Get the Right Equipment
First of all, it’s best to wear an all white T-shirt. That gives you white balance, especially when you’re taking pictures in closed spaces or taking portraits. Your flash will hit your shirt and illuminate the subject in front of you. It will not only give you even lighting, but it will also save you the bother of creating your own white balance. Of course, you need a camera with at least two extra pairs of batteries and don’t forget your tripod! In addition, it’s best to go for a remote shutter release or a self-timer, because when you’re using long shutter speeds, you could shake the camera and end up with blurred images.
Low light photography can be quite exciting! On the other hand, your images could end up looking a bit surreal. By that, I mean the artificial look that comes in varying colors like tungsten, halogen and fluorescent. The best way to give your pictures a realistic setting is to keep tweaking your white balance. Trial and error is the only way to minimize the damage caused by those artificial color casts.
Aperture is Everything
The larger the aperture, the faster your shutter speed will be. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor becomes to light and vice versa. And that brings us right to the essence of low light photography: longer exposure times. To increase your exposure times (longer shutter speeds), you will need to decrease the aperture. The smaller the aperture, the longer the exposure times become and the more depth of field your images will have.
Start by setting the ISO to 100 and the aperture to about f22 or smaller. Depending on the light conditions, shoot three images at about five seconds, 10 seconds and 20 seconds. That usually gives you a good starting point to work from. Often times, you’re looking at shooting closer to 20 seconds or even longer, depending on the lighting. In very low light conditions, use the bulb setting on your camera. It allows you to keep the shutter open longer than the camera allows with its pre-set settings (usually about 30 seconds). While in the bulb mode, if you connect a shutter release cable, you can keep the shutter open even longer. If you’re using a remote control, press once to open the shutter and once more to close it. Just remember that the longer the exposure time is, the more digital noise you’re likely to get, especially in the darker areas of your picture. Try shooting at sunset when there’s still a small amount of light. Capture water moving back and forth over rocks with an exposure of about 10 seconds for some interesting results. Experiment with different white balance settings for even more interesting shots!
What to Shoot
You can shoot just about anything! From buildings to lights, signs, bridges, vehicles, houses, pubs, shops, people, street lighting, fireworks, bonfires, amusement parks and pool reflections, the possibilities are endless!
How to Calculate Exposures
Use your exposures as an indicative way of doing low light photography. Also, you need to remember to tweak the settings, depending on the circumstances and the subject. Assuming a shutter speed of f16 and an ISO of 100, that is how you could set your exposures. For example, town/city (20 seconds), signs/lights (2 seconds), streets (20 seconds), churches (30 seconds), fairgrounds (10 to 15 seconds), candlelight (60 seconds), fireworks (1 to 60 seconds) and so on.
This works beautifully in low light photography. Try over exposing and under exposing a photo. When you do that, you will get the precise shot in between the two extremes to get the photo you’re looking for. For example, bright lights warrant you to underexpose. If you take an image of a scene at a four second exposure, take the same scene with eight seconds and two seconds. That way, you will likely get the exposure you’re looking for!
Practice Makes Perfect
Low light photography is all about creativity and how you make the most of the available light. It could even be capturing trails of light that follow moving vehicles, people, signs, etc. The best thing to do is a lot of trial and error. That way, you could end up taking more than just one interesting picture of a landmark, person or thing. There’s nothing like practice, patience and perseverance to get the best results!
Now, get out there, turn off the lights and start shooting!
~ Zahid H. Javali