Part 1 – Low light photography tips:

A new week, and whole week of this subject of shooting in low light, or night photography. Also this week, we will do a special presentation on taking photos of fireworks. There is a few tricks to shooting fireworks at night, and we will cover that on Thursday this week.

There are so many things to think about when taking low light photos. And I want to give you this one table to read over and study. I found this to be an AMAZING piece of information, in fact, this is set up so that you could cut this out and store it in your camera bag.

This particular article I found was written by : RICHARD SCHNEIDER and posted this originally on PICTURE / CORRECT. I hope you enjoy this.

Low light photography is something that we all must deal with as photographers. Whether you’re taking photos with a point and shoot during an evening out, shooting a wedding party or capturing a landscape at dusk it’s important to understand the basics of shooting with low light. Photography is all about light. Low light photography is no different, and it offers new challenges and opportunities for creativity. Here is a helpful infographic on the subject:

Low Light Photography Infographic (Click for Larger Version)

Information provided courtesy of Snapsort

We will go into details of the different aspects of low light photography tomorrow.





With that in mind, let’s get started. I found this great article written by: Peter Phun, and I found this published at the website: Picture/Correct.

Twilight is a magical time. Just because the sun is down doesn’t mean you should put away your camera. When the sun sets, a different looking world exists for photographers. Colors don’t appear the way they do in daylight. Instead, colors display based on your camera’s white balance setting and how that setting matches the various light sources in your scene.

Photo by Andi Campbell-Jones; ISO 100, f/9, 3-second exposure.

Backgrounds become less distracting. Street lights and lit building interiors give you outlines and shapes of various colors. Chances are not everything in your scene is lit. So what you see in your viewfinder is very close to what you’ll get if you expose carefully and properly. People in your scene don’t matter as much unless you want them to. Passers-by don’t register in your image. Even if they do, they are a blur unless you “freeze them” with a flash.

Cars show up as trails of red and amber lights. Skies take the color or aura of the city’s lights especially if there are low lying clouds to reflect it. Compared to other subjects, night photography doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment. The following are necessities:

  • a steady tripod
  • a cable release to trip the shutter. Most people can get by using the self-timer. The key is to not shake the camera when you trip the shutter.
  • a flashlight to illuminate the knobs and dials of your camera.
  • optional– a portable flash with lots of batteries

You pretty much will get what you see in your viewfinder. You don’t have to worry about trying to light anything except when you want to include a person in the picture. But I’ll discuss that later. The various elements in your picture lights itself freeing you to just concentrate on your composition and exposure. Fountains tend to have spots and colored lights on them, Christmas trees are never displayed in public without multicolored lights and beautiful majestic architecture in most civic centers are usually brightly lit up showcasing a city’s pride.

How to Set Up

  1. Change the ISO on your camera to 1600 or whatever the maximum number is.
  2. If you have a DSLR, attach your longest focal length lens on your camera and take a light reading. The idea here is to use the narrower field of view so that your light meter can give you a more accurate light reading. If you have spot meter reading mode on your camera, that will give you a similar result.
  3. Take note of the exposure reading you get in step 2.
  4. Calculate that exposure reading for ISO 200.
  5. Switch lenses to a wide angle or even a more “normal” focal length lens and compose your shot. Mount your camera to the tripod.
  6. Tighten your tripod head so that your camera doesn’t move in during the exposure.
  7. Finally, set the camera to the self-timer mode. Some cameras give you a choice of 2 seconds or 10 seconds. The whole idea is that you don’t want to jostle the camera when you press down on the shutter. Let the camera settle on its own—2 seconds ought to be enough for that.

Calculating Exposure

Making your camera’s CCD or CMOS more sensitive to light makes it easier for you to get a light reading. If you leave your camera’s ISO at 100 or even 200, your meter might not register a reading especially if the scene is something lit only by moonlight. Remember that there are always three components to exposure: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. For the sake of our discussion, let’s say when you pointed your camera in step two at the scene, your meter recommends 1/15 of a second at f/2.8 ISO 1600.

