Low Light Photography

Tak­ing pic­tures in low light sit­u­a­tions (with­out a flash) gen­er­ally pro­duces inter­est­ing pho­tographs. The low ambi­ent light of the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment cre­ates a mood that straight flash pho­tog­ra­phy can­not match. There are how­ever some spe­cial chal­lenges to shoot­ing in low light sit­u­a­tions. The most impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions are meter­ing, shut­ter speeds and film speed.

If you have a spot­meter, that would be your tool of choice in order to deter­mine the expo­sure of a low light sit­u­a­tion. If you don’t, get as close to your sub­ject as pos­si­ble and take a read­ing from the most impor­tant ele­ment in your shot. Lock in that read­ing, back up and take the pic­ture. Do not include extremely bright ele­ments (i.e. a can­dles ) in the cen­ter of your viewfinder when tak­ing your reading.

Most peo­ple can­not hold a cam­era fit­ted with a nor­mal lens at speeds of 1/30 of a sec­ond or slower with­out blur­ring the pho­to­graph. Like­wise, most humans or ani­mals can­not stay still (unless they are lying down or stand­ing against some­thing) for longer than 1/60th of a sec­ond. (See theHoly Trin­ity of Pho­tog­ra­phy for a fuller explanation).

In order to avoid cam­era blur use a tri­pod and a cable release to shoot at speeds of 1/30 or slower.

Low Light

This pho­to­graph was taken on a tri­pod using Kodak T-max 3200. Expo­sure was F-5.6 at 1/8 sec. Note the blurred bus com­ing from the left side.

Film speed is another con­sid­er­a­tion when it comes to low light sit­u­a­tions. There are many dif­fer­ent avail­able speeds but speeds of 1000 or greater are per­fectly suited for low light sit­u­a­tions. This is due to the film’s increased sen­si­tiv­ity to light; You need less light to expose the pho­to­graph. This increased film speed also lets you use a much faster shut­ter speed than say 100 speed film.

Fast films are avail­able in both black and white and colour, and in neg­a­tive or slide film. Cur­rently the fastest colour films are avail­able in speeds of 1000 and 1600. These are made by Fuji and Kodak respec­tively. The fastest black and white film is 3200. It is made by both Kodak and Ilford. These films are avail­able from pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy stores, and are slightly more expen­sive than lower speed film.

The only pos­si­ble draw­back (it’s a mat­ter of taste) of using fast film is grain. The faster the film the larger the film grain. This film grain is not that appar­ent on small prints but is read­ily appar­ent on enlargements.

The faster the film speed the less light it takes to cor­rectly expose the photograph.