How to Photograph in Low Light: Tips for Night Photography Using Available Light

Stormy Sky Purple

Often in night photography it is too dark for reading the explanatory symbols for the controls on the camera’s body. Photographers need to operate their equipment without looking at the controls, instead locating and adjusting them by feel. You even need to be familiar with the locations of the settings of the illuminated menu system, because these can be very different from normal daytime photography, so as to be able to find them in the menus structure, because reading the manual in the dark could be difficult.

Know Your Gear

Cameras have different characteristics, particularly regarding digital noise performance and inbuilt shake reduction. Just because there is a high ISO setting available it does not mean the digital camera will produce useable images. This is often a creative decision for the photographer as to how much noise they find acceptable in each situation. This takes some experimentation with different ISO settings to find the upper ISO setting that limits noise to a comfortable level.

Various camera systems offer shake or vibration reduction systems, either in the camera body or built into the lens. This allows slower shutter speeds without the need for tripods or other supports. Their effectiveness is influenced by how steady individual photographers can hold a camera, so experiment and find the slowest shutter speed that produces sharp pictures with each system.

High ISO

Normally the best image quality comes with low ISO settings as these minimize any digital noise produced in the image making process. In low light photography some noise is almost inevitable and in some situations adds to the mood. Carefully select higher ISO settings to give enough sensitivity to produce the image while balancing the amount of noise. Expect some digital noise in dark areas.

Flash Ruins The Mood And Colors Of Dim Lighting

Particularly in concert photography using electronic flash is either ineffective or overpowers subtle stage lighting designed as an integral part of the performance.

Find the Light

Rather than lament the lack of light in one location, search out spots where the light is good and make the best use of it. Sometimes this means waiting for the subjects to come to the light.

  • Wide Angle Lens: Shorter focal length lenses are often better in night photography as they are not as sensitive to camera shake due to slow shutter speeds as are longer focal length lenses. A photographic rule of thumb is the slowest shutter speed for safe camera handholding is 1/focal length of the lens.
  • Prime Lenses: These lenses often offer wider apertures to let in more light at a reasonable cost. For example, a 50mm f1.4 is a common choice for low light photography as even expensive zooms struggle to go beyond f2.8.

Manual Metering Mode

Auto metering modes are programmed for daylight shooting and attempt to expose for 18% gray and overexpose the shots, low light shots should be dark. Experiment and use the LCD monitor as a rough guide to aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Take a number of shots at different apertures and shutter speeds until you get a feel for how the camera’s LCD screen displays images. It is a guide not a precision exposure meter.

Learn To Hold The Camera

If the camera has an optical viewfinder in then use it in preference to using a live view image on the LCD screen. This is start to holding the camera properly to minimize camera shake at the slower shutter speeds of low light photography. Elbows tucked into the body and camera viewfinder braced by the head is the most stable camera holding technique. Also look for solid objects such as walls fences chairs, and garbage bins help to steady the camera – of course use a tripod if possible.

Flash Contradiction

Sometimes flash is useful in available light photography so long as it is only part of the overall lighting plan, such as highlighting a portion of the scene.

The Fastest Way to Improve Your Photography: Basic Composition

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Understanding the rules of composition can help any photographer with any kind of camera. Although an SLR camera (a camera body with interchangeable lenses) will help one take the most advantage of these tips, even an amateur with a point-and-shoot camera can immediately improve his photography by applying these rules.

First and Foremost – The Rule of Thirds

Understanding the Rule of Thirds is the single most effective way to immediately transform your image capture skills. Using this rule is achieved by mentally dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The points where the lines intersect are called ‘power points.’ Placing the subject at one of these points and placing other areas or secondary subjects in the photo along the dividing lines or along other power points will draw the viewer into the photo and will cause the image to be a much stronger and balanced image.

Using the Rule of Thirds means that the amateur photographer must purposely override his initial tendency to place the subject square in the middle of the photograph. Every once in a while it is ok to center the photograph. But initially it is important to become very familiar with the Rule of Thirds and to use it consistently. After the photographer is comfortable with this concept he can later learn when it is appropriate to actually break the rule.

Fill the Frame

Another useful compositional rule is to make sure and ‘fill the frame’. The first mistake many amateur photographers make with a digital SLR camera is they tend to capture the subject so that it is far too small within the frame. In other words, the subject and the important parts of the image don’t extend to the edges of the photograph. Don’t make this mistake. Use the zoom on the lens to get closer to the subject or even use the built in ‘foot zoom’ – i.e. get up and physically move closer to the subject.

Format – Vertical or Horizontal?

Don’t forget that the camera doesn’t just have to stay in the horizontal position. It can actually turn vertically too. Most new photography enthusiasts whip out the camera and just start shooting. The natural tendency is to shoot horizontally and some new photographers will go years without ever turning their camera to the vertical position.

Some subjects simply require a vertical orientation. Photographing taller subjects or using a wide angle for unusual viewpoints work well within a vertical framework. If in doubt, shoot it both ways. It is a digital world – it never hurts to have more shots of a subject than a photographer thinks he needs.

