Low Light Photography

It is not always going to be daylight, with beautiful natural light every time you want to take a photo. A lot of photos take place inside buildings, or at night time when great natural light is not available. I will call these types of photographs “low light”, and in this blog post I want to cover how to take stunning photos even when there is not much light to work with.

Most people’s first instinct when they have to take photos in dark places is to use flash. Flash is great when you want a picture with your friends and don’t really care how the picture turns out; you just want the picture to remember the experience you had. However, if you have a camera at your disposal there are other ways to brighten pictures that will make the photograph much better overall.

A little tip: if your camera has a flash on it, the best thing to do would be to cut a ping pong ball in half and tape half of the ball on the flasher; this creates more even lighting and leads to better pictures overall.

If you do not have flash, then the best way to get brighter pictures is by adjusting camera settings that increase the amount of light your camera takes in. Namely, ISO and shutter speed. With that in mind, this first picture was one of the first pictures I took when I learned how to take photos at night, and it highlights how finicky night time photos can be. ISO is the sensitivity to light a camera is. A higher ISO, the brighter a picture will be. The major catch, which can be seen in this photo, is the higher the ISO the more noise (fuzziness) that will be in the photo. This picture was taken at a ISO of 8000 and a shutter speed of only 1 second.  If I were to take this picture again to get the same amount of brightness I would drop the ISO to something smaller such as 1600 or 3200, and bring the shutter speed to 20 seconds. This would be much better for two reasons, it would be the same brightness with less fuzziness, and the slower shutter speed would capture the movement in the smoke that would have provided a more interesting picture.


This next photo was taken much more recently and illustrates how much I have learned. This photo was shot at an ISO of 100 (normally what I use during the daylight), but it had a shutter speed of 5 minutes. This was a cloudy night, so the long shutter speed creates a very interesting aspect with how the clouds above the trees appear.



I am a huge astronomy nerd, so to me, one of the most fascinating things cameras can do is astrophotography. Since cameras are much more sensitive to light than humans are, they are able to capture the magic of the Milky Way. Living in State College, there is far too much light pollution (pictures of stars need for there to be no light around when taking the photo because it is absorbed in the lens and doesn’t show the stars as well) for any decent pictures of the Milky Way to be taken, therefore this photograph was taken by Dave Morrow, a photographer I follow.


This in my opinion is the most beautiful composition and what I hope to work on this summer when I am able to travel more freely to places without so much light.

The last thing I wanted to touch on are star trails. This is another type of astrophotography, but it is not just one picture; these are made by taking multiple photos  and compressing them into one through a computer software at the end. The secret for these types of photo’s is to take a time-lapse of the night sky with long shutter speeds to capture the stars movement. I again intend to attempt photos like this, this summer when I can travel. For now, this is Lincoln Harris’s photo that is breathtaking.



One thing that always makes an interesting picture is portraying things that you see everyday in a different way that no one has seen before. Low light photography is one way to do so, that makes taking pictures not limited to when the sun is out.


Photograph Credit

1- Taken by the author

2- Taken by the author

3- www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com

4- http://www.lincolnharrison.com

3 thoughts on “Low Light Photography

  1. I found this post to be really helpful because if there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s taking a good picture in the dark. I’ve always wanted to capture a good picture of the stars but my attempts always turned out bad. Now I know that I probably had my camera on the wrong setting or there was too much light pollution. I also thought it was really interesting how you showed one of your first attempts at low light photography and then a recent one because it’s a good way to see how much you’ve improved. Great post this week!

    1. I remember learning in Photography that the ISO and shutter speed can both affect the amount of light in the photo. Your blog clarified exactly how the two can work together to capture great photos when there is low light. I think the examples that you posted of astrophotography are really cool. It makes me want to pick of my camera so that I can try to take similar photos. Also I want to try the ping pong trick with my camera to see if it will help produce better pictures.

  2. Pictures taken during the night are some of my favorite photos. I really appreciated you explaining how the best mechanisms behind taking photos like this. I hate to admit it, but I was definitely on of those people who used to think that the best way to bring in more light was to use flash. It was interesting to read all the methods to use. Also, I thought the picture by Dave Morrow was so pretty, and I hope to to look more into his photography.

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