Every photographer should know how to take low light photos. Overcast skies? Windowless rooms? It won’t matter once you have these tips!

How to Take Low Light Photos: 9 Easy Tips

There are so many scenarios when photographers find themselves working in less than ideal lighting situations: candlelit wedding ceremonies, newborn photos in dim hospital rooms, or even portraits in a dark home with few windows.

When I was getting started as an in-home newborn photographer, I often stressed about what a client’s home would present in terms of lighting options. Would there be a living room with heavy wood paneling? An adorable nursery painted navy with only a tiny window? If it happened to be cloudy outside before my session, I would be close to a panic attack.

Light is such a major component of good photos, so don’t feel alone if you get sweaty palms over working in unfamiliar situations where you can’t control the light. With the tips I’m sharing here, coupled with lots of practice, you’ll know how to take low light photos in no time. You might find that you even enjoy it!

A couple sits at a piano in their eclectically decorated home. The woman's head rests on the man's shoulder as he plays. Learn how to take low light photos like this one by Shelby Laine Photography.
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

Without good light, you don’t have a good photo!

For many photographers, the way we manipulate light is a key aspect of our style. Some photographers shoot dark and moody, while others prefer light and airy; the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

The key is to remember that low light isn’t necessarily bad light!

You can still capture amazing images as a sunset fades or in a dark room with a single light source.

#1: First Things First: Find the Available Light

Low light photography doesn’t mean you’re working in total darkness, but you might have to do some work to find the available light.

If you’re working in a space without windows or blinds you can adjust, try positioning your subject near an open door or brighter hallway.

A woman in a white lace dress reclines on a bed in the arms of a man in a black shirt. Learn how to take low light photos like Shelby Laine Photography.
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

Don’t be afraid to use unusual spaces for photos if light is there. Is there a tiny nook or unused corner of a room with some light where you can place your subject? This is where creative composition comes into play, and these unexpected challenges can lead to making amazing photos.

If all else fails, even if you prefer to photograph in natural light, don’t hesitate to flip on a light switch or lamp and remove the orange/yellow hues when you edit. You’ll want to position your subject close to the light for the best results; make sure he or she isn’t in front of the light source unless you’re shooting a silhouette.

Encouragement for Natural Light Photographers

If you’re a natural light photographer, I know it’s hard to swallow the idea of ever using artificial light. I get it: natural light is more flattering and it makes editing a breeze. My camera can handle pretty dim rooms, and I’ve pushed my ISO to the limit simply because I didn’t want to flip on the light and deal with the yellow tones in Lightroom.

A couple embraces on their sofa. The wall behind them is covered in framed artwork. Learn how to take low light photos like Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

In the end, though, don’t cling so tightly to the idea of being a natural light photographer that you miss out on making incredible images with artificial light sources. That only serves to stress you out in the moment, and it can make editing take much longer, too.

It’s ok to break those self-imposed rules sometimes – and that doesn’t make you any less talented as a photographer.

A woman in a white lace dress relaxes into the arms of a man in a black short-sleeved shirt. Learn how to take low light photos like this one by Shelby Laine Photography.
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

#2: Shoot in RAW and in Manual Mode

You’ll want to ensure your camera is set to shoot in RAW for the highest quality, sharpest photos, no matter what the light is like.

The very best option for photographing in low light is to take full creative control in manual mode.

When you’re shooting in manual mode, you can slightly overexpose, even in darker conditions, to help avoid noise or grain in the final version of your images.

#3: Increase Your ISO

If you don’t have much access to good light, the first setting you could adjust is your ISO. This measures the camera’s sensitivity to light. On a bright, sunny day, you might have your ISO set around 200. Inside your home on a cloudy day, you might set it around 800 or higher, depending on exactly how dark it is.

Two low light photos of a couple in a bar. Images are by Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

You want to use the lowest possible ISO setting for sharp photos; if your ISO is set too high, your images will be over-exposed and it can be quite difficult to recover those details when you edit.

If you set your ISO too high, you’ll notice grain or noise in your photos. This is why you want to select the lowest setting that correctly exposes and allows you to achieve tack-sharp images.

#4: Lower Your Shutter Speed

Depending on what you’re photographing, you can try lowering your shutter speed. The longer exposure time will let more light in, but you’ll have to weigh this against how fast your subject is moving.

