What Camera Settings to Use in Low Light?

What Camera Settings to Use in Low Light?

There are many major differences between indoor and outdoor photography but ultimately they are governed by one single thing. Lighting, which as a photographer, can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Camera technology has developed to a stage where you can take a proper photo in any kind of light conditions. In order to take a good photo in low light you need to understand the basics of shooting in low light conditions. Here are some quick tips to use when capturing in low light conditions.

  • Shine a light on your subject and auto focus on that. Turn your light and auto focus off and take the picture.
  • Choose a higher ISO. Turn up the ISO as much as you need without worrying too much about the noise.
  • When using a flash, allow the light to bounce off of a wall or any other object available. This will help to reduce any hard shadows on your subject.
  • Motion blur can be an interesting effect so don’t be afraid to experiment with a moving subject or a longer exposure time.
  • Hand held shots should be no slower than 1/60th of a second. Slower than this and you have to use a tripod to reduce blur. If your lens has image stabilisation, turn it on.
  • An interesting fact is that if you aim your camera at the North Star, the star will appear to spiral.

Always put your camera in aperture mode. This will ensure that you have control over the available options. Larger apertures let in more light and higher ISO settings will result in some extra noise which can be fixed with post processing. The longer your shutter is open, the more light will enter. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. The best way to figure out what the best settings are is to play around with them.

How Can I get Sharp Photos in Low Light?

If your camera has a high speed burst setting then now would be a good time to turn it on. You will have a much better chance of nailing a sharp picture within a fast burst of images captured in a few fractions of a second than if you try using a single frame shot. There are two types of image stabilization namely, digital which is what you will find in most point and shoot cameras and optical which you will find in more advanced digital cameras.

Depending on the make of your camera, image stabilisation will allow you to hold the camera using shutter speeds three to five times slower than normal. Digital IS decreases blur due to camera shake at lower shutter speeds by carefully measuring the direction and rate of movement of the camera. Optical stabilisation is the better option for capturing sharp photographs.

When setting up your new camera, always check your IS functionality when shooting on a tripod. You may or may not have to turn off the IS mode in order not to damage the system. HDR imaging is a process in which a series of two or more still photographs are captured in rapid sequence, sampled for sharpness and detail in highlight, shadow and mid-tones and then combined into a single optimized image file.

What Settings to use for Indoor Photography without a Flash?

Use natural light when setting up. Window light is a beautiful example of natural light and can serve as a soft box which can be manipulated using curtains or blinds. Place your subject nearby the window and the let the light create the portraits drama. Household lamps are also a great option for indoor lighting effects. Remove the shades off of a lamp and use them as bare bulb light sources. Position the main light in front and to one side of your subject preferably several inches higher than their head.

A second light can be placed farther back from the subject to serve as a backlight. Your camera settings should be a balance of the highest ISO possible and which still provides acceptable noise levels. Use the widest possible aperture your lens will allow and the fastest possible shutter speed. Most DSLR cameras are capable of low noise even when using high ISO speeds.

This means that most room lighting and even low natural light will not be a problem. Shutter speed is an important consideration because of its affect on overall exposure and potential blur with lower speed. You might find an occasional blurry image makes a rather artistic statement. Not every portrait need to be razor sharp.

What Shutter Speed to use in low Light?

Blurry images happen because of the cameras shutter speed. If the shutter speed is too low, you will get camera shake or motion blur from moving subject. To avoid camera shake, you should always try to shoot using faster shutter speeds. If you are photographing a subject with a wide angle lens between 10-24mm you might be able to use shutter speeds under 1/50th of a second depending on how you hold your camera.

If you are using a telephoto lens longer than 100mm you should use the reciprocal rule to calculate your optimal shutter speed. Due to the fact that it is humanly impossible to be absolutely still at any given time, the movements made by our bodies can cause camera shake and make images blur.  The reciprocal rule is that the shutter speed of your camera should be at least the reciprocal of the effective focal length of the lens.

There are three levels of low light.

  • Visible. In daylight when you are in shadow areas behind buildings or under trees.
  • Low Light. After sunset, when you can still clearly see everything around you but you can tell that darkness is on its way. When you are indoors as well.
  • Dark. At night, when you can only see the brightest objects.


It is possible to take good photos in all kinds of lighting conditions. The trick is to find the right settings and just to play around a bit. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you will be surprised what kind of effects you can achieve when you start to play around with the settings on your camera. There is no right or wrong way as long as you stick to the basics and just have fun.

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