Low Light Photography: Expert Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


There's a certain magic to photography under the stars, or in the soft glow of a candlelit room. Yet, dealing with low light conditions can be a challenging adventure, even for seasoned photographers. Fear not, because this blog is your handy guide, filled with expert tips to help you master the art of low light photography.

Use a Tripod for Stability

When you're photographing in low light, stability is your best friend. This is where our trusty sidekick, the tripod, comes into play. Here's why:

  • Reduced Camera Shake: A slight tremble of your hand can result in a blurred shot. A tripod keeps your camera steady, ensuring your photos come out sharp, no matter how long the exposure.
  • Longer Exposures: Dealing with low light conditions often means you'll need longer exposure times. A tripod allows you to keep your camera still for extended periods — something that's near impossible to achieve by hand.
  • Consistent Framing: Want to take a series of shots with the same frame? A tripod helps you maintain the same camera position over time, perfect for creating time-lapse sequences or panoramic shots.

While it might feel like an extra piece of equipment to lug around, a tripod is a lifesaver when dealing with low light conditions. Even a basic model can make a world of difference to your low light photography. So, next time you're heading out for a night photography session, make sure your tripod tags along!

Adjust your ISO Settings

When you're dealing with low light conditions, one of your camera's features becomes a key player: ISO. It's like your camera's sensitivity control. Here's why adjusting your ISO settings can be a game-changer:

  • Brighter Images: A higher ISO setting makes your camera's sensor more sensitive to light. This means you can create brighter images, even when the light is scarce.
  • Faster Shutter Speed: A higher ISO allows for faster shutter speeds. This can help you capture moving subjects without blur, a common challenge in low light photography.
  • Better Details: By increasing your ISO, you can capture more details in low light. This is especially helpful when you want to showcase textures or patterns that might otherwise be lost in the darkness.

But remember, cranking up the ISO also increases the risk of digital noise — those pesky grainy spots that can appear in your photos. So, it's all about finding the right balance. Start by increasing your ISO bit by bit, and check the results. With a bit of practice, you'll find the sweet spot that gives you bright, clear images when you're dealing with low light conditions.

So, don't be shy. Adjust your ISO settings, and let your camera see in the dark!

Shoot in RAW Format

When dealing with low light conditions, shooting in RAW format is like having a secret weapon in your photography arsenal. But why?

  • Maximum Details: Unlike JPEGs, RAW files capture all the data from your camera's sensor. That means more details, more colors, and more room to tweak and perfect your shot during post-processing.
  • Better Quality: RAW files have a higher bit depth than JPEGs. In simple terms, this means they can store a lot more color information. So, your sunset shots will have smoother, more vibrant gradients instead of banding or posterization.
  • White Balance Control: Ever taken a photo in low light and ended up with a weird color cast? With a RAW file, you can adjust the white balance to your heart's content, without degrading image quality. You're in control.

Yes, RAW files are bigger and require a bit more work in post-processing. But when you're dealing with low light conditions, they offer a level of flexibility and control that's hard to beat. So, give RAW a shot. You might be surprised at the difference it can make!

Utilize Long Exposure

Imagine you're in a dimly lit cityscape, dealing with low light conditions. You want to capture the nightlife, but your photos are turning out too dark. The solution? Use long exposure.

What's long exposure, you ask? I'm glad you brought that up! It's a photography technique where you set your camera to a slow shutter speed. This lets your camera's sensor capture more light over a longer period of time. The result? Brighter, more detailed photos, even in low light.

  • Smooth Water Effects: Ever seen those silky smooth waterfalls or serene lake photos? That's the magic of long exposure. By capturing moving water over time, long exposure can create a smooth, tranquil effect.
  • Light Trails: Another cool effect of long exposure is the ability to capture light trails. With a slow shutter speed, you can turn passing cars into streaks of light, adding motion and energy to your low light cityscapes.
  • Star Trails: If you're into astrophotography, long exposure lets you capture stunning star trails as the earth rotates. Just make sure you're far away from city lights!

Remember, dealing with low light conditions doesn't have to be a struggle. With long exposure, you can turn the darkness into your creative playground. So, go ahead and experiment with those shutter speeds. Your photos will thank you!

Experiment with White Balance

Alright, let's talk about another super handy trick when dealing with low light conditions: experimenting with white balance. You might be thinking, "White balance? That's just for correcting color, right?" Well, yes and no. Let's dive into this a little deeper.

