7 tips for great low-light shots

PICTURE-PERFECT: To get a beautiful background blur in a night shot, use a fast prime lens at its maximum aperture setting, which helps capture more light.


    Dec 24, 2015

    7 tips for great low-light shots

    TAKING photos of your friends and family at night is challenging but it's possible. Besides the usual techniques like increasing your camera's ISO and shutter speed, there are other simple things you can do to get better shots.

    Here are seven tips to take better photos at night and in low light. For this, I shot with the Canon EOS 760D.


    One of the best times to take "night" photos is just after the sun has gone down and it's not completely dark yet.

    Here are three reasons why:

    The daylight is fading, but there's still some of it, so you can still see your friends and family, as well as the background.

    Outdoor and indoor lights are being switched on, which give you more light to brighten your subjects.

    The lights contrast beautifully against the sky, which isn't a murky black yet.


    When you're shooting at night and in low light, you have to watch where the light is.

    The tip is to find the light, then have your subject face the light. This way, the most important part of your friends and family - their faces - will be lit and not be in shadow.

    They might have to turn sideways to face the light, which is actually a more interesting pose, compared with standing and looking straight at the camera.


    The aperture setting on your camera refers to how large your lens can open up to take a photo. The smaller the number, like f/3.5, the larger the opening and the more light the lens can capture in an instant.

    On many lenses, the largest aperture setting is available only on the widest focal length, when the lens is not zoomed in.

    So, the more you zoom in, the smaller the aperture becomes and the less light can enter the lens.

    To compensate for less light, the camera will do things like lengthen the shutter speed and/or increase the ISO setting.

    Also, the more you zoom in during low-light conditions, the more sensitive the lens is to the camera shaking.

    So, to grab the most light you can in a single image, don't zoom in - walk in. This will help your camera shoot with the widest aperture on your lens and get the most light it can in a single shot.


    One of the fun things about shooting in low light is that you can get scenes with bright and dark contrast. When you see a scene with lighting contrast, don't be afraid to experiment and make use of the dark.

    You can underexpose a shot to make it moodier, by finding the exposure compensation setting and setting it to negative. This means shooting a picture at settings that make it darker than usual.


    How do you know when to use a camera's flash light, and when not to use it?

    Even at night, there's still some light to be found so you may not need flash. But sometimes, the light is just insufficient and you need to use flash.

    Many people don't like to use flash because it casts a harsh light on the subject, and it can make the background look dim.

    But here's how you can get around this:

    Increase ISO and shutter speed. When your subject is lit by flash, the background can look dimmer. The shutter speed could be too fast at 1/60th of a second and the ISO too low at ISO 400 to capture enough light to show the background.

    One way to use flash and have the background show up is to increase the ISO setting, such as to ISO 1600, and lengthen the camera's shutter speed to say 1/40th of a second.

    If the background still looks dark after increasing the ISO, try lengthening the shutter speed. If the background is too dark, lengthen the shutter speed even more.

    If your image is too blurry (from camera shake), make the shutter speed faster.

    But at slower shutter speeds, you have to hold your camera steady, and ask your friends to hold still as you take the photo.

    Use an external flash. If you don't like the look of direct flash, you can invest in an external flash unit which attaches to your camera's hot shoe.

    You can change the direction the external flash faces, and by bouncing the light from it off a surface, like the ceiling, you get diffused light that's softer and not as harsh.

    Attaching a third-party reflector can also help bounce the external flash's light.


    If you want to get better shots in low light, one of the best investments you can make is to get a fast prime lens.

    A lens is considered fast when it can open up to large apertures like f/1.8. The larger the maximum aperture setting, the more light it can capture in a single shot.

    The other advantage in having a fast, wide aperture lens is that when used at the maximum aperture setting, it can produce a beautiful background blur.

    One disadvantage of a prime lens is that the lens doesn't zoom.

    Tip: To get a blurry background, shoot against points of light to create blurry circles. To make the blur even more obvious, have some distance between your subject and the background.


    Here's one fun way to use low-light conditions to your advantage: Pop the flash, lengthen the shutter speed and get a motion blur effect in shots.

    To get this effect, switch to Shutter-priority (TV) mode on the Canon EOS 760D.

    Increase the ISO to ISO 1600 or higher, and lengthen the shutter speed to 1/20th of a second (experiment with different speeds).

    Activate the flash and switch the flash to a second curtain flash via flash control settings. This results in the flash firing at the end of a shot. The subject will appear to be moving forward, with the motion blur appearing behind the subject.

    Move the camera as you're shooting the picture. Your friend can move too, as long as your camera moves along with him.

    If the motion blur effect isn't blurry enough, lengthen the shutter speed. If the effect is too blurry, make the shutter speed faster.

    Try different hand speeds when moving the camera and try different ways of moving; turn your camera like a steering wheel, pan from left to right or from top to bottom.

    Even though you're moving the camera, make sure the focus is locked on your subject before you take the shot.