Low Light Photography Tips

October 26, 2020  •  1 Comment

I love low light photography.  I also really love negative space photography.  I love shooting in such a way to capture the essence of the room and not just what your camera settings on auto will get you.  Auto setting is not really your friend.  If you've ever craved shooting photos where your blacks are creamy without grain and your subjects in light are crisp then this is the post for you.


This photo was shot at ISO 3200 1/30 f/1.4 with exposure compensation brought to a -.67.  I usually shoot darker to keep my color tones rich.  I left it even though there wasn't any light besides the iPads. 




I shoot with a Nikon Z7 and a Nikon Gold Series 35mm.  I love creamy black colors and rich tones.  I want to make sure they are as close to real life as possible.  I love the classic look of this type of edit.  In order to keep your black as grain free as possible, try to keep your ISO as low as possible.  Instead of cranking it up to a way comfortable level, try shooing with it lower and then gradually raising it depending on your light.  For example, I shoot some of my first test shots as a 1000 ISO and kept moving up until I was happy with the results.  Take a shot, review it and then shoot more.  Sometimes, it's difficult to tell if you like the look of your shot until it's in your computer and you're working on it in Photoshop.  That's why I suggest shooting the same shot in a number of different exposure settings until you figure out what you like.  I then slowed my shutter speed to compensate for my lower ISO.  I want no grain anywhere.  I hate grain.  Some people like the look of it but I find it massively distracting in my work.


For this image, the settings were the same as the one above but my perspective changed.  I was standing on top of the bed right above my girls.  The light from their iPads were casting weird shadows on their faces and I wanted to keep that.  Normally, that would have driven me nuts, but this particular shot I wanted this.





Know how to shoot in manual.  This shot was shot in manual.  Normally I shoot in aperture priority mode so I can control my depth of field quickly for sessions.  This works well for me but I know how to shoot in manual well.  I wanted as much light as possible in this shot so I set my aperture at f/1.4 which is what I usually shoot in anyway.  That one didn't move.  But my shutter speed was still set at what I shoot in studio with my lights at 1/160.  I brought that down to a 1/30.  This worked well because my girls weren't moving.  Had they been moving I would have had to move my ISO up to be able to freeze the frame with a faster shutter speed. 




This shot was slightly different.  We had 15 inches of snow that fell in one day here in Wyoming today and my daughter was wanting to play in the snow.  But after a full day of carving pumpkins, snuggling, warming by the fire and drinking hot chocolate, it was dark by the time she wanted to play outside.  We turned the bistro lights on and the floodlight and let her play out in the dark. 


This one was shot at ISO 3200, f/1.4 and 1/800 shutter speed.  The light was also pretty yellow so I fixed that in post-processing.  I love the snow falling in the background and had the shutter speed been slower you would see some motion blur with that so I upped that and kept the ISO the same even though it was brighter.  That did cause a tad bit of grain so that was also fixed in post.  I shoot raw which makes fixing things like this a breeze with Adobe Bridge's raw converter. 


These are two different examples of how to shoot in low light and get the desired effect for different looks.  Just remember that a slower shutter speed means you will see motion blur and to compensate for that with a higher ISO if your subject is moving.  The best way to master low light photography is to get out there and try it.  Try shooting with TONS of negative space like the first image, especially if this isn't your style.  Try something new and see if you love it!  Use shadows and light to add interest to your shots like in the second photo.  Practice like crazy and shoot even when you feel completely uninspired.  Something will come along to light that spark in you again!




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