Newsroom experts

Low-light photography tips: Let light do the work for you

Guest post by Steve Davis (@StevieDeepD), photo editor, The Register-Mail me

As we approach autumn and the beautiful fall colors, we also have less sunlight to work with. Today’s modern DSLR cameras allow for low-light photography that was unheard of even just a few years ago. You don’t need to have the latest and most expensive gear to get good shots.

Here at The Register-Mail, we avoid flash, instead shooting all photos in available light. I use Canon DSLRs, lenses, my iPhone and GoPro cameras.  DSLRs will provide the best quality due to the size of the camera’s sensor, but cell phone cameras are quickly catching up.

LETTING LIGHT DO THE WORK FOR YOU

I try my best to let what light is available do the work for me. Such is the case with this photo from a candlelight vigil. Rather than try to illuminate the entire scene, I allowed the candles to light the faces of the attendees.

Friends bow their heads at a candlelight vigil for Isaiah "Boofer" Stevenson on Saturday night at Kiwanis Park. More than 100 friends and family gathered at the skate park to honor Stevenson, who died early Thursday morning as a result of an accidental gunshot.
Friends bow their heads at a candlelight vigil for Isaiah “Boofer” Stevenson on Saturday night at Kiwanis Park. More than 100 friends and family gathered at the skate park to honor Stevenson, who died early Thursday morning as a result of an accidental gunshot. STEVE DAVIS/The Register-Mail

I set my camera to a high ISO, or “film speed,” used the smallest aperture available to me (f2.8) and tried to hold the camera as still as possible. If your lens has a Vibration Reduction switch, you definitely want to turn it on, as this can dramatically help with handheld situations. I don’t use tripods or monopods (other than at outdoor sports), as I want to be as unobtrusive as possible.

SETTING THE MOOD WITH SILHOUETTES

Another technique I’ll use when it’s dark is to look for a silhouette, or maybe a shadow. I expose for the light in the background, in this case flashing lights from a fire truck. Again, I’m letting the light do the work for me. In this case, even though the firefighters are working at 11 p.m., we can plainly see what they’re doing. The bright colors also help tell the story.

Firefighters from the Williamsfield Fire Protection District and the Knoxville Fire Department battle a house fire in the 1800 block of US150E near Dahinda on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. STEVE DAVIS/The Register-Mail
Firefighters from the Williamsfield Fire Protection District and the Knoxville Fire Department battle a house fire in the 1800 block of US150E near Dahinda on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. STEVE DAVIS/The Register-Mail

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Football played under the Friday night lights are another time when we’re forced to use available light. When I shoot football I do use a monopod, as it allows me to keep the camera steady and avoid shakiness. I set my ISO, or “film speed,” to a high setting (6400) and set my lens aperture to its lowest setting (f2.8). This allows me to get a shutter speed that will “freeze” the action.

Galesburg's Ben Holloway stiff arm's a Manual defender as he breaks away from the pack for a big gain the Streaks' 61-26 route of the Rams Friday night at Van Dyke Field. STEVE DAVIS/The Register-Mail
Galesburg’s Ben Holloway stiff arm’s a Manual defender as he breaks away from the pack for a big gain the Streaks’ 61-26 route of the Rams Friday night at Van Dyke Field. STEVE DAVIS/The Register-Mail

MORE LOW-LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

  1. Shoot in Manual mode. This gives you total control over your camera.
  2. Use a high ISO.
  3. Use the lowest aperture setting available.
  4. Lower your shutter speed to where you can hand hold the camera and still get a clean shot.
  5. If your lens has a vibration reduction switch, make sure it’s on.
  6. Try to keep your upper torso as steady as possible. Any shake will be seen in your photo.
  7. Think outside the box… many times a seemingly impossible situation can be overcome with creative thinking (silhouettes, shadows, etc.)
  8. Experiment. Practice your hand-held technique. Shoot a TON of pics.  Get to know your camera’s abilities and limitations.
(Visited 405 times, 2 visits today)
Previous post

5 resume tips for journalists

Next post

As government records move from paper to email to channels like Slack, how should FOIA keep up?