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Photographing in low light . . . tough, right?

Photography in low light was a huge challenge for me when I first started out. My photos were dark and grainy and it was just so frustrating. After a lot of research and even more practice, I learned a few tricks I'll share with you today.


1. Bump up your ISO

In the perfect situation, with beautiful light, you will want to keep your ISO as low as you can to eliminate grain but some situations simply require a bump in your ISO. Increasing your ISO will allow more light to hit your camera's sensor increasing the light on your subject. I would start at 800 for testing purposes and adjust up or down from there. Just don't be afraid to go higher. I took photos this weekend in a terribly lit school gym and had to bump my ISO to 1600. The photos turned out great with very little noticeable grain!


2. Lower your Aperture

Your aperture setting tells the camera how much light to allow in to your shot. If you use a wide aperture (small f-stop), you can capture a bit of light for your photo without having to use a flash. The great thing about a lower aperture is how it creates such beautiful bokeh. The lower your f-stop, the more blur in your background (bokeh). Just remember that this is best when you have fewer subjects and they are all at the same depth. Meaning if you have a large group, of say a sports team, and they are posing several rows deep, you will want to bump up your f-stop to make sure everyone in the photo is sharp and clear. Shooting at f2.8 is my favorite but this sporting situation would not create the picture you are hoping for at an f-stop that low.


3. Use a slower Shutter Speed

This one is dangerous so read carefully. A slower shutter speed will result in a longer exposure time. This will allow more light to your subject, however keeping the camera as still as possible is critical. It's so critical to your photo, you'll want to use a tripod or set your camera down on a secure surface and use the built in timer. If you use Nikon like we do, you'll want to use the VR (Vibration Reduction) feature (Canon's is called IS). This all takes a little more time and thought, and some extra equipment but the results are amazing.


4. Buy a "Fast" lens

IF you are in the market for a new lens, you might consider a faster lens. The lens that comes with your camera (kit lenses) are nice but they aren't ideal for low light situations. Getting a "fast" lens will allow you to take better pictures in low light because they have a wide apertures (f1.4, f1.8 or f2.8) and allow more light in. Fast camera lenses can be quite expensive so know that this is not required, only a suggestion if you are already in the market. You can definitely create beautiful photos in low light with your kit lens, it just requires more knowledge and practice.


5. Adjust your White Balance

I typically keep my camera on auto when it comes to white balance. I find that my professional series Nikon DSLR does a really job at capturing colors accurately. However, I find that on occasion, adjusting the white balance in my camera helps my pictures find the right "white" and helps my pictures from looking washed out, orange, blue or yellow. I find this most often when shooting inside with fluorescent lights. Most cameras will allow you to adjust this in the camera before your photo shoot. Many will have common settings you can choose from (auto, fluorescent, cloudy, sunny, etc.). The more advanced cameras will have a place where you can adjust the Kelvin to the exact temperature desired.


6. Shoot in RAW

If your camera allows it, always shoot in RAW. You will have so many more editing options. You'll be amazed and even giddy!

Just remember RAW image can only be tweaked so much and trying to edit a shot from a terribly low light situation is tough. Getting a good picture to start with is always best so learn steps 1-5 first. But shooting in RAW will definitely give you an edge when you go to edit your pictures. You can take a good picture and simply make it great.


7. Practice, Practice, Practice!

I read and read and read and read. But I didn't actually start creating great photos until I used that knowledge in the field. When my oldest was a toddler, I used to take her to the park a couple times a week and use her as my model. But I also had a beautiful landscape, lakes, birds, colorful leaves at times and natural light. This was back when I still used a film camera so my decisions were even more important to get right the first time! I would take photos in a few different settings and head straight to the 1-hour photo lab to get them developed. I'd figure out which I liked and which were just horrible, I'd buy another roll and try again. Digital cameras have made this process SO much easier but the concept is the same.

It takes a great deal of trial and error. Just remember the more mistakes you make, the more you learn what to do and what not to do. In no time, you'll be creating beautiful pictures!

Now, grab your camera and go shoot!

Post some of your photos or questions below. We'd love to help you start creating great memories.

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