Embrace Low Light

Nov 10, 2020

Light is a powerful element in photography. In fact, photography would not exist without light. However, the short days and long nights that accompany winter are fast approaching. So the question is, "How do we capture our beautiful everyday moments in the absence of light?" This week, I'm sharing tips on how you can embrace the darkness inherent in the upcoming winter months. Here are a few tips on how you can capture beautiful images in low light. 

1. Find available light

Low light is an incredibly beautiful type of light to work with, and it's plentiful during the winter months. Look for east windows in the afternoon, west window in the morning and north windows at any time of the day. The light will be soft and diffused due to the sun's lower angle along the horizon line throughout this time of year. Once you find this soft and diffused light place your subject close to the light source. Your subject will become illuminated, and light fall-off will be fast, resulting in deep beautiful shadows that wrap around your subject. This dramatic type of light will draw attention to your subject and hide other elements you'd rather not include in your images. 

ISO 200, 35mm, f2, 1/320SS

2. Don't be afraid to create light

When light is not available, create it. Embrace artificial light and use the darker days of late fall and winter to experiment and learn about light. You don't need to run out and purchase studio lights, either. Instead, look to light sources already in your home, like lamps or iPads. Don't be afraid to look for artificial light sources outdoors as well, like street lamps or car lights. Move your subject or the artificial light source around and watch how the light and shadows fall across your subject. Be cautious when uplighting your subject or with top-down artificial light. Watch for unsightly shadows like dark looming eyes. Don't be afraid to practise and experiment with light. 

ISO 1250, 35mm, 2.8f, 1/200SS

3. Bump up your ISO

Modern-day cameras handle shooting at high ISOs incredibly well, so you should not fear bumping up your ISO. Yes, shooting at a high ISO will introduce some digital noise into an image; however, this is expected in low light images. It's also incredibly easy to manage noise in post-processing. In Lightroom under the Detail Panel, use the Noise Reduction sliders to smooth out unwanted digital noise. Small adjustments are best here, and a little will go a long way!

ISO 1600, 35mm, f2.8, 1/320SS

4. Underexpose

Generally, photographers should aim for well-exposed images, and typically that means brightly exposed for subjects. Images exposed well will reduce noise, improve quality and result in stronger images straight out of the camera. However, when working with low light, is it entirely appropriate to underexpose your images purposefully. I think underexposure also increases the mood inherent in low light images.

ISO 1600, 35mm, f2, 1/800SS

5. Shoot for mood

Low light images emit a quiet and contemplative mood. Take advantage of the mood within low light images and look for moments that match the mood. Quiet everyday moments work well with low light. A bouncing and energetic moment might appear out of place in a low light image. Consider how you can strengthen the emotion within your low light image by matching a complementary moment.  

ISO 500, 50mm, Freelensed, 1/1000SS

Low light can be intimidating to work with; however, the results of photographing in this type of light are gorgeous. Don't be afraid to take some risks and experiment a bit with different types of low light. It's an enjoyable way to grow as a photographer.