White balance doesn't just correct color—it also affects the overall mood of your photograph. When you're shooting in low light, your camera's Auto White Balance might render images colder or warmer than you'd like. But here's the good news: you have the power to change that.

  • Setting a warmer tone: Say you're shooting a sunset, but the colors seem a little dull. By manually adjusting your white balance towards a warmer setting (like 'Shade' or 'Cloudy'), you can enhance those oranges and reds, giving your sunset that extra pop.
  • Creating a cooler atmosphere: On the flip side, if you're shooting a night scene and want to emphasize the cool, quiet feel of the night, try moving your white balance towards a cooler setting (like 'Tungsten' or 'Fluorescent'). This will give your photo a blue tint, adding to the serene nighttime vibe.

So, don't be shy—play around with your white balance settings. You might be surprised at what a difference it can make when dealing with low light conditions. Remember, photography is as much about capturing light as it is about capturing a feeling. So, go forth and experiment. Your white balance is your secret weapon to creating mood and atmosphere in your low light photos.

Use a Fast Lens

Now, let's move onto another tool in your arsenal when dealing with low light conditions: a fast lens. You might ask, "What makes a lens 'fast'?" Well, it's all about the aperture.

The aperture of a lens is like the pupil of your eye—it controls the amount of light that enters the camera. A fast lens has a large maximum aperture, which lets in more light. This can be incredibly helpful when you're shooting in low light conditions.

Fast lenses usually have an f-stop number of f/2.8 or lower. The lower the number, the wider the aperture, and the more light the lens can let in. This makes fast lenses perfect for low light photography, as they can help you avoid grainy photos and camera shake.

But that's not all. Fast lenses also offer another advantage: a shallow depth of field. This means that the subject of your photo will be in sharp focus, while the background will be beautifully blurred. This can help your subject stand out, even in low light conditions.

So, next time you're out shooting in low light, consider using a fast lens. Whether it's a 50mm f/1.8 (often referred to as the "Nifty Fifty") or a 24-70mm f/2.8, a fast lens can be a game-changer for your low light photography.

Capture Light Trails

Another great technique for dealing with low light conditions is capturing light trails. You've probably seen these types of photos before — they're the ones where headlight or taillight trails streak across the image, creating a lively and dynamic scene. It might seem complicated, but it's quite easy once you get the hang of it.

First, you'll need to find a location with moving lights. Think busy roads, amusement parks, or cityscapes. Then, set your camera on a tripod to ensure stability. You're going to be using slow shutter speeds, so any camera movement can make your photo blurry.

Next, set your camera to a low ISO and a small aperture, something like f/16 or f/22. This way, you'll limit the light entering the camera, promoting those awesome light streaks, while keeping the entire scene in focus.

Then, set your shutter speed. Start with a few seconds and adjust as necessary. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the light trails will be. Experiment and see what works best for your scene.

Finally, use a remote shutter release or your camera's self-timer to take the photo without touching the camera, minimizing the chances of camera shake.

And there you have it! With some practice, you'll be capturing stunning light trails in no time, adding a whole new level of depth to your low light photography.

Embrace Negative Space

When dealing with low light conditions, it's natural to focus on the light sources in your shot. But the dark, empty areas, also known as negative space, can be just as important. Embracing negative space can make your photos more intriguing and give them a unique mood.

Think of negative space as the "breathing room" around your subject. It helps your subject stand out and can create a strong, compelling composition. So, how can you use this to your advantage when shooting in low light?

First, identify your subject. This is the part of your photo that you want to draw attention to. It could be a person, a building, a tree, or even a single light source.

Next, take a look at the area around your subject. Is there empty, dark space that you can use to highlight your subject? If so, great! If not, you might need to adjust your angle or position.

Now, compose your shot so that the negative space leads the eye towards your subject. Remember, the goal here is to use the darkness to your advantage, making your subject stand out against the dark backdrop.

Lastly, take your shot and check the results. You might need to adjust your settings or composition, and that's okay. The beauty of photography is that you can always take another shot.

So, don't be afraid of the dark. Embrace it! With some practice, you'll find that dealing with low light conditions can open up a whole new world of creative possibilities.

If you're looking to improve your skills in low light photography and want to explore more techniques, check out Caleb Stein's workshop, 'Intro to Photographing at Night.' This workshop offers expert guidance on capturing stunning images in low light conditions and will help you elevate your night photography skills.