Andres Jaimes

5 tips to get good pictures in low light conditions

By Andres Jaimes

I recently got an assignment to cover a music school’s annual concert. But it was not as easy I thought it was going to be.

First of all, the concert took place in a very dark auditorium. There was just one working spot light pointing to the right side of the stage. The sun was bright outside and there some windows right behind the stage. For some reason, that I did not understand, they didn’t allow me to use a flash. With musicians moving over and over from light to darkness and back, that was a good challenge.

Here are some tips I applied during this low light session.


1. Get to know your space and your light

If you are allowed, go one day before to know the place where you will shoot. Try to go more or less at the same time the event will take place, so the external lighting conditions remain similar. Ask the organizer to turn the lights on the same way they will during the event. Get some test pictures. Try doing it using different camera settings.

If you cannot go one day before, get early to the event and start measuring light as soon as you arrive.

2. Use your camera’s “TV” setting

Unless you are a super “M” mode photographer, then I recommend you to use your “TV” camera mode. On this mode, your camera will allow you to control the shutter speed while it automatically controls the aperture and ISO settings.

Adjust your shutter speed to low, but not too low. So, how much? Well, usually any value between 1/40 to 1/125 is a good one. If you go lower than 1/40 you are risking too much to get blurry images. Also, if you go beyond 1/125 your images are very likely to be dark.

3. Choose a big aperture

Wide open your lens. This will allow you to reach lower shutter speeds. f4 or less is recommended.

4. Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW format gives you the chance to readjust the lighting settings of your pictures at home. This is kind of getting a second chance for taking your pictures. But remember, RAW format uses a lot of space, so be sure you have a large enough memory card for the event.

5. Manual focus

Autofocus usually fails on low light. It can be especially frustrating trying to stick to it in low light scenarios. Practice manual focus, it is very handy and shows you a world of creative ideas.

If you want to use autofocus and are having problems with it, then I recommend you to focus other high contrast objects that are at a similar distance than your main object and then recompose.

There are some cameras, like the Canon 5D, that allow you to set a different button than the shutter for autofocusing. This can be very handy since once you have your subject in focus, you can spend more time adjusting other settings and shooting.

Plus: Carry on your tripod

Even though you will be from one to place to another during the event, there will be times when a tripod will be very appreciated. There may be slow songs or even family pictures where you can take advantage of it.

Here are some pictures I took that day. They are not processed and were shot using the following settings:

  • Aperture: f4
  • Shutter Speed: 1/60
  • Average ISO: 2000
  • Average Focal Length: 100mm



More of my pictures can be found on flickr.