Photo by Nick Fisher; ISO 6400, f/2.8, 6.5-second exposure

If you haven’t read this yet, then just take my word on this. High ISO settings yield images that are extremely noisy. That’s the equivalent of grain in the analog or film world. So what we’ll do next is figure out equivalent exposure at say ISO 200. How did I arrive at a shutter speed of 1/2 a second for an aperture of f/2.8 when I switched the ISO from 1600 to 200?

ISO 200 is three f-stops less sensitive than ISO 1600. There are two ways for me to do achieve equivalent exposure. Let’s examine the first method which entails leaving the aperture the same at f/2.8 and only changing the shutter speed. That means I’m only increasing the time the shutter stays open, allowing in more light by the same three f-stop factor.

So I’ll need to set the shutter speed from 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 second (counting from 1/15 second to 1/2 second = 3 stops). Now that you have your exposure for an aperture of f/2.8, let’s say your subject has some depth and you want to be sure more of it is in focus. You can figure your exposure by changing the just the aperture, leaving your ISO the same at 200.

Photo by Vincent Ferron.

Let’s say you decide you want make your picture at f/11 giving you more depth-of-field. You again have to increase the time the shutter stays open in the same ratio or f-stop to get the equivalent exposure. F/11 lets in four stops less light than f/2.8. So you’ll need to set a shutter speed of 4 whole seconds. (Counting the aperture settings from f/2.8 -> f/4 -> f/5.6 -> f/8.0 -> f/11 = 4 stops). (Counting the shutter speed settings from 1/2 second -> 1 second -> 2 seconds -> 4 seconds = 4 stops.) The second alternative to achieve equivalent exposure, opening the aperture to let in more light, is not always practical because I would be restricted to using my “fastest” lens, a 50 mm f/1.4. Even that lens has physical limits–its widest aperture is f/1.4. The resulting image would still be underexposed by one stop. I would need to buy a 50 mm f/1.2 lens. Have you priced one of these?

If you have a tripod, you have the luxury of dropping your shutter speed without worrying about camera shake. That is often your best option because you really don’t want to be making pictures the whole time at your widest aperture whether it is f/1.4 or f/2.8.

At those apertures, focus is critical since the depth-of-field is very shallow. If you happen to set up on a pedestrian bridge and people are working on it as you are making the exposure, then you might have to wait for a lull in foot traffic.

About the Author:

Peter Phun is an adjunct photography instructor at Riverside City College ( He is a freelance photographer, web designer, and stay at home dad. He previously worked as a staff photographer for 18 years at The Press-Enterprise, SoCal’s fourth largest daily newspaper. Peter is the webmaster for the Mac group in the Inland Empire.

Here is a few great photos I found, using low light photography:


PART 4 / Light for photographers:

With our continuing them on light or lighting for this week, I found this other great article that talks about how light is so important for photographers. This article explained well how to use light and it helps you to understand how light works in photography

The article was written by Colin Aiken for PICTURE Correct. I hope you will seriously read this, as I learned a lot about lighting:

Light is the essence of photography. It’s not things that we photograph, but the light they reflect. Without light, there is no photography. The way things look to us and the camera is entirely dependent on the light that reaches them.

photo by craigfinlay

People talk about the “quality” of light, but in fact this is a combination of four different things that all light sources possess. Every light has a level, a color, a direction, and can either be hard or soft. Unless you’re working in a studio, where you have total control over the lighting, the first thing any photographer should do is to make an assessment of the light in terms of these four aspects.


The first one, level, is the simplest. Except for the fact that we are not really aware of it ourselves. We can easily move from outdoors to indoors without realizing just how dark it is inside, but the camera can’t do that. Not without making adjustments. Fortunately, all digital cameras have an auto-exposure system that will make these adjustments for you, or you can go manual and do it yourself.

When the light level starts to go down there are three things that can be adjusted. The ISO number represents how light-sensitive your camera is and setting a higher number will make your camera more sensitive. The aperture is a hole in your lens that you can make larger to let more light in. In this case, a lower number means a larger aperture. The third adjustment you can make is to the shutter speed, exposing the image for a longer time.

photo by Bharat Justa

While the ISO number and aperture have their effect on an image, it’s the shutter speed that finally determines just how low you can go in terms of light level, without adding your own light. Although you can set a shutter speed of half a second or longer, there is no way you can hold a camera steady for that length of time. If you try, you will get “camera shake” which hardly ever looks good. Even at 1/30 of a second, you will still get camera shake unless your lens is zoomed right out to its widest.

