Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Photography: How to get good low light shots - without using a flash

For some of you this might sounds pretty obvious, but for others it can be rather hard! Have you found yourself taking shots during the late night and they all came out blurry? Well hopefully what i share below will help you.

Whats the worst nightmare for any type of photography? Yes its low light or having no light at all, when the a image is captured by the sensor its capture the light that is reflected on the objects which is then bounced back in all directions (to a certain extent) and thus rendering an image in the sensor (could go a bit more in depth here, but that would be physics and not my strongest side).

We all now that the option to save a low light situation is by using some sort of artificial lighting, a flash for example or a anything else in theory would work (but lets be honest here, the flash works the best). But there are just those moments when you cannot use this flash, because you don't want to disturb your subject, or distract or you just not allowed to use a flash!

Its essential to understand a bit of light here, pretty much the basics will do which are. Look at the shadows and you will know that the light is coming from that opposite direction, pretty obvious but its good to be reminded at some times.

The best way to beat low light situations is a combinations of high ISO and a very very big aperture (small f-number). But wait a minute, doesn't higher ISO give my image noise? Yes it does, this is downside to using higher ISO's. Depending on what camera you have the ISO performance is going to be different. Some cameras have less noise then others when it comes to higher ISO. I wont be going above ISO 400 on my camera, there will just be too much noise in my image. But there is a a problem to solve this, to a certain extent. There are "noise" reduction plug-in's for software such as photoshop that can be obtained and they do a pretty decent job at correcting the noise. Which ones do i recommend? I haven't used all the decreasing nosie softwares out there, but i have had experience "Noise Ninja" and "Neat Image" and i can recommend both they both work the best out of the ones i have used, i m currently using "Neat Image".

But ISO isn't all that is going to affect your shutter speed (that pretty much what you want, a fast shutter speed so you can capture the action with minimal blur) there is also aperture which i have covered in a previous post. Changing your aperture will also affect the shutter speed of your camera (if your using aperture priority mode) but it will also increase the amount of light that the camera will take in during a certain period of time. Now I know that most of the lenses with a big wide aperture cost alot of money and are very bulky! But there is a cheap alternative out there as well, and those are often the prime lenses (lenses with just one focal length). The 50mm f/1.8 both from Cannon and Nikon are the best quality lenses you will get for the money you pay for them. I recently picked up the 50mm F/1.8 from Nikon at just $120, which is a is cheap, it cost me less then a "normal" pair of jeans cost her in Sweden.

What you want to do in those low light situation is your not using flash is:
-Crank up the ISO (choose a value of 400-800, depending on what camera your using, i know that the D300 works great at higher ISO for example) Learn your ISO see how much noise you get at each number.
-Shoot RAW, if you can. This will render better results when using the anti noise programs
-Use aperture-priority with the lowest f-stop possible, in my case it would been f/1.8
-Just in case your still have a pretty slow shutter speed, try to turn down the EV a bit, this will give you a faster shutter speed and then later on you can increase it in photoshop with some very very good results.

Some examples photographs, taken at higher ISO, just to show what can be done:

photo by: Andreas Helke
Camera: 350D Cannon
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 800
Shutter Speed: 1/250

photo by: midorisyu
Camera: Nikon D40x
Aperture: f/1.4
ISO: 800

photo by: jb17kx
Camera: Nikon D40
Aperture: f/2
ISO: 800
Shutter Speed: 1/100


Jake said...

Alex, the thing I notice with your samples is they all have FAST shutter speeds, I can hold about 1/8th is, Perfectly comfortable with 1/15th an faster though, so yeah.

My camera HAS HORRIBLE noise problems.

Alexander Blacker said...

Well jake its not about holding really if you want to freeze the action! A shutter speed of 1/8 will give you blurred results as your subjects will move during that time frame, i can hold at 1/6 which is ok for some night photography when shooting still things but i was more looking into this post as a people shot so to speak!

But you dont have a DSLR thats why, hehe