Low light portrait photography
Tips & Tutorials

Capturing Terrific Portraits Shots in Low light

So all the while we have been talking about magic and drama in a photograph. Certainly, your 4-year-old nephew can click pictures with your DSLR. But that doesn’t make him a photographer. He becomes a photographer when he gives some meaning to the picture. When the lights go dim, you definitely have another chance to pull up your sleeves and portray the real superhero photographer who saves the picture in low light.

Lower light may mean a lot of things. You may either be on the streets clicking buildings and people or on your terrace trying to click the dusky sky with stars. You may also land up clicking a portrait photograph in low light, deliberately or by chance. What next? Is there something you can do to get the right picture? YES.

Low light portrait photography
Credit: J. Epperson

Here are a Few Tips:

Tip 1: Never ever use a Flash

– A flash might seem heavenly when you first think of clicking a picture in low light. Actually it is not. Avoid using the flash by all means. A flash may make your subject look like an alien or maybe a vampire in disguise with blood-red eyes. However, if the subject is too near, then a flash may work wonders. Even if you have to use a flash, try not to direct the flashlight straight on the face of a subject. This softens the lights and gives better results.

Tip 2: Keep the ISO High

– The more the ISO the better the picture. Still don’t take it as a rule of thumb. Many people might advise you to keep the ISO as high as your camera can sustain. However, such an action will make your picture look grainy as the amount of digital noise will be quite high. The best range falls between 800- 1500. Nonetheless, click a few samples before you go for the main picture as it will help you in setting just the right ISO as per your light conditions.

Tip 3: Aperture

– Lower the F-number, more the light. Keep this number at an ideal of F4 to F6. This normally allows sufficient light for the portrait.

Tip 4: Background and Lighting Source

– If you have control over these two variables, then I advise you to keep the background fully dark, as black as possible. Moreover, for a lighting source a candle or tungsten bulb will give you that edge in the photograph with a proper shadow and light balance.

Tip 5: Shutter Speed

– Keep the shutter speed as slow as possible and so that the image gets the maximum exposure. Some of the early photographers needed as much as 10 minutes of exposure to get the right film. Thank God, we are blessed with SLR and DSLRs. Still, a slower shutter speed will allow maximum light to be captured.
A shutter speed like ¼ to 1/15 seconds will give the way to the problem of a shaky hand. Use a tripod instead. With a tripod, you may even try to lower the ISO a little to reduce noise. A little homework before the photograph only gives you good results.

Tip 6: Shoot RAW

– It is always advisable to shoot in the RAW format, whatever the lighting condition. This would ensure that even if your film appears grainy after clicking, you can sharpen the edges and use contrast feature while editing to give it the best look.
While clicking in low light all you have in abundance is shadow. Use shadows to your advantage. Try clicking an upper-body shot or a full body shot with a light source on one side and darkness on the other. You are sure to amaze your client.

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