A couple jumps on their white-covered bed, laughing and kissing. The room is dim, with low light. Photographs are by Shelby Laine Photography.
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

A low shutter speed probably isn’t the best solution for a playful family session with young kids if you’re hoping for sharp images. It can work, however, if your subject is mostly stationary.

You’ll want to keep your shutter speed above 1/60 unless you’re using a tripod.

#5: Adjust Your Aperture

If you need a faster shutter speed but also want to let in more light, you can also adjust your aperture. The higher your aperture, the less light you’re letting into the camera. For example, if I am shooting a group of people and I want to ensure everything is perfectly in focus, I tend to use an aperture around f/5.6.

That’s much too high for a dimly lit room, however. A more open aperture makes it easier to work with available light, and you’ll get creamy, beautiful bokeh too.

A man and woman dance and dip in their home's living room. Learn how to take low light photos like this one by Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

Keep in mind that the lower your aperture, the easier it is to miss focus. I’d suggest pairing the ideal aperture and ISO settings with the best shutter speed for your situation.

#6: Off-Camera Lighting Solutions

My first camera couldn’t handle dim hospital rooms very well and that made Fresh 48 sessions quite a challenge. If I was working with a brand new mom who didn’t want the overhead lights on, or was opposed to opening the blinds, I was stuck delivering images that were mostly black and white.

It didn’t take me long to figure out I needed to learn off-camera lighting, so I bought a Speedlight (a Nikon flash which can be used either on or off-camera). It allows me to accommodate any situation without panicking because I can always bounce the flash off the ceiling or wall.

Bounce a flash off the wall or ceiling if you aren't sure how to take photos in low lights. In this image, a hipster couple sits in a bar booth kissing. Image by Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

External lighting can be a lifesaver if you find yourself without access to good quality light, either natural or artificial. In fact, I’d consider it a necessary skill for any photographer who shoots indoors.

This isn’t the same as the pop-up flash you might have on your camera; in fact, it’s a million times better because you’ll get a more natural effect!

By bouncing the flash from a Speedlight, you can mimic the way sunlight flows in through a window or softly illuminate a room. Whereas a pop-up flash is harsh and can cause unflattering dark shadows or red eyes, bounced light can beautifully and naturally illuminate your subject.

#7: Lightroom Magic: The Luminance Slider

If you’ve pulled your photos into Lightroom and you’re seeing too much grain in your images, the luminance slider can work magic.

A hipster couple embraces in a bar in front of a wall full of band stickers. Learn how to take low light photos like this one from Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

In the Develop module, scroll down to the Noise Reduction section. The first slider controls luminance, and it removes grain that can happen in low light situations.

Just make sure you don’t go overboard with the luminance slider or you’ll remove sharpness from your photos.

#8: Convert to Black & White

There are times when you can’t avoid low light situations and, even with perfect camera settings, you may wind up with incorrectly exposed images.

Black and white photos of a hipster couple sitting in a bar booth. Low light images by Shelby Laine Photography
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

If this happens, consider converting to black and white. You won’t notice the imperfection quite as much, and it can give more dimension to your image. Black and white photos also highlight the shadows present in your photo, and the result can be beautiful in a darker room.

#9: Getting Comfortable Shooting in Low Light

If you happen to be a family photographer who exclusively schedules sessions during the golden hour, you might not have to worry much about low light photography!

On the other hand, if you shoot weddings, families, seniors, headshots, engagements, newborns or any kind of fun personal projects, you’re eventually going to encounter low light situations.

A hipster man and woman sit on red barstools at an outdoor bar surrounded by a picket fence.
Shelby Laine Photography | How to Take Low Light Photos

The best way to get comfortable is to force yourself to photograph at times when the light isn’t perfect or predictable. Practice, practice, practice. Eventually, you’ll move past your preference for “easy” light and you might even enjoy the challenge of less-than-ideal lighting!

The more versatile we are as photographers, the more comfortable we are in any situation. Leave behind those worries about finding perfect light, and embrace telling beautiful stories in any light!


Kristal Bean is a maternity and newborn photographer based in The Woodlands, Texas. Her passion is helping women celebrate the beauty of motherhood with a luxury photography experience. Kristal is married with three young daughters and one goofy golden retriever. 

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The post How to Take Low Light Photos: 9 Easy Tips appeared first on ShootProof Blog.

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