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6 Tips for Epic Low-Light Photos Without a Tripod

Tips for low-light photos without a tripod

Tripods are fantastic, no doubt about it. When it comes to capturing those perfect low-light shots, they can make all the difference. But let’s face it: They’re not always practical. Some venues won’t allow them, plus they can be slow and cumbersome to use, especially when you’re on the go and need to move around quickly.

That’s where these tips come in. Below, I share six surefire ways to help you capture stunning low-light photos without a tripod. Whether you’re at a dimly lit concert or exploring the streets at night, these tips are bound to help you out.

So buckle up and get ready to take your handheld photography skills to the next level!

1. Raise the ISO

How to photograph in low light without a tripod

When it comes to shooting handheld in low light, the first trick you should try is cranking up the ISO setting on your camera. ISO measures the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light. By increasing the ISO, you can make the sensor more light-sensitive, which means you can capture plenty of detail in darker conditions even if you use a fast shutter speed.

The rule of thumb is simple: the darker the scene, the higher the ISO you’ll need (assuming you don’t want to slow down your shutter speed). But don’t just max out your ISO to 25,600! Be aware that raising the ISO too high can make your photos look grainy and soft, so it’s crucial to find the right balance between ISO, shutter speed, and depth of field to capture the perfect shot.

So while you should increase your ISO as needed, always try to keep it as low as possible. Only bump up the ISO when it’s absolutely necessary, and don’t push it any further than you need to.

One more thing: Not all cameras handle high ISO settings equally well. The latest full-frame models perform much better than older APS-C units, so it’s worth experimenting with your camera at different ISO settings to see what works best for your particular unit.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod
Working at ISO 4000 was the only way I could capture a photo in this dark tunnel.

2. Use Live View mode

Have you ever taken a picture with your camera on a tripod only to find that the photo came out slightly blurry? It’s a common problem, especially for beginners. The cause is simple, and so is the solution.

When you press the button to take a photo, the camera’s mirror flips up and can cause a slight movement, resulting in a shaky and blurred image. This is where Live View mode comes in handy. Live View allows you to see a live picture on your camera display while the mirror stays flipped up, so you can avoid any unnecessary camera movement. Some cameras also let you lock the mirror without using Live View mode so you can still use the viewfinder.

By using Live View, you can take sharp and clear handheld photos with ease without having to worry about camera shake ruining your shots. So remember to switch to Live View mode whenever you’re taking photos handheld; that way, you can capture stunning images in any lighting condition.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod

3. Use high-speed burst mode

One of the coolest features of modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras is their high-speed burst mode. Burst mode is a secret weapon for capturing great photos in low light. When you’re shooting handheld, using high-speed burst mode can be a lifesaver. But there’s a trick to it: you need to use it when your shutter speed is just below the limit of what you can hold steady.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you can usually take a sharp photo at 1/60s. With high-speed burst mode, you might be able to get away with using 1/45s or even 1/30s. That’s because when you shoot in burst mode, vibrations from pressing the shutter button will have died down by the time your camera snaps the later photos. So even if some of the photos are blurry, you’ll often find one or two that are sharp and usable.

Just make sure you’re using high-speed burst mode and not low-speed burst mode. And aim to take a good number of photos so you have plenty of options to choose from. Of course, it’s always a good idea to practice this trick before you try it out in a real-life situation. That way, you’ll know what your threshold is and how far you can push it.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod

4. Find a ledge or a wall

When it comes to taking photos in low light, finding a ledge or wall to rest your camera on can be a game-changer. Not only will it help you get steady shots, but you’ll also be able to experiment with unique camera angles that you wouldn’t normally be able to achieve with a tripod.

Before you start snapping away, however, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind: you might need to adjust the angle of your camera lens to avoid capturing the ledge or wall in the foreground of your shot. You can easily do this by using anything you have with you, like a piece of cardboard or even a small rock, to prop up your lens.

And if you can’t find a ledge or wall, don’t fret! You can still get stable shots by using other surfaces like the hood of a car or the ground. With a little creativity, you can capture stunning photos even in the dimmest of lighting conditions.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod
To take this photo, I rested my camera on a small ledge in this old church.

5. Use your bag

As you gain more experience with photography, you’ll start to develop your own bag of tricks and techniques. And one of the handiest tricks I’ve learned is to use my trusty backpack as a makeshift tripod. All you need to do is plop your backpack on the ground and perch your camera on top. Voila! You have an instant tripod but without all the attention that a regular tripod can attract.

(Bonus tip: If you’re photographing with a smartphone, you can also use your shoe to prop up your device on the ground!)

This trick comes in handy in places like museums or galleries, where tripods may not be allowed. You can also use your backpack as a stabilizer on benches or even rest it on a tree branch (I’ve done it before, and it works like a charm).

With this simple hack, you’ll be able to capture clear, steady shots even in low-light situations – without having to lug around a heavy tripod or risk getting kicked out of a venue.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod

6. Train yourself

Just like anything else in life, photography is a skill that you can improve upon. And yes, this also applies to holding your camera steady in low-light conditions. So start practicing your stance and making sure you’re holding the camera securely and comfortably.

First, make sure to tuck your elbows in and press the camera to your face (unless you’re using Live View). Remember to bend your knees slightly and cup one hand around the lens. Instead of jabbing at the shutter button, try pressing it gently and timing your shot with the end of your exhale. Trust me, it may sound extreme, but it works!

Next, work on your composure and teach yourself to relax when you’re about to take each shot. With practice, you may find that you can hold the camera at slightly slower speeds than before.

How to photograph in low light without a tripod

Low-light photos without a tripod: final words

Taking sharp handheld photos in low light is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to unleash your creativity and push your skills to the limit. By applying the tips and tricks we’ve covered in this article, you’ll be able to capture stunning photos in situations where a tripod isn’t an option.

Remember, raising your ISO can be a powerful tool, but don’t go overboard or your photos will turn out noisy and unappealing. Using Live View will help you avoid camera shake, resulting in sharper photos. And don’t forget about burst mode – it can be a game-changer in low-light situations.

But the most important takeaway from this article is to experiment and practice. Take your camera out in low light and try different techniques. Play with different settings and see what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – they’re often the best way to learn and grow as a photographer.

So go out there and embrace the darkness. Capture the magic of low light and create images that will leave a lasting impression. And don’t forget to have fun – after all, photography is about expressing yourself and enjoying the journey.

Now over to you:

What techniques and tricks do you use to capture photos in low light without a tripod? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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