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Tips to Improve Low-Light Photography

Yes, it is actually possible to improve low-light photography without losing your mind. Here's how...

If there's one thing that always seems like such a shame, it's how beautiful some low-light scenes can be and how hard it can be to capture them on film. As a photographer, it almost feels criminal that so many great nighttime shots get missed simply because the lighting isn't strong enough to pick up on camera. 

Thankfully, there is some good news for those who want to get better club shots or nighttime shots. The following tips can help you improve low-light photography, even if you aren't a professional. 

Crank up your ISO as high as possible.

The easiest way to improve low-light photography is to let your camera do the work for you. With a DSLR, this means cranking up your ISO setting to upwards of 800 or so. 

High ISOs will help you capture a lot more detail and get closer to the natural appearance of low-light situations. That being said, a very high ISO setting can add unwanted noise to your photo—so go high, but not too high. 

If you're shooting in low light because you want to have city lights, stars, or light painting in your photo, do NOT turn up the ISO. Rather, keep it low, so that the lights that are in your shot give a stark contrast. 

Only use flash if you're shooting indoors.

Believe it or not, the only time that using flash will improve low-light photography is when you're indoors. You might not even want to use it then, either. In most situations, using flash will just bring a certain starkness to the film that may wash out certain features. 

If you do choose to use a flash, make sure that it's not a flash that's part of your camera. That being said, using flash for nightclub shots is basically a must. 

If you choose to use flash, consider using a reflector, too.

The reflector can help even out the lighting from flash. This creates a softer appearance behind a dark backdrop—or at the very least, helps add a better glow to your photos. 

If the original flash is too much for your shot, shooting from behind a reflector can help you get the middle-level of lighting you want. Or, you could just use a light diffuser box. Either way, it's doable. 

Slow down your shutter speed.

Another easy way to improve low-light photography is to slow down your shutter speed. The longer it takes your shutter to close, the more light is let in, which in turn, means better lighting in your pictures. 

There's a certain optimal shutter speed for every kind of photography. Here's the scoop...

  • Light painting, sky lights, and city lightscapes all tend to do best with long exposure shots. We strongly suggest using a tripod with this kind of photography. 
  • Indoor lighting and action shots require relatively fast speeds. This may mean that you'll need to drop it to no slower than 1/60. 

Getting the right shutter speed is a great way to make your photos look like they came from the most followed photographers of Instagram

If you're looking to shoot razor sharp photographs, this tip might not work out for you. Longer exposures mean that you will have a lot of details and blurring as part of the pic. 

Use a tripod for your long-exposure shots.

A tripod is going to end up being your best friend when you're doing a lot of low-light photos. If you're looking to improve low-light photography when it comes to light conditions that come with cityscapes, sky, or light painting, this is the way to do it. 

Long exposure shots mean that you have to prevent any movement that could make your camera shake. This means you will need to get a stabilizer or a tripod to make your camera as steady as possible. 

Don't be afraid to add a little light in post-processing.

Thanks to programs like Photoshop, it's very easy to add a little light using  a filter or two. Most articles discussing photo editing for beginners can show you how to do this without actually wrecking the photo that you're doing.

It's true Photoshop can do wonders—but only within reason. Trying to get your photos to look amazing and sharp when you shot in pitch dark with terrible settings will probably not yield a great look. 

Open up your aperture.

If your brand-spanking new to photography, then you will need to learn how to improve low-light photography using your camera's aperture. It's an easy way to make sure you get the shot you want. 

Your camera's aperture is the setting that controls the opening of the lens and controls how much light gets taken in by your camera. Small apertures are great for bright lights, while larger apertures are ideal for low light shooting. 

Don't be afraid to experiment.

Part of learning how to improve low-light photography is giving yourself the greenlight to experiment. Each kind of low light photography is going to have its own perks and pitfalls. What works for one shot will not always work for others. So, experiment. 

Use street lighting to your advantage.

Looking to do street photography? Then we have some good news for you. You won't need to do too much to improve low-light photography in big cities. You can take very dramatic photos by having models posing underneath street lights. 

Don't be afraid to use street lights to your advantage. You'd be surprised at how good the lighting can be. 

Work with your camera's overexposure compensation gear.

Most DSLRs now have exposure compensation as part of their outfit. This is designed to help prevent overexposed photos, but the truth is, it can also help you get better lighting for underexposed photos too. 

If you dial the exposure compensation to the positive side, you will purposefully add more exposure to your shots. The end effect is a quick way to improve low-light photography without expensive equipment or extra noise. 

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