Low Light Photography Tips


I want to share a few tips on low light photography as I really enjoy this aspect of photography.

With the nights currently drawing in, it’s an ideal time of year to try photographing low light scenes. Low light photography involves longer exposures so you must be extra mindful of that curse of all images – softness through camera shake.

Ypres cloth hall at dusk low light photo technique tutorial

Ypres Cloth Hall at dusk

So what gear and techniques will you need when going out for this style of photo?
What is one of the biggest contributors to a photographer’s disappointment when reviewing a day’s shooting? Camera not good enough? Lenses not good enough? No, it’s because you forgot to plan.

You read a blog about so and so technique, so you quickly grab your bag and shoot out of the door to knock a few shots off. You get back home a couple of hours later full of anticipation – and you find the results are not what you expected?

As you review the images one by one, you see flashes of an ‘almost’ moment. You get the odd keeper but overall you think hmm, I could have done better. Well, you probably should have done better. Remember – plan, plan, plan.

As you review the images one by one, you see flashes of an ‘almost’ moment

Planning

The evening light doesn’t last long so if you don’t know where you are going and what you are shooting before you leave, the only guarantee I can give you is that you are going to be disappointed.

Because the evening light doesn’t last long you want to have your photographic scenes clear in your head before you set out. The last thing you want is to have a picture perfect opportunity missed because you couldn’t get your kit set up in time.

Key things to consider

This may seem simple but you need to know where you are going. There’s no point driving around aimlessly hoping to come across somewhere that fits the bill. I have now got in the habit of mentally making notes of places and scenes I see for future reference.

I also recently started using Evernote to jot down places and ideas as my memory isn’t what it once was. Evernote is a useful phone app that integrates with a desktop application. I might do an overview of it in the future as I find it really useful for all sorts of things.

What am I going to shoot?

I like to have an idea of the type of scene I intend to capture. Are you looking for a rural scene somewhere out in the country lit by the last light of the day? Or are you looking for the hustle and bustle of an urban area? Are reflections, office or building lights, light trails or water scenes key to the scene?

A couple of other key factors to think about include

Where can I park (if driving)?

How long will it take to get from your parking spot to the chosen shooting location?

Is there any shelter?

Are there any hazards you must be aware of when walking back if not shooting in a built up area – it will be dark by the time you have finished.

Are there any hazards in a built up area – cars, pedestrians, anxious workers rushing to get home?

Where is the light coming from and how will affect my images?

Ok, that’s more like it – you have a reasonable plan of what you want to shoot and know the location (and how to get there), now lets look at the camera gear you might want to consider taking with you.

Essential Gear

I would say first things first – this time of year (late October early November), it will be cold so wear something warm! Please take reasonable precautions to keep yourself warm. A hat is always handy as most of your body heat gets lost through the top of your head.

take reasonable precautions to keep yourself warm

Gloves are also handy – I have a pair of sharpshooter mittens which are invaluable. If you haven’t seen these before they are a mixture between fingerless gloves and mittens.

There is a mitten part that you peel back to reveal the fingerless gloves. Excellent idea – warmth and dexterity all in one neat package.

Great for keeping your hands warm with the flexibility to allow use of your fingers when needed.

Warmth is also key for maintaining life in your cameras batteries. Battery performance falls off significantly in cold conditions.

Stash any spare batteries for your camera in an inside pocket to keep them warm.

Ok so that’s you sorted for your evening trip out – what camera gear are you going to take with you?

For starters, don’t forget spare batteries and memory cards – basic, but how many times have you been caught out – or is that just me?

Also consider a small pocket torch for when it does get dark. You want to be able to see what you are doing with your kit and it will also help to see your footing if shooting out in the countryside.

Warmth is also key for maintaining life in your batteries. Battery performance falls off significantly in cold conditions

You are going to need a tripod and a camera release cable. Dont have a release cable? Not a problem, you will have to use your cameras built-in self timer. I will cover that shortly when talking about techniques

Techniques

Now you have decided on your location, understand where the light is coming from, have an idea of the type of shot you want to capture and packed the relevant gear here goes with the nitty-gritty.

