The following guest tip on Low Light Photography Without Using A Flash was submitted by Amy Renfrey.
Digital photography is easy- when you have plenty of light and the conditions are ideal. But, as you may know, lighting conditions in digital photography aren’t always as we would like them. In digital photography, it’s essential that we work with light as much as humanly possible otherwise disappointing results may occur.
One of my subscribers asked me how he could take digital photos at his friends wedding. He did not want to use the flash to distract the bride and groom during the time they were saying their vows. What he was asking me was how to get better digital photos in low light conditions without the necessity of using a flash. It’s a very good digital photography question. Good news it can be done. But like everything in photography there are advantages and disadvantages.
The flash is the biggest solution to low light digital photography. However the problem with this is that not all situations can benefit from using the flash. Not only does it interfere with your “moment” socially and artistically, but the flash can flatten out your digital images. This is especially true for a flash that is built-in on digital cameras. The built in flash (and a flash in general) has the effect of lighting your subject on the front only which compresses the depth in your digital photos. Compressed depth can really decrease the beauty of your subject in your digital photography.
This can be avoided to a certain degree, depending on your subject and by watching how your light falls. Learn how to see how the light falls on your surroundings and your mind will become adept at knowing what works and what doesn’t with the flash
Really, a good way to combat the problem in low light you can try using a higher ISO. Your ISO simply means the amount of sensitivity of light falling on your sensor. For example take traditional photography as a comparison to digital photography. Traditional photography ISO will be film sensitivity. (ISO in traditional terms works with film speed as well.)
The only set back in digital photography ISO is noise. If your ISO is perfect for the photo yet there is a significant increase in noise you can use software to sharpen up your digital photo. There are two good noise reduction software programs called“Noise Ninja” or “Neat Image”. If you don’t push the ISO higher you may find the problem with camera shake if a tripod is not in hand. By adjusting the ISO you will find that noise is better than camera shake. In digital photography noise will always be something to consider.
In digital photography, a higher ISO allows you to take photos in low light situations. In traditional photography you’d have to change your roll of film from. In digital photography ISO give you the opportunity to adjust a setting, rather than fiddle with changing film. This is advantageous if the subject is not going to stay around or you yourself are unable to stay for an extended length of time.
I’ll use another example. Let’s take for example you are taking dome digital shots indoors, like someone speaking, or playing an instrument. Perhaps the flash is not appropriate in this situation. In this case (which happens a lot in digital photography) you would simply adjust the ISO to a higher setting. If you set the camera on “ISO Auto” your digital camera will then detect that a higher ISO is necessary. Alternatively you can set the ISO yourself. This higher sensitivity can give you the opportunity of gaining the right exposure for the shot.
If you find that’s still not right, because your digital photo now has camera shake and you don’t have a tripod, you can in fact decide on the next top ISO which will then enable you to select a faster shutter speed.
update – DPS reader BayTamper emailed in a continuation of this post with an extra tip:
As someone who shoots a ton of low light, no flash concert photography, I feel you hit on two key points, but left out a THIRD KEY POINT, which is FAST LENSES!!!
For me, when I’m absolutely desperate for light without a flash, I use this technique:
1. Crank ISO as high as it will go
2. Shoot RAW if possible
3. Use aperature-priority with the lowest f-stop on the fastest lens I have (f1.8 or lower if you can).
4. If that still caases my shutter speeds to be too low to hand-hold, then I might even set exposure compoensation down a stop, which will increase the speed a little, and then I’ll push the exposure in post (preferablly in RAW).
5. Lastly, I’ll use various forms of noise reduction to help on the grain/noise front.