There still quite a stretch of dark, winter nights in front of us before Spring is here and though you may feel that you have to wait until those glorious, light filled days are here again to get beautiful photos, you certainly don’t! And, I’m not talking about breaking out your flash, or only going out during daylight, I want you to embrace the darkness this February!
Lowlight photography can produce gorgeous, dramatic images, its a lot of fun and its not as hard as you’d think! You need to take into consideration the light that you have available or create a desirable lighting situation (sometimes this can be done as simply as letting in some hallway light into a bedroom or even using an iPad!).
Hallway light with door ajar
How do I expose the image? This is the bit thats a little scary! We’ll talk about ISO first. Many people advise to avoid setting their ISO values to such high numbers for fear of ‘grainy’ images. You’ll probably have been told to use your flash to avoid this. And while this is true, by adding a flash and shooting at a lower ISO level, because you’ve now introduced another light source, you’ll change the scene that you’re trying to capture!
Photography is about preserving moments, you’ll want the photo to look like the scene! For example, if you’re trying to capture your baby sleeping, lit only by the night light, you’ll WANT the photo to be dark!
Now, lets talk about your aperture and shutter speed. You’re going to need to shoot at a wide aperture so you’ll need a fast lens (i.e. a Prime say for example Nikkor 50mm f/1.4) and the bravery to shoot above ISO 1600! Of course, shooting in the dark, even with ISO cranked way and your aperture wide open, your shutter speed is going to be slow to let that that available light in. Test your limits, but as long as your subject is not moving too much, you should be able to capture a crisp image at 1/50 or even 1/25. If you can’t keep your camera steady, you could always use a tripod!
Don’t be afraid to experiment. If I can, I tend to expose to the right (ETTR), slightly over exposing, then I can bring exposure down in post processing. By doing this I’m getting as much information as I can into the RAW file. You can always bring the exposure down without loosing information, brightening an underexposed image will result in lots of grain/noise (and not the kind that looks cool!), but again, this is just me!
There is ALWAYS available natural light! Stuck inside on a dark rainy day? Your window is still a source of light – just ensure your subject is positioned correctly – use those shadows to create an emotive image.
The same applies to shooting outdoors with minimal light sources. Ever tried shooting at twilight? The very last light of the day can be used to create stunning silhouette portraits using the backlight! Expose for the sky behind your subject and voila!
Or how about in a darkened, wooded area? Search out pockets of light to create drama and beauty!
I honestly feel that the use of flash would have ruined all of the above images. Turn off your flash, crank up those ISO’s and photograph reality!