Photographing in Low Light Situations

When it comes to working in low light situations and taking photographs, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind if you’re starting off in photography.  Each situation you are in will be different.  Venues and performers all have different requirements and thus sometimes things are well lit, or sometimes it’s a nightmare.  Hopefully this will give you some ideas to help you take better photos in low light situations.

When I say find the light, I mean literally move yourself to where there is light or angles that the light is hitting that you can capture. Just because you’re sitting somewhere or placed somewhere, doesn’t mean you stay in that spot. If the shadows are horrible in your current spot, look around to where the light is better.  In terms of a dance floor, one corner might be well lit, and the rest of the floor could be too dark to photograph in/from.  So move yourself to that corner and that is where all your shots will come from, because that is the best light/area.  Is your performer or subject never in the light? Then you’re out of luck.

You should know your camera limits, and sometimes you might just need to push that ISO a little more.  Open that aperture and hope that angle works a little better with the lower depth of field.  Slow down that shutter a little more and increase your shot frequency and hope you catch that slight moment of pause in your subjects movements. Sometimes a performer/dancer will freeze on a note where those slower shutter speeds will be fine, but horrible during the rest. You need to push your camera and find the right moment for those settings to work, or broaden your acceptable settings just to get some shot, even if it’s not ideal.

Sometimes motion blur can be fun to play with.  See if you can make a 1/2 second to 4 second exposure work to make something fun happen

Yes, better gear, particularly faster glass (F/1.x Lenses) will help.

A higher end camera can usually push your ISO settings higher and be better quality as well on equal ISO settings from a previous camera.

Yes, learn to use flash, this takes a lot of practice, but when you start to get used to it, you’ll wish you could use it almost all the time. BUT, many events wont allow it, so this usually isn’t an option, and sometimes people will be snarky because the flash is interrupting said performance/event.  They are distracting to patrons.

A big point though, bad flash photography is a thing, and unless you do know what you’re doing, DO NOT USE IT. You don’t want to be known as the person that takes bad flash photos that interrupts and annoys people. Having proper flashes/diffusers and knowing your settings and really knowing it is the only time you should use it.

Yes you can fix many things in post, including fixing your exposure. Chances are you’ll be adjusting something anyways, so learning to edit afterwards is helpful.  You need to be somewhat close though in your exposure, if you’re too many stops away, guess what, there is no saving it if the data isn’t there.

Shooting in RAW I would consider a requirement all the time, because it has more data and you have a chance on saving something afterword’s if you can’t quite get it good enough in camera.  A proper in camera exposure is the best case though.