17 : Low Light

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See a little light

Shooting outside on a gorgeous sunny day…it’s ideal! But what happens when you want to capture your images inside? What happens when you need to capture your images inside? Do you fall apart at the seams trying to get a good exposure? Are your images dark? Does the scene you see before you fail to translate to your final photograph? This week, we review strategies for shooting inside where there are often low-light scenarios and the opportunity to create dramatic, moody and emotional images.

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Start with these questions:

  • Where is there ample light?
  • What direction is the light coming from?
  • Is it strong or diffuse?
  • How can I position my subject in relation to the light?
  • What can I do to enhance the light?

Next, get your settings right:

  • Begin with a low f-stop, say f/2.8.
  • Next, set your camera to a safe but slow shutter speed, say 1/250sec.
  • As a final step, adjust your ISO. Keep it as low as possible while retaining detail in both the highlights and shadows. 

Finally, remember that cameras are not magical. "Low light" does not mean "no light". They can't function in the dark. They need light to work and some camera models need more light than others. The goal of this lesson is not to get a well exposed picture in a dark room -- that will simply never happen. The goal is to use any light that is available to the best of your abilities!

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Note: Turning on overhead lights or lamps is NOT recommended. If it does anything, it will be to contribute a funky yellow color cast and strange downward shadows.

Low light situations offer a chance to capture something special. Light falling across your subject from the side will accentuate rich shadows and textures. This week, use your awareness of light and camera functions to create dramatic, meaningful portraits of your loved ones.

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Extra challenge

You've probably noticed that there are times, especially in darker situations, that an extra boost of light from a screen, phone flashlight, etc... can go a long way. Particularly notice how the direction of that extra boost of light affects your images.

This image of Amy's daughter was taken as her other daughter held an iPhone flashlight from three directions: above, level, and below. You can see the difference in the way the shadow falls on her face in each image.

Often, we take low-light images as our children are looking down onto a screen (iPads, tablets, etc...), but consider positioning it from another direction to avoid that "ghost story" look. You know... how kids like to tell scary stories around a campfire with a flashlight shining up on their faces.

If you find yourself in the position of using additional light from a source like this, try moving it around to see how it affects your image!

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Creative Prompts

Low light, moody portraits go hand-in-hand with quieter, introspective moments. This is not a challenge to get your toddler laughing on a swing-set or running through a field of flowers. (Though by all means grab those shots for yourself, too!) This week we invite you to think "dramatic"!

Close-up: Position your subject with the side of his face near a window to create interesting shadows and textures.

Step back: Seek out pools of light in your home. Step back to capture these small, brighter areas in the context of a darker overall scene.


Share your images!

As always, we look forward to seeing your images in the Facebook group! If you have never posted a picture, it's fine to start any time. The Facebook group is a positive, no-judgement zone. We also hope that reach out for advice or help if you need it!