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How to Capture Great Photos in Low Light

Tips from Resident Photographer Joe Lubushkin

While working with limited light can be tricky at times, it can also offer new creative opportunities. Here are a few low-light photography tips to make the most of your experience with the L16.

Put in the prep work.

When it comes to low lighting, it pays off to plan ahead. Think about where you’re planning to shoot and what tools you’ll need to capture the best scene. We always recommend bringing some kind of tripod—an additional flash or other source of light is up to the photographer.  Sometimes it also helps to scout a location in advance to see when the light is best and how it plays off your subject.

Use a tripod to prevent camera shake. 

When shooting a darker scene, it’s important to set up your Light L16 properly. Since you’ll be using low shutter speeds, you’ll want to attach the L16 to a tripod to minimize blur from camera shake. The L16 has a standard tripod thread at the bottom—just make sure you don’t screw your tripod in too tightly as it could potentially damage the internal hardware.

If you don’t have a tripod handy, make sure you set your L16 on a solid, even surface. I’ve used tabletops, benches, and the ground before.

Even when you’re using a tripod, the motion of pressing the shutter button can sometimes cause camera shake in slower exposures.

Pro tip: Just to be safe, I like to use the L16’s 3-second self timer or the on-screen shutter button.

Experiment in manual mode.

Shooting darker scenes can be difficult in auto mode, so I recommend giving manual mode a shot. Manual mode will give you more creative control over your image and allows you to choose the right shutter speed for your scene. It also gives you the opportunity to take several different captures of the same scene so that you have multiple options in post production.

For those not familiar with manual mode, here’s a quick low-light refresher: A slower shutter speed and a higher ISO make your image brighter, which helps compensate for shooting in dark situations.

I use the L16’s built-in light meter to determine which manual settings will generate a properly exposed image. While adjusting my exposure, I watch the live preview of the camera shift brightness until the scene looks good. You can also switch your meter to touch-to-expose to quickly expose for highlights or shadows. Trying a longer focal length will further help you evaluate the light in different areas of your scene. 

Shooting in manual allows you to set the shutter speed and ISO independently of each other. If I don’t care about achieving a certain shutter speed, I try to keep my ISO as low as possible. This usually helps capture a more detailed, less noisy image.

Pro tip: To minimize oversaturated highlights, try shooting in ISO 200 rather than ISO 100. It may seem counterintuitive, but it often helps when you’re capturing a scene with super bright lights (like traffic lights).

Adjust your settings for different subjects.

When I’m shooting still subjects, like landscapes, at night, I make my shutter speeds longer, and keep my ISO lower. With longer shutter speeds, any movement in your image (cars driving by, trees swaying in the wind, etc.) will be exaggerated and therefore blurred. Whether you want to pursue this style is up to you; some photographers enjoy this silky effect, others don’t.

When I’m shooting moving subjects, like people, in low light, things get a little trickier. Remember, your shutter speed time must be fast enough to freeze the motion. First, determine the slowest shutter speed possible that doesn’t introduce blur. This varies depending on how fast your subject is moving. For example, if you’re trying to photograph your friends dancing at a bar, you’ll want to keep your shutter speed at 1/125th of a second or faster. To compensate for this, you’ll need to do one of two things: raise your ISO significantly (at least ISO 800) to get to a proper exposure or use the L16’s LED flash.

Of course, there are tradeoffs to making these adjustments. Higher ISOs will add more noise, resulting in a “grainier” image. The flash will only illuminate a subject within a certain range (roughly seven feet in front of you). Flash is a great addition to auto mode for stopping action on the fly; in manual, it can be used to create a silky artistic effect.

Push the settings to the max in extreme conditions.

If you’re shooting a scene that’s extremely dark, you may have to push the camera close to its maximum settings to get a properly exposed image. For this type of capture, you’ll want to utilize very slow shutter speeds. The L16 can expose an image for as long as 15 seconds, and can shoot up to ISO 3200. Luckily, the L16s aperture is always wide open (ranging from f/2 to f/2.4 depending on your focal length), which is great for low light. Experiment with different long-exposure times and higher ISOs to figure out what works best for you.

Pro tip: When you shoot with a longer shutter speed, you may notice that the preview screen doesn’t match what you see. (Our screen is 24fps.) You may want to take a couple test shots to make sure your settings are giving you the look you want for your final image.

Set the focus to infinity when shooting the night sky.

When you’re shooting stars at night, remember that the L16’s autofocus doesn't have anything to focus on. Since the L16 doesn’t have manual focus at the moment, it may keep searching for a focal point—or it may focus on the wrong thing. To compensate for this variable focus, try shining a flashlight (or car headlights) on something at least 40 feet away, like a tree, when shooting at a focal length of 28-69mm. (If you’re shooting between 70-150mm, try shining the light on something 160 feet away.) This will put the L16's focus on infinity. Then turn the flashlight off and fire the shutter button. Since the stars are around the same focal plane as the tree or object in focus, they will also be captured in focus.  

Pro tip: Tap the on-screen shutter instead of the physical button when you’re shooting stars. If you accidentally half-press the physical shutter button, it will try to autofocus, and you might have to bring out the flashlight again.

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