What defines low light photography? Is it dictated by how bright the sun appears? If so, what if it’s twelve noon but you’re photographing an interior? What if dark gray storm clouds force you to shoot at slow shutter speeds and it’s 2:00PM? Time of day is a contributing factor, but not the only one. If you go to a professional baseball game at night, there’s enough light to handhold a fast telephoto! Basically low light photography, are you ready for this, occurs when the light levels are low. Much more important than knowing its definition is knowing how to handle it photographically.
DAWN and DUSK: I absolutely love to shoot at the times I refer to as “the edge of the day.” Before the sun rises and after it sets, when the conditions come together, a pink earth shadow on the opposite horizon of the setting or rising sun occurs. An electric band of clouds can form, or an alpenglow can set the sky ablaze. These are the times to look for silhouettes that have interesting shapes or forms. Take a meter reading in manual off the sky and go with it. Check the histogram to make sure it looks good and move on to the next image, as the magic doesn’t last long.
NIGHT: Night photography is all about artificial light or natural light from a full moon. Whether a cityscape, head and taillights of a car, flash, flood lamps generate artificial light, etc, interesting effects can be made. Zoom the lens during the exposure to add drama to the image. Intentionally move the camera to create unique images. Try multiple exposures at different focal lengths or camera positions. The bottom line is to try all sorts of techniques to make your images stand out from what everyone else may make as a record shot
FLASH: Flash is a versatile tool to add both light and/or special effects. Depending on its capabilities in conjunction with your camera body, stroboscopic effects can be used and slow shutter synch can allow the ambient light in the background to build on the sensor. Backlight can be added to small subjects, and rear curtain synch can be utilized to add streaks of moving lights in conjunction with the flash at the end of the exposure. Many a creative idea can be conjured. Learn how to apply each of these flash techniques into your repertoire to bring your low light photography to new heights.
DON’T FIGHT IT: When light levels drop, if you can’t freeze the action, go with it. Pan the camera with the subject to emphasize the motion. Slow down the shutter to record streaks of light. Look at the image on the back of the camera. If the effect is not what you want, up the ISO to get a faster shutter speed or use an even slower shutter speed to produce a more painterly effect.
STABILITY: Low light photography means long shutter speeds which translates to necessary camera support to get sharp images. Tripods, window mounts, beanbags or other means of stabilizing the camera and lens during the exposure is necessary. The heavier the tripod the better. Be sure to tighten up all knobs to prevent accidental movement.