Low light photography is the most fundamental area of photography that we, as photographers, must understand and master. It is, without exception, the very first stumbling block that every beginning photographer faces when they start their photography journey.
Do you know the most common question that frustrated beginners ask when dealing with low light situations?
“Why are my photos blurry?”
The answer is simple: a lack of light.
I learned this lesson very early. My grandfather was an amazing photographer and taught me this very important lesson by taking me outside to photograph on a sunny day. All my photos turned out incredibly sharp. I thought that was it—that I had mastered photography. But when I took my camera indoors and finished the roll of film, I did not capture one decent shot. All of the photos were soft at best and mostly blurry. From that moment, it was a long journey for me to understand and conquer photography in low light circumstances.
The goal of photography, regardless of the genre, is to capture light in an interesting and creative way. Even the word “photography” is translated from Greek as “drawing with light.” Light is like paint for your photographs. When there is not enough paint, it is difficult to complete the picture.
The modern camera is a powerful computer and, when the scene has an abundance of light, the camera does a great job of capturing photos even in fully automatic mode. But in low light conditions, the camera’s computer often becomes useless since it cannot detect the photographer’s intentions for the scene. Do you want to freeze the motion, or do you want to create an artistic motion blur? Things like this are entirely up to the photographer so you must learn how to direct the camera to follow your creative vision instead of its predefined algorithms.
When you start growing your photography library, you will realize that the most interesting photographs that you are proud to show off are typically taken in difficult, low light situations.
Low Light Photography Scenarios
Let me give you a few scenarios of low light photography.
- Astrophotography – Astrophotography is the most obvious and the most extreme example. You stand in complete darkness and point the camera up toward the dark sky.
- Sunrises and Sunsets – Sunrises and sunsets are crucial for landscape photography. 90% of the most successful landscape photos are taken during a period of time when low light conditions are the most critical factor of success.
- Wedding and Event Photography—Shooting indoors in low light environment is never easy but when you add moving people (dancing, performing, etc.) to the equation, it becomes even more challenging.
- Concert Photography—You typically shoot concerts in complete darkness and are rarely allowed to use flash.
- Family Gatherings—Some of the most basic photography scenarios like holidays and family gatherings are taken in
darkenvironments. Capturing your family’s special event requires you to understand the basics of dealing with a lack of light.
The goal of this section on my site is to help you take control of the various aspects of photography in challenging light situations. The section begins with camera and lens selection and then moves into shooting techniques and approaches to editing.
Low Light Photography Tutorials & Guides
How to Take Pictures of Stars: A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography
The How to Take Pictures of Stars Guide is the product of collaboration between Kevin Choi from CapturetheMoment.pics and Viktor Elizarov from PhotoTraces.com. At some point in the photography journey, every photographer entertains the possibility of getting into astrophotography. But, for many beginners, it is a scary proposition because of two major misconceptions. Misconception One The equipment for astrophotography is prohibitively expensive and, as a result, is out of reach for most beginners and hobbyists. This was true even five to seven years ago…
How to Select the Best Lens for Astrophotography
This is the second article in my miniseries dedicated to helping photographers put together the right astrophotography kit. In the first article, we dove deep into camera selection and determined that full frame cameras always outperform cameras with smaller sensors. But, at the same time, it is undisputed that APS-C and even Micro 4/3 cameras can now be used successfully in extremely low light conditions. We also identified the best astrophotography cameras in three categories –…
How to Choose the Best Camera for Astrophotography
This article is the part of miniseries devoted to the topic of astrophotography. If you are looking for the best lenses for photographing night sky, you can find my recommendations here. If we look a few years back, astrophotography was prohibitively expensive. It required top of the line full frame cameras and lenses that put it out of reach for 99% of photographers. In recent years, progress and innovation in the field of sensor technologies made astrophotography…
Best Low Light Cameras (Comparison Chart)
Before we can list the best low light cameras on the market today, let’s first see why low light performance is so important in modern photography. The word “photography” is made of two Greek words: “phōtos” and “graphé.” Phōtos means “light” and graphé means “drawing.” Photography literally means “drawing with light.” As you can see, any given photograph has one main ingredient—light. The way we record that light defines our photos. You probably notice that when you…
Understanding Light in Photography
If you want to learn everything about light in photography, you’ve come to the right place. What is the single most important thing you need to take a photograph? I guess “camera” was the first thing that came to your mind. And yet there are artists out there who create images with photosensitive materials without a camera. So what do they still need? That’s right. They need light. There is no photography without light. And I’ve dedicated…
Low Light Photography Tips for Landscapes, Cityscapes & Portraits
Without light, photography could not exist—neither literally nor figuratively. What do I mean? Literally, the word “photography” combines the Greek words “photo” and “graphia” to mean “drawing with light.” Figuratively, photographers across all genres and skill levels from portrait and landscape photographers to beginners and seasoned professionals chase and attempt to capture light. But here’s the catch or what I like to call the great paradox of photography—an abundance of light does not always produce amazing photographs….