Simplify the Image

A good photograph should reveal a single subject or idea with as little clutter as possible. If someone has to ask what it is a picture of (unless it is a purposeful abstract) then the image doesn’t work. If the photographer has to defend or explain the image, then the image doesn’t work.

Try to describe in a single sentence what the image is about: “This is a photograph of driftwood on the beach at sunset.” Then begin to eliminate all but the essential visual elements. Is the family walking down the beach the background necessary for the image? Are the random sticks at the edge of the photograph adding to the idea? Probably not. Zoom in or recompose to capture only exactly what is necessary to the image.

One way to isolate subjects is to experiment with different angles of view. This means getting up above or down below the subject. Sometimes shooting from an elevated vantage point will help you eliminate distracting or cluttered backgrounds. If you shoot from below you may be able to isolate subjects against the sky. Also consider using different lens lengths. Zooming in on your subject is an excellent way to reduce clutter.

Look for Lines

Lines are extremely important in a photograph as they can have many uses. If they are interesting enough, they can become a visual topic in themselves: Who could resist the lines of a spider’s web glistening with dew or the soft yet sleek lines of a desert sand dune?

Lines lead the eye into a scene and they are often essential for showing distance and depth in a photograph. Leading lines appear in various ways. Curved lines can lead just as well as a straight line. Just think of a winding country road that draws the eye into the frame. Also look for intersecting lines, converging lines and even implied lines to help draw the viewer into the image.

Guaranteed Success

If a photographer incorporates all of these tips into his image capture process, it is sure to make quite a positive change in his photography. Just remember: What format is best for this image – vertical or horizontal? Are there any leading lines that will help pull the viewer into the image? Is the subject on a power point or one of the dividing lines? Does the subject fill the frame and have all distractions been eliminated?

If a photographer asks himself these questions when composing an image, he is guaranteed to end up with drastically better images.

Landscape Photography: How to avoid Clichés

Lanscape Sunset Photograh
Lanscape Sunset

According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a cliché in the literary sense is a word or phrase whose popularity means its use is often unsuitable and indiscriminate. This relates to photography with the indiscriminate use of certain themes with little thought given to composition. Frequently photographed scenes lose their impact due to their repetition.

This list, far from complete by some people’s definitions, is dependent on the opinion of the viewer. Photographers need to be aware that while a subject may seem fresh and new to them, others may have suffered endless, boring repetitions of sometimes technically perfect, but unimaginative renditions of these subjects. There are many good photographs using these subjects or compositional devices but here they only part of the overall image. Good photographers include a combination of other elements, producing a stunning image not just another photographic cliché.


The failure of many photographers is they rely too much on the natural beauty without considering the compositional implications and possibilities. While some elements are truly outstanding, they are only part of the overall composition. Classic examples are sunsets, – they can be magnificent, breathtaking, and novice photographers strive to capture their glory. Very few sunsets are different enough to stand alone in an image. They do make spectacular backgrounds and provide a lift for a lackluster foreground.

Silhouettes are one option for sunset compositions, providing the resulting shapes are interesting. Another option is to get in early so the foreground is lit by the sunset and objects reflect the reddish light.

Sunrises are rarer as it takes more photographic commitment to rise early while many sunsets are opportunistic snapshots rather than planned photographs.

Dinghy on the Beach

Wooden dinghies on a beach are a foreground favorite to capture sweeping natural vistas and landscape photographers use wide-angle lenses or short focal length. One characteristic of wide-angle lenses is objects appear smaller or further away. This emphasises the foreground leaving it looking bare and empty pushing the large objects of interest into the background in landscape photography. Landscape photographers seek a compositional device of placing an interesting object to fill this space. This is where on beach and water views often it is the old wooden rowing boat near the water’s edge. Then there is the close cousin, the rocks in the sand with water or waves moving around the rocks. The secret is balancing the composition so the foreground objects do not overpower the scene.

The Lonely Tree

This is another overused compositional device where a single tree adds detail to plain landscape. The trees are often the remnant of forest and are therefore old with interesting structure, but not enough to carry the whole image.

Jetty to No Where

This is an attempt to use the leading line technique to add drama and direct the viewer’s eyes through the image. The trap is there is no visual reward for the viewer when they get to the end of the jetty. Another close relation are white picket fences and also gates, porticos, doorways, arched entrances used as framing or leading lines in an image. Leading lines are great way to direct the viewer’s attention in photographic composition, but as with all techniques of photographic composition indiscriminate usage creates a cliché.

What Can We Photograph?

Having demonized just a range of popular subjects just what is the point of taking any more photographs if just about everything is on the cliché list. Of course, these things can still be photographed so long as the photographer finds suitable composition and does not shoot indiscriminately. This

One failure is that photographers use techniques or subjects as crutch thinking that if a great photo uses that same technique then all they have to do is repeat the technique or subject to produce a good photograph. Wrong! Because of the danger of producing yet another photographic cliché even greater care should be taken in thinking through the creation of the image.