opportunity to capture again.
How To Take Pictures In The Dark
Night photography has always had a special following of photographers. The best part of night photography is the versatility.
You have the opportunity to take pictures of everything that you would photograph during the day except for sunsets/sunrises. Although you cannot photograph the sun at night, you are awarded the benefit of photographing the moon and stars.
The equipment and techniques for digital photography at night is a bit different depending on what you are photographing.
The biggest problem people run into is believing they HAVE to slow down their shutter speed, turn up the ISO, and use a shallow depth of field to compensate for the lack of light. While that is the case in some instances, it is not a cure-all technique for every situation.
For example, when you photograph a full moon, if you follow the above belief, you will get a large white ball of light instead of a detailed image of the moon. Let us take a moment to look at the equipment we can use at night.
- Depending on your situation, an entry-level DSLR will provide acceptable results when photographing at night. As long as your camera is rated for acceptable noise levels at ISO3200-6400, you will be ready for almost anything.
- However, if you were anything like I am when it comes to photography; I would not take on night photography without anything less than a semi-professional DSLR. These cameras are the Canon 50D-60D and the Nikon D300s-D700.
- Lenses are a large investment that is best made slowly over time. While you may not feel you need a lens that can achieve f-stop levels of f/2, once you have used a lens like this, you will never want to use anything less. These lenses are very expensive but are well worth the extra cost and open your photographic possibilities exponentially. At night, these lenses give you the greatest versatility whether you are photographing people, action, or galaxies.
- Telescopes find their way into the photographic world at night and allows the photographer to see objects that have been previously outside their reach. I would love to recommend a specific telescope but astronomy has never been a strong point of mine. I can tell you that you will need an adapter to connect your camera to the telescope. Most telescopes attach to a DSLR via a T-mount. There are various mounts available for astrophotography as well, but the important part is to find the right mount for both the camera, and the telescope.
- Speedlights are needed when photographing specific objects at night. We have covered Speedlights in numerous other topics and while you can use an off-brand Speedlight; I would only use a name brand Speedlight when doing night photography.
Other equipment you should consider is a tripod, a remote shutter release, and a flashlight. I have discussed these pieces of equipment in many of the other articles on this site as well.
Numerous techniques and skills can be used when doing night photography but most have recently been covered in-depth during other articles. These techniques include “dragging the shutter,” “portraiture lighting,” and “long exposure.” One technique that was not discussed yet is how to photograph bright objects at night. We will look at that technique now:
Photographing bright objects:
- Bright objects at night will often become over-exposed because our camera is telling us the overall scene is too dark. It is counter-intuitive to think of speeding up your camera when it is dark outside, but a bright object, typically one that is well lit, can be just as bright as it would be during the day.
- We can play the trial and error game while attempting to see if our settings are right, or we can turn to one of the cameras settings that we have not talked about yet, metering. This setting is coupled with the white-balance button on Canon DSLR’s but I am not sure exactly where to find it on other cameras.
- An alternate way to find the meter setting is through the menu dialogue, but reading your camera’s manual will help you to find the corresponding button. There are several ways to meter your scene.
- The one we want to use is called “spot” metering. Spot metering allows us to pick a specific area and have the brightness of that area read by the camera. We can then pick the right settings to have our subject exposed properly.
With the above equipment and the techniques we have been compiling over the span of these articles, you should have no problem venturing out at night and capturing great photos.