Set your camera tripod up and secure its footing as firmly as you can. If the ground is soft then don’t forget to use the built-in spikes for that extra bit of stability. A steady, secure platform is essential for mounting your camera on.

Another consideration is to add extra ballast to help steady your tripod.

It’s surprising how much even a moderate wind can translate into camera shake on long exposures.

It doesn’t always look obvious and usually manifests itself as a subtle softness of your photo. If you have never weighed your tripod down and have noticed a slight, unexplained, softness to your longer exposures then give this tip a go and see if it helps.

It’s no good having a nice stable tripod and then ruin your photo by ‘stabbing’ at the shutter button and introducing camera shake as you take your shot.

Basically I hang my camera bag over the tripods central column so it hangs down and provides a bit of extra stability.

Camera bag suspended from tripod to demonstrate extra stability

Hang your bag from the central column for added stability

Now is the time to attach the shutter release cable to your camera. It’s advisable to use a release cable as it allows you to release the camera’s shutter without touching the camera minimises any chance of inducing camera shake.

It’s no good having a nice stable tripod and then ruin your photo by ‘stabbing’ at the shutter button and introducing camera shake as you take your shot.

Shutter release cable attached to Nikon D300 camera

Shutter release cable attached to the camera

It’s surprising how much even a moderate wind can translate into camera shake on long exposures

If you don’t have a release cable then use the cameras self timer feature. 5 seconds is a good choice. This will allow time for any movement to dissipate between pressing the shutter button and the shutter operating.

There are two more tips that can often get overlooked.

Many modern lenses have VR or IS capabilities. These stand for Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilisation. VR and IS are essentially the same thing but marketed as different acronyms depending on the lens manufacturers brand.

It’s a nice bit of technical wizardry to help reduce chances of any camera shake at longer shutter speeds.

Aha I hear you say – it will be ideal for what we are doing then? In short the answer is no.

Without getting into too much detail, the system is designed to stabilise the subtle movements induced when taking longer exposures. The systems do this by controlling tiny movements of an internal lens element to compensate for tiny movements when handheld.

Because you are already shooting from a stabilised platform , there should be no movement of the camera. What you can find though, is that as you take your shot, the system engages as normal but finds no movement to compensate against.

The engagement of the vibration reduction system can be enough to introduce camera shake. Again, it wont be massive and usually manifests itself as an unexplained softness of the image.

So turn your lenses VR OFF.

The last tip to help reduce user introduced camera shake is a mode called Mirror Lock Up. This camera mode separates raising of the cameras mirror and operating the shutter.

Mirror lock up mode shown on Nikon D300 camera

Mirror Up mode selected on a Nikon body

In normal operation mode, when you press the shutter release button, the mirror raises up and the shutter operates fractions of a second afterwards.

Using mirror lock up mode raises the cameras mirror at the first press of the cable release/shutter button. The second press then activates the cameras shutter and captures the picture.

Again, the slight movement caused by the mirror moving can induce a small amount of camera shake. It is good practice to activate the first press to raise the mirror and then wait a few seconds before the second press to take the shot.

As with the self timer, this is to allow any potential movement to dissipate before the shutter is opened.

Each of these factors on their own only usually contribute a small amount of camera movement, but if you consider the combined effect, then you can see there is plenty of potential to introduce camera shake and that dreaded soft image.

Being mindful of the tips above can dramatically help reduce the chances of inadvertently inducing movement that could affect your photos.

I hope you find this overview and choice of tips useful. Please let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my tips.
Perhaps you have some tips I haven’t considered?

the tips above can dramatically help reduce the chances of inadvertently inducing movement that could affect your image

Next time I will go over some of the useful elements that go to making a ‘good’ low light image such as light trails, skies, street/building lights etc.

If you already have a great low light image, have you considered turning it into a great piece of wall art? Drop by my site and see some of the products you could have your image printed on GDMKImages Wall Art Products.

Thanks for reading

Gary

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Low Light Photography Tips

  1. Pingback: Night Photography: How to take great shots at night | pixelogist.me

  2. Pingback: Tips From Very Low On the Totem Pole of Amateur Photography | Mrs. City Boy

Fire away below and let me know what you think ......

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s