In dark environments, the camera’s light meter will advise you to use a long shutter speed to get a usable exposed image. But the long shutter speed makes the image blurry, and in most cases useless. Forcing the camera to use a faster shutter speed makes the image too dark. Therefore, you need to take some action. Here are three or four tips for shooting in low light without flash:
1. Large aperture lets in more light
The aperture affects how much light is let into the image sensor (the “movie”) in the camera. The larger the aperture you have, the more light is let in. Therefore, use as large aperture as possible. Large aperture = low f / number.
Bright optics let in a lot of light and have a small f / number. Standard optics that come with affordable cameras often have f / 5.6 as the largest aperture. You may eventually find that it is not bright enough to photograph in situations with little available light.
The most affordable lenses with aperture on e.g. f / 1.4 costs from 3-4,000 NOK, and can be a good investment if this is something you miss. Large aperture also provides a nice and fuzzy background. The image in this article is shot with wide angle and aperture 1.4.
2. High ISO gives greater light sensitivity
ISO is a designation for how light-sensitive the image chip is. You can set this on your camera. ISO 100 lends itself well to daylight, while in low light you need to scale higher.
The advantage of high ISO is that the image sensor becomes more light sensitive and allows you to shoot in low light situations. The downside is that the images get grainy, and especially on affordable cameras you can’t move much higher than ISO 1000 until the image gets so grainy that it’s not usable. The image above is shot at ISO 3200 with a camera that can withstand high ISO values well without too much noise.
3. Wide angle requires less light
A short focal length (wide angle) makes it easier to get sharp images in poor light. With wide angle, you don’t need as fast shutter speed as longer focal lengths to get sufficiently sharp images – assuming there isn’t too much movement in the subject you are shooting. The picture above is shot with 24mm. Zoom lenses are often more bright at wide angles than zooming in completely.
PS: A rule of thumb to get sharp images when using handheld photography is to use a shutter speed that corresponds to the focal length number, or faster. In practice, this means that if you have a 50mm lens you should use a shutter speed faster than 1/50 sec. With a telephoto lens of 200mm, you should use a shutter speed faster than 1/200 sec.