Many people encounter events where there is a great deal of activity and motion, but all in an environment of low lighting, such as a wedding or reception. While many people might automatically say “use the flash”, this isn’t a very good idea. In fact there are some locations and events that expressly forbid the use of flash photography. This includes museums and theaters as well as special or religious events.
During all such moments, the flash will over illuminate the scene, eliminating the background entirely and brightly lighting a portion of the subject. This is a perfect occasion for red eye and poor results. It can also cause the flash to be recorded in the glass of windows as well as eyeglasses, which completely ruins even the nicest image.
How does a photographer capture images in such low light? With a digital camera, a photographer can access a wide range of techniques that can allow for successful photography in such a challenging environment.
The first place to begin is with the camera’s ISO setting. In film photography the ISO is determined by the physical film placed inside of the camera, which directs the kind of images the photographer can capture. For example, the “standard” film speed for most purposes is a 400 ISO, while the higher film speeds such as 800 and 1200 ISO are intended for action photography. People who frequently attend sporting events, or who photograph wildlife such as hummingbirds or insects rely on the higher speeds.
Today those same numbers apply to the ISO settings on a digital camera. The old concept of “film sensitivity” now applies to the light sensitivity of the digital camera’s sensor, which records the images captured by the photographer.
There is a problem with the digital ISO however – noise. This term refers to the graininess of high ISO images taken in the digital format. Luckily there are now editing software programs that specifically eliminate noise and sharpen a photograph taken under questionable conditions. This should be something any photographer keeps in mind however, because low light photography also requires a slower shutter speed, and this can present problems from “hand shake”. It is a good idea to consider what affects the settings will have and try to address them before taking a picture.
For this example, a high ISO and slow shutter speed may require the photographer to consider a tripod, especially if the images are for a special event like a wedding. In this way, group photographs are completely possible in the low light setting.
Apart from camera settings most photographers can rely on ambient lighting and any side, reflective or diffused light to help them capture images effectively in a low light environment.