6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod


Most photographers will tell you that a tripod is invaluable and is usually the favorite accessory that they carry with them. While a tripod remains an essential piece of equipment, especially for low light photography, it is also usually the one piece of camera equipment that draws the most amount of attention.

In some scenarios and places, you won’t be allowed to use a tripod so you have to find other ways of utilizing your camera to take the photo you want. Here are six tips to help you capture photos in low light without a tripod.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#1 – Raise the ISO

The first option that most people will turn to is to raise the ISO setting in the camera. Principally, the ISO is the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. The higher the ISO the more “sensitive” the sensor becomes to light which in turn means you can capture more detail in low light conditions. In simple terms, the darker your scene is, the higher you need your ISO. But before you start whacking your ISO up to 25,600, beware that raising the ISO also has a detrimental effect on the image.

The higher your ISO setting, the more noise you’ll see in your photo. Too much noise and your photo will begin to start looking soft. The key to being able to use ISO effectively is to balance it with other elements such as shutter speed and depth of field to be able to capture the shot you want.

Always aim to have your ISO as low as possible. Also, make sure you test your camera at different ISO settings before you use it for an actual photograph you intend to take.

Taken at ISO 4000. It was the only way that I was able to capture a photo in this dark tunnel.

#2 – Use Mirror Lock-Up and Live View Mode

Have you ever taken a photo with a tripod, with good depth of field, at a slow shutter speed only to see the final photo on your computer is slightly blurred? This is one question that has often baffled novice photographers but there is a simple solution.

When you press the button to take a photo, the mirror inside the camera flips up out of the way. This mechanical process can mean that there is a slight movement in the camera, which in turn causes a small shake, hence the blurred photo. To get around this problem, you can set your camera to Live View mode (when you get a live picture on the display of your camera) which essentially flips the mirror up permanently (until you switch off Live View mode) and means that when you take the photo you don’t get the movement the camera. Some cameras also allow you to “lock the mirror” without using the live view mode (so using your viewfinder).

This issue would be the same when photographing without a tripod in low light conditions. So in this scenario, set your camera to Live View mode/mirror lock-up to avoid that small, unwanted camera shake.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#3 – Use High-Speed Burst Mode

One of the great innovations of modern DSLR cameras is how much faster you can now take photos in burst mode. Using a high-speed burst mode is a really good trick to capturing decent photos in low light. But this only works when your shutter speed is just below the threshold of you shooting handheld.

For example, if you can hold your camera steady enough to take a sharp photo at 1/60th, you may be able to get away with using high-speed burst mode and using 1/45th or even 1/30th of a second. This is because with high-speed burst mode you have less time in between photos for the camera to move and often you’ll find one or two photos sharp enough for use in the middle of the burst.

Just remember to use high-speed burst as some cameras also offer low-speed burst option and aim for a good number of photos. You’ll also be well advised to try out this trick a few times to find out what your threshold is before you use it in a real-life situation.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#4 – Find a Ledge or Wall

Often your best bet for capturing photos in low light is to find a ledge or wall that you can rest your camera on. Not only does this mean you can have your settings at pretty much exactly what you would with a tripod, but you can also often find interesting camera angles which are different to traditional photos you’d see taken with a tripod.

One thing to be aware of is that you may need to raise your lens up slightly. Otherwise, you may see the ledge/wall in the foreground of your photo. You can use anything you can find or have with you to slightly tilt the lens upward.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

I found a small ledge in this old church that I was able to rest the camera on to take this photo.

#5 – Use Your Bag

Over time you’ll begin to pick up tricks and techniques that you will use in your photography. One of the most useful that I have found has been to simply use my backpack. Put it on the floor and put your camera on top and you have a quick tripod without all the attention that a tripod brings.

This trick has been really useful in buildings and places where tripods are not allowed like museums or galleries. You can put your bag on benches and even rest it on a branch of a tree (as I did once).

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod

#6 – Train Yourself

Like anything else photography is something that you can improve your skills. This is also true of actually being able to hold the camera steady. So start by practicing your stance and make sure that you are holding the camera as securely and comfortably as you can.

Work on your composure and try to teach yourself to relax when you are going to take the photo. By practicing over and over again you may find that you actually can hold the camera at slightly slower speeds than you were able to before.

6 Tips To Help You Shoot In Low Light Without a Tripod


There’s no question that if you want to capture the best possible photos at the best quality in low light conditions, then a tripod will give you the best results. But in situations when that might not be possible, using the tips and tricks above might help you capture the shots you need.

Anything else? What tricks do you use to capture photos in low light conditions without a tripod?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer 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, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

  • Arthur_P_Dent

    Another thing that’s helped me is that I have a very limited caffeine intake, which means my hands are a bit steadier.

  • Joel

    I have found that the best way for me is to use high ISO combined with high speed burst, and then merge the photos later to reduce noise. I take a dozen or more images at something like 1/40 with ISO1600+ and combine them later. This doesn’t work for action shots, but is a lifesaver for static scenes. There is a great tutorial on how to stack and merge the images here on DPS: https://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-improve-your-long-exposure-with-photo-stacking/

  • Charles G. Haacker

    All excellent tips, Kav. I love to work in museums and other venues where tripods are forbidden as a safety hazard (someone might trip), but I carry a “stringpod” (just Google it) in the bottom of my bag or a pocket. It weighs essentially nothing and takes up hardly any room. In the U.S. I have never once been challenged for using it, other than the occasional guard taking an interest in what it was and how it worked. Taken together with your tips, plus steady-shot technology, plus a good hold and proper breathing, you can gain at least a couple of stops. You can make one in 5 minutes for 50 cents U.S.

  • Ben Rothfeld

    I’m a big fan of a) tabletop tripods that you can stick in a back pocket and b) improvised tripods. Most lamps (at least in the US) that have a finial (e.g. an ornament on the top) use the same 1/4″ bolt that a tripod uses. So every lamp is a tripod.

    Another trick is to buy a short 1/4″ bolt, a washer and a wingnut at a hardware store and then drill a hole in a plastic bottlecap from a water or soft drink bottle. Slot the bolt through the hole (in the top of the cap) with the threads sticking up and the washer between the bolt head and the bottom of the cap. Then use the wingnut to tighten it. Now you have a tripod mount that fits on any water or soda bottle.

  • Brett

    Great article. There is a technique I have used from time to time whereby you turn your head, holding up your arm and digging the camera in reasonably tight to the top your shoulder. Breathe in, exhale softly and just as you reach the end of the exhalation – click, as that is the zen moment of most stillness. It may sound a bit hocus pocus but it really does work to be able to take shots sub 1/60th.

  • When I am with friends, I use my friends as a tripod. I tell the to stay steady. I put the camera on their shoulder and I shoot.

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