What is Low Light in Photography?

What is Low Light in Photography?

As a photographer, one of your biggest enemies is light or the lack of it more likely. A dark scene can sometimes make a stunning photograph although you’ll have to really work for it in limited light conditions. To understand how to take some of the most amazing night-time snaps, you need to understand what exactly low light is. Shooting in low light means making a choice between the noise of a high ISO setting, and the blur of a slower shutter speed.

Most of the time, a noisy or sharp image is better than a blurry one. DSLR cameras are perfect for capturing low light scenes because of the large sensors and potential to add a good quality low light lens. Having the right camera for the job is only half of the equation, having the know how to use the technology is the other half. These two obviously go hand in hand to produce the best low light images possible.


With some pre-planning, low light photography becomes much easier. Take note of what kind of light there will be and what time will be best to take the photo? Sunsets are the most obvious option for a low light photograph with a warm glow. A tripod, flash, and your fastest lens are your biggest friends when doing low light photography.

Some photos will even be impossible without the help of these tools so make sure you plan ahead and pack what you need. It might help to bring an extra flashlight so that you are not left fumbling around in your camera bag in the dark when you are trying to be professional.

What ISO to use in low Light?

The ISO setting on your camera controls the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Other types of exposure controls are shutter speed and lens aperture. Films with lower ISO numbers are referred to as slow or less sensitive to light while higher ISO numbers are faster and more light sensitive. Therefore, if you find yourself in a low light situation, you should increase the ISO. Doubling the ISO number immediately doubles its sensitivity to light.

ISO 200 film needs half the light to take the same picture as ISO 100 film. In other words, you would capture a low light scene with a shutter speed of 1/15 seconds with ISO 1oo film and 1/60 seconds with ISO 400. This incredible capability literally means the difference between getting a blurry mess and a decent sharp photo.

You can control the sensitivity of your digital camera’s light sensor in a way that mimics the experience of loading different speed films into your camera. Most digital cameras use an ISO rating between 64 and 200 of which the most common is ISO 100. In order to get more sensitivity out of your camera, you only have to select a higher ISO from the camera’s menu. Most digital cameras offer 100, 200, and 400 ISO values although some do go to 3200 which is much higher.

What Is the Best Aperture For low Light?

The aperture is the hole through which light passes through your lens. The wider the hole, the more light is let in. The smaller the hole, the less light can enter. Funny enough, the wider the aperture is, the lower the F-number will be. An effective prime lens with a maximum aperture of f1/8 is commonly referred to as a fast lens because it allows you to take photos at faster shutter speeds.

If you want to take a well-exposed photo in a low light situation, you will need a lens with a wide enough aperture to let more light in.  A wide aperture will produce a shallow depth of field after which you will need to narrow your aperture, increase the ISO or slow down your shutter speed.

When you are taking a photo of a group of people in a low light area be careful about how wide your aperture is or you will end up with half of the group is out of focus. It might be a good idea to use your flash at this stage.

As a rule of thumb, the average person can take a sharp focused, blur free image by setting the speed to a fraction of the focal length. To take a photo at 30mm you would set the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. Anything slower than this will result in motion blur.

What Is The Best F-Stop for low Light?

When you are in a low light situation, your camera’s lens opening needs to be wide enough to allow as much light in as possible. The size of the lens opening is known as the aperture or focal length.
The aperture is measured in f stop values which are written as f numbers in slash notation. Common f stops include f/8, f/11, and f/16. The larger the number in the f-stop, the smaller the aperture will be.

This means that an f/22 opening is much smaller than an f/4. For low-light conditions, you want to use smaller f-stop numbers such as f4 instead of larger numbers. Some wide maximum aperture lenses go as low as f1.4 and f/2.o which is perfect for continual low light photography.

The wider the lens opening, the smaller the portion of the image will be that is in focus. This is known as the depth of field of a photograph. Depth of fieldwork is fine if you have a single subject but the moment you move to a group photo, you might find that one or more of your subjects are blurry or out of focus.


Photography in low light situations is possible as long as you plan ahead. Having the correct equipment on hand is just as important as having the knowledge of the technology needed to take a proper low light photograph. It might seem like a whole lot of confusing words and numbers but once you get the hang of it you will be able to take amazing photos in any kind of light situation.

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