Top Tips for Low-Light Photography: Shooting with a Camera

Top Tips for Low-Light Photography_ Shooting with a Camera -- The Riverside Library

Previously on Low-Light Photography Tips:

Just because it’s the dead of winter, doesn’t mean your photography time should decrease. If you’re constantly posting on Instagram to engage with your followers and grow your account, a reduced amount of photography time can be a real pain. Since the beginning of winter a few weeks ago, I’ve been trawling the internet for tips and tricks to beat that cold, dim winter light. Now, it’s time to share what I’ve learnt (I’ll do my best to be correct, but I might be wrong about a few things, forgive me).
I’ll be dividing this guide into four posts, the first is about general tips and tricks for taking photos in low-light the second (this one) talks about taking photos with a DSLR, mirrorless or other cameras with manual shooting capabilities. The third post will talk about using a phone or point and shoot camera and finally, the last post will cover editing for cold light.

Using a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

This is definitely my most recommended tip and trick for dealing with low/cold lighting. I use a Canon EOS M3, one of the mirrorless cameras in Canon’s range which I absolutely love and would definitely recommend to everyone. Mirrorless cameras are great, they’re smaller than DSLRs but have very similar (if not the same) abilities. Of course, there are things I dislike about my camera, but that’s a story for another day (or not, but let me know if you want a review of my M3).The best way to combat low light is to use manual mode – but don’t freak out, it’s not hard! When using a camera on manual shooting mode, there are a few settings to play around with to ensure the most amount of light is coming through your lens. The key three are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.The most obvious is, perhaps, ISO. But that’s the one we want to leave until the very end because high ISO can compromise the quality of your image.

A Crash Course in Aperture

If you’re not familiar with camera terms (I’m not super familiar, all I know about photography is from a two-hour lecture I eavesdropped on when I was at the public library one day), aperture refers to the hole that the light travels through. Aperture is usually denoted with f/# (# being a number, not a hashtag). My lens’ aperture spans from a f/3.5 to f/22. I used f/3.5 when I want particular objects to be focussed, and other objects to be blurred, so most of my Instagram photos are taken with this kind of aperture (you’d think it called a low aperture because the number is low, but apparently, it’s a wide aperture – physics is weird). Conversely, I’d use a narrow aperture like f/22 to capture a landscape.Taken with f/22 – note the lack of blurred background or foreground. The entire image is in focus.

Aperture in low light

This is where the good news comes in – a wide aperture like f/3.5, which I use for most of my Instagram shots, lets in more light than a narrow aperture. Good news because you’ll likely be using that setting in a low light situation anyway.

Let’s talk about Shutter Speed/ Exposure time

The next aspect of the camera we’ll talk about is shutter speed. If you’re finding that your wide aperture just isn’t letting in enough light, or you don’t want to use something as wide as f/3.5, you can adjust your shutter speed to let in more light. It took me such a long time to figure out where my shutter speed adjustment was on my M3. I should have read the manual, but that would have been easy, and I like to do everything the difficult way.If you have an M3, the shutter speed adjustment is the dial that surrounds the shutter button (I just guessed the name for that, I’ll have you know – and it was right.) The placement of the shutter speed on the shutter button kind of really makes sense now that I think about it. It’s not just the placement of the shutter speed dial that makes sense either, the way that the shutter speed impacts the photo is very logical also – the longer the shutter, the more light that gets in. Therefore, in low light, you’d want a low speed. However, the slower the shutter speed, the more room for blurring because of hand movement. If you’re going to have a super slow shutter speed (slower than about 1/60 usually), you’ll need a tripod to avoid camera shake.On your camera, shutter speed will be displayed in seconds and fractions of seconds – the slowest shutter speed on my M3 is 30 seconds, the quickest is 1/4000th of a second (it also has bulb mode for super long exposure).

Now, ISO.

Play around with aperture and shutter speed before you adjust your ISO. I usually have my ISO set on auto, only taking it off auto if my camera can’t figure out what it’s doing, and then I’ll try not to go past 400, but I’ll go up to 640 at a push. Sure, I’ve taken photos on ISO 1000, even 2000 and my M3 has made them look as decent as my iPhone SE, but that’s not really what I want. The problem with high ISO is that it decreases the clarity of your photo, often making pictures look grainy.

There we go!

That’s everything I’ve picked up on my trawling of the internet for tips and tricks using a camera with manual shooting capabilities in low light. Next up we’ll talk about using phone cameras and point-and-shoots!Happy snapping!

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Mikaela is an illustrator, writer and editor based in QLD, Australia. She's been writing novels for eleven years and editing for six. You can often find her with a coffee by the beach, pondering existentialism and the psychology of writing. She has a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and takes pride in her paradoxical nature. She's also very much like a cat.

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