So how do you shoot better photos and videos in low-light with DSLR? In this tutorial, we’ll give you 8 tips to help you improve your low-light photography.
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One of the biggest challenge for most photographer is how to shoot photos or videos in low-light conditions without getting grain. If you’ve ever took a photo at night, you realized that it’s very easy to get grainy footage. Why did that happen ? It’s because you were shooting at a high ISO.
ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to the light, while a lower ISO is less sensitivity of your camera sensor. You might be thinking: then why don’t we just use higher ISO to get more light ? That’s because a high ISO can also increase graininess of your image. Sometimes, a high ISO can even ruin your shots. Does that mean there is no way to get better image in low-light? Absolutely not ! If you follow these 10 tips below, then you will still get the best result while shooting in low-light !
1. Use Manual Mode – The first thing you need to do is turn your mode dial to the M mode(manual mode). This is very important especially when shooting in low-light conditions. We don’t want our camera to control any setting for us. If you leave your camera to Auto mode, then it will lead to disaster. After switching to the manual mode, we can now move on to the camera settings.
2. Keep the ISO down – ISO is the most dangerous setting. A high ISO can even ruin your footage. It all depends on what camera you’re using right now because some cameras will allow you to shoot at higher ISO without any grain. But often times, the noise will start to appear while shooting at ISO 1600. So if not necessary, just keep the ISO as low as possible. To get better low-light performance, you can consider upgrading to the full frame DSLR. A full frame camera usually produces better low-light performance. For example, The Canon 6D mark II has ability to shoot at ISO 6400 without any noise. Cinema cameras can even allow you to shoot at ISO 40000.
3. Use slower shutter speed – Shutter is like a small curtain in the camera that quickly rolls over the sensor. The duration that the shutter allows light to shine onto the sensor is called the shutter speed, and is measured in fractions of a second. The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the picture. So a shutter speed of 1/10 will allow more light to touch the sensor and will produce a brighter image than a shutter speed of 1/100.
The best thing about shutter speed is that you’re using the “nature” light. It’s not like ISO that controls the exposure by using software in the camera to make it sensitive to light. So if you pursue clear image in low-light, then keep the ISO and the shutter speed as low as possible. But the shutter speed is also responsible for controlling the amount of blur in the footage. So the longer the shutter is open, the longer the camera records. When shooting at a slow shutter speed, it’s better to mount your camera on a steady tripod.
4. Use slower FPS when shooting videos – When we’re shooting videos in low-light, it’s better to use slower frame rate per second, such as 24p 30p. Actually, the frame rate itself doesn’t affect the brightness of your videos, but there is a rule called 180 degree rule. That means whatever your frame rate is, you just double that. For example, if you’re shooting at 30fps, then you should set your shutter speed to 1/60. The shutter speed will dictate the motion blur in your videos. The 180 degree rule gives us the motion blur that we’re used to seeing in film. So I would suggest that you set your shutter at 180 degree rule, and then adjust your exposure by changing the aperture and ISO.
That’s where the pain is… Sometimes, you set your ISO as high as it can go, and your aperture as wide as it can be, but the scene is still very dark. If you’ve already gone through ISO and aperture, then think about changing the shutter speed carefully. You can get away with decreasing shutter speed to get more light while shooting something where there’s not a lot of motion. So shooting videos in low-light is gonna be much harder than shooting still photos.
5. Use wide open aperture – The aperture controls how much light will enter the camera. Obviously, if you shoot with aperture wide open, more light will get into the camera than if the aperture is closed down to barely allow light to enter the camera. When shooting in low-light condition, you want to keep your aperture as wide as possible. It’s better to get a lens that has the widest aperture of f/1.8 or even wider !
6. Use prime lens – Most standard zoom lenses are limited to f/3.5 for maximum aperture, while professional zoom lenses have the widest aperture of f/2.8, and prime lenses can go all the way to f/1.8 or even f/1.2. When shooting in low-light, we want to use the lowest f stop as possible right ? That’s why I highly suggest people to get a prime lens.
What kind of prime lens should I get ? I would recommend to get a wide angle lens because of the “focal length vs shutter speed rule” What is it ? The quick and simple explanation is that there is a direct relationship between the shutter speed and the focal length. If you take a photo at a focal length of 50mm, to avoid any camera shake and achieve a sharper image, the shutter speed must be 1/50 or faster. Imagine that you’re using a 200mm lens, then your shutter speed must be 1/200. Can you shoot at a shutter speed of 1/200 in low-light conditions ? No, you can’t. That’s why you should get a wider lens(shorter focal length).
Cheapest Canon prime lens below:
Cheapest Nikon prime lens below:
7. Change your picture style – In the picture style, we have contrast, saturation, sharpness, color tone… You don’t have to touch those settings, but what I really recommend is that decrease the contrast. The reason why I like to decrease the contrast is because low contrast can magically capture more details in low-light.
Low contrast vs High contrast
Did you notice that ? Lower contrast really captures more details in the dark. If you really don’t like the way it looks, you can simply add the contrast back in the editing software. Another great way to capture more details in low-light environment is “shoot RAW”
Generally, the camera will add blacks, contrast, sharpening, and render the file to a compressed JPEG. Because the image is compressed and saved to JPEG, much of the initial image detail is discarded and cannot be recovered. RAW files are uncompressed and able to capture more details and dynamic range. RAW images might look flat and ugly at first, but you can always add the contrast, sharpness, saturation back later. When shooting in RAW, the picture style and white balance don’t matter to your footage.
8. Upgrade to the full frame DSLR – The most effective way to improve low-light photography is to upgrade to the full frame sensor DSLR. A full frame sensor is expensive, but very helpful in low-light situations. For example, the Canon 6D mark II (full frame) has approximately the same amount of noise at ISO 6400 as the Canon T7i (crop sensor) at ISO 800. It really makes a huge difference in low-light environments. You don’t have to worry about shooting at a low ISO anymore ! Wouldn’t that be great ?
A full frame DSLR will be very helpful especially for videographers because they have to follow the 180 degree rule which will make it harder to get nice result in low-light situations. If you have budget and are looking to upgrade to a full frame DSLR, then I would recommend Canon 6D mark II. Canon also claimed that the low-light performance of 6D mark II($1999) is even better than 5D mark IV($3299). You can also read my Canon DSLR review HERE
Those are the 8 tips to improve your low-light photography. I hope this post will help a lot ! Also, don’t forget to share this with your photography friends 🙂 Keep practicing !