There is nothing stopping you taking photographs like this but you will need to use a tripod or other stable means of support to avoid camera shake. Alternatively, you can switch on your flash but that will now be the main light source and the photograph will look totally different. Change the lighting, change the picture.


The second aspect to consider is the color of the light. This is similar to light level in that we are hardly aware of it and our cameras can be set to automatically or manually compensate for it. Daylight is blue compared to indoor artificial light, which is more yellow or orange in color. It’s not usually a big problem because even if you or your camera get the color setting wrong, you can still edit this after you have downloaded the images into your computer.

photo by Daniel Zedda

Where you really have to think about the color is when you have mixed lighting. That is, your scene is lit by two or more sources of light that are different colors. Imagine a room with bright artificial light and a window. The light in the room is yellow and that coming through the window will be blue. There is nothing that can compensate for two different colors, you need to make a choice. If you were photographing someone in this room then where you placed them would alter their color. The nearer they were to the window then the more they would be influenced by its blue light and vice versa.

Also, where you place the camera is important. If you are near the window, facing into the room, then your main light will be blue and the background of your subject will be yellow. If you are further into the room, facing the window, then the opposite will be true. Given that you, or your camera will adjust the color to make the person look right, you are more likely to be aware of the background color in the final shot. One thing that seldom looks good is when the window is at 90 degrees to the camera, one side of your subject will be blue and the other will be yellow and there is no way to compensate for that.

Hard or Soft

The level and color of light are important, but these are things that you simply adjust the settings in your camera to compensate for. It’s when you start to consider the direction and softness of light that you can begin to get creative and really use the light. A light is called hard or soft because of the shadows it produces and the governing factor here is the size of the light source. The sun, a flashgun or a spotlight, being small, produce hard, sharply defined shadows. While a cloudy sky, being big, is a very soft light source and produces hardly any shadows at all.

When you are making an assessment of the natural light around you, the first thing to realize is that there is never only one light source. All light travels in straight lines, until it hits something. It then bounces off. If it hits a shiny object, it will bounce at the same angle it arrived at, like a billiard ball off a cushion. If the object is matte (i.e. not shiny), it will bounce off in all directions and pick up the color of whatever it hit.

photo by Brian Black

A single bare light bulb will create a hard light directly on your subject. At the same time, it creates a soft light by bouncing off the walls, floor and ceiling. The lighter those areas are, the more soft light will be created. If one of the walls was white and the others dark, then most of the soft light would come from the direction of the white wall.

A hard light source will create very dark shadows, much darker that we see with the human eye. This can cause a problem for photographers because, at the correct exposure, it may not be possible to see any detail in the shadows. The two ways of dealing with this are to hide the shadows or fill them in. You hide shadows by keeping your subject away from any background and shooting from the same angle as the hard light source. That way, most of their shadow will be hidden behind them.

You fill in the shadows by using anything large, and preferably white, that the hard light is hitting. This will be a source of soft light and, if you keep it on the opposite side of your subject to the hard light, it will fill in the shadows, allowing you to photograph the details. It is always a good idea to take a reflector with you (anything large and white) when shooting on a sunny day.


As you might expect, the direction of a hard light source is much more critical than that of a soft one. In fact, changing the angle between your subject and the light source can totally transform the way it looks. If your subject has a rich texture, that can totally disappear when the light is square on to it. The more oblique the angle, the deeper the texture will appear.

For portraits, a frontal light will make people appear less wrinkled and happier. As the light moves to the side, they will look more serious. Light from above is seldom flattering and light from below makes people look downright weird. If you like landscape photography, try to visit your favorite spots at different times of the day and see for yourself the complete transformation that the angle of light makes to a photograph.

Using natural light doesn’t mean that you need to put up with bad lighting. By making a thorough assessment of the light sources around you it is possible to make the best use of what nature has presented you with.

About the Author:
Colin Aiken ( is a professional photographer based in the United Kingdom.