Shooting Great Images With Low Light – Understanding Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO Readings
Today we’ll be having a look at understanding Aperture, and other terms like Shutter Speed & ISO Readings. Anyway, when I was only just beginning photography, I decided to look up the definition of photography. As I remember, photography comes from two Greek words “photos” (light) and “graphos” (to write).
So once I’d understood photography from it’s routes “write with light”, I instantly realized the importance of excellent light sources when taking pictures, but at the same time I knew that I just wasn’t understanding certain settings on my camera like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO readings, which I knew I’d need to master in order to shoot great images in low light conditions.
As I had progressed in the field of photography I did have some initial great success with capturing daytime pictures, but as the sun was going down, my pictures seemed to look worse and worse, and I soon realized that I didn’t actually know how to shoot great images without an effective light source, and it began to bother me.
I often found myself taking bad pictures indoors too, especially when my subject was covered by shadows, and similar to outdoors conditions when the sun was going down. So If you like me really want to pursue photography, as a hobby or as a profession, you will be encountering such poor lighting instances, but as not all low light situations are the same, we will need to explore the essence of light a bit more.
It goes without saying that everyone starts photography as a newbie and somehow most of the people I know did have the same problem when they first started out learning about photography, ie: they didn’t know how to take amazing pictures in low light conditions. But, every skill can be learned with a little patience, practice, and some knowledge, so to save you time from having to find out what you will need to know, I have put together the following light pointers, which certainly helped me to get on course.
So, let’s get a bit technical… this is the worst part of learning digital photography, the technical terms. But don’t worry; I will simplify it as much as I can. Anyway, I’m assuming that you have already read your camera manual and that you do know how to adjust the settings in manual mode. You will need to learn them eventually, so why not start now, right? It will certainly help you to explore the settings that your camera already has built-in to help poor light scenarios.
First, a look at understanding Aperture
Aperture is the size of the opening of the lens. A bigger opening introduces more light. If the aperture is smaller, less light will enter hence the image will be darker. Aperture is measured in “f-stops” and you will see that there are f/numbers like f/22, f/16/, f/8, f/5.6, or f/2.8. A bigger aperture is represented by a small f/number so f/2.8 is a bigger aperture. A smaller aperture is represented by a big f/number like f/22. In short, f/2.8 is bigger than f/22. I know it’s a bit confusing but eventually you’ll get used to it. Having a bigger aperture will produce brighter images while a smaller aperture will do the opposite.
Understanding Shutter Speed
To understand shutter speed we must learn first what a shutter is. A shutter is a device in the camera which limits the amount of light on a determined period of time. That determined period of time is the shutter speed. Shutter speed is expressed in seconds and fractions of a second like 2 s, 1 s, ¼ s, 1/8 s, 1/15 s, 1/30 s, 1/60 s, 1/125 s, 1/250 s, 1/500 s, 1/1000 s, 1/2000 s, 1/4000 s, 1/8000 s etc. The shutter speed dictates the amount of exposure. A faster shutter speed means that the exposure will be less while a slower shutter speed will increase the amount of exposure.
A fast shutter speed like 1/8000 s will close faster than 2 s of exposure time. What we need to understand from this is that a slower shutter speed like 2 s or 1 s will allow more light which makes our pictures brighter while faster shutter speeds like 1/8000 s and 1/4000 s will greatly limit the light than enters the lens producing a dimmer picture.
So just what is ISO?
In simple terms, ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The normal ISO level in digital cameras is 100. When you increase the ISO level, the camera’s sensitivity also increases, which just means that it can accommodate more light which in turn makes the image much brighter. But on the down side, if you over increase the ISO level, your pictures will be grainier or noisier, so use caution when adjusting your ISO.
So why should we increase the ISO then? Increasing your ISO also increases your shutter speed which in turn allows more light to be captured. By adjusting the Aperture, Shutter Speed, and the ISO, we can manipulate the amount of light that enters the lens and by doing this; we can create better pictures in low light conditions.
Anyway, here are some additional lighting tips you will find useful:-
Making the most out of Ambient Light - Ambient light simply means available light. The best thing to do in these conditions where light is sparse is to get the most out of the existing light or ambient light. Position your subject to a point where the subject is exposed to most light. If you are shooting an immovable object, focus on a spot where most light is concentrated. When taking photographs indoors, an open door or window with the curtains open may help you to produce better images. Be creative! If you can find additional light sources like the TV, the headlights of a car or a gas lamp then by all means do use your imagination.
Working Against the Light Source - You can also experiment with silhouettes. Silhouettes are created by capturing the subject in between the camera and the light source and focusing on the background and not on the subject itself. The effects will be somehow dramatic and mysterious, and you really do have a unique chance to take advantage of a low light situation to your advantage.
Using your Flash - If you have been using your camera for quite some time now, you may have discovered that using your flash doesn’t always make the image better. In my experience as a newbie, using my flash created unwanted shadows, unnecessary additional light, and a change in colors of my subject, which made the image appear unrealistic and poor quality looking. So I started to use the built in flash less and less because I thought it was just for situations when a badly needed light source is required. But I was wrong. Using your flash in low light situations can enhance your images but you need to know how. For example, when your background is brightly lit but the subject is not, you can use your built in flash to give needed illumination. Just adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the best results.