It’s amazing how little is known about low light photography and why many pictures are ruined when the environment is too dark. What does this mean for those taking photos in low light and not wanting to activate flash?
In summary, to shoot better digital photos in low light conditions without using a flash, set the ISO setting to the higher part of the range.
You already know it’s tough to shoot good digital photos in low light conditions without a flash. I use Aperture Priority as suggested, however I don’t usually up the ISO if I am photographing a still scene. I have a Canon t2i (which I recently upgraded from one of its predecessors, the Rebel XT); both are capable of taking higher ISO images so long as you understand their limitations. I don’t try to take low light photos like the one above where the rope is being thrown from the boat.
Saying that changing the ISO setting changes the amount of light captured by the sensor is not true. We are always looking for more interesting and insightful photography tips and techniques to share with our readers. Photographic lighting is broadly classified into two High Key lighting and Low Key lighting.
The picture above was taken inside of a small coffee shop, the subject was mad to stand in front of a door leading to the inner room which was considerably darker thus making a pure black background.
One could easily master this lighting technique, only remember that your final image will consist of predominantly shadow regions and only the main subject either in full or part will be illuminated.
So the idea is to control the spread of your light source so that it only illuminates the areas you desire.
A point to note is that you will either need a professional studio or a considerably dark room or area to work, if you do not have access to such facilities you could just find a relatively dark space and it will suffice. If you have a fairly large dark room to work with you could do without a black background, else having a black background is very convenient, especially if the level of ambient light is high and there is some light spill happening from your light sources. To get clean noise free images and to eliminate chances of ambient light contamination set your camera to the lowest ISO setting. It is recommended to shoot in RAW format as it gives you much more control in adjusting highlights and shadows during post processing. If you are using ETTL or ITTL compatible lights then you could easily shift your camera to Aperture Priority (AV) mode, set the desired aperture and do a test shot, examine it in your LCD screen, check the histogram and add exposure compensation if necessary. The other approach is to go the manual way, set the camera to manual mode, since you need no ambient light to register set your shutterspeed at your camera’s sync speed, set the desired aperture value (configure light power accordingly) and shoot. Black and White is the most widely used mode for low key photography but when the lighting is right even color photographs could be just as effective.
Since your picture consists predominantly shadows, all the attention of the viewer is immediately directed to the portion of the frame that is illuminated.
Fellow DPS photographer Natalie Norton wrote an article awhile back giving tips on shooting pregnant tummies outdoors. When mentally preparing for a photo shoot, it’s good to have an idea of what type of images you want to end up with. I had a giant roll of white paper still in its tube that I ordered from B&H for about $40.
As a side, background paper can also be converted into gigantic paper airplanes when you’re finished.
For the black background, I rummaged through our closet and found our trusty fuzzy black blanket and hung that on the opposite wall.
For my setup I used 3 standard SB Nikon flashes in remote mode and two inexpensive umbrella stands. If you’re putting together a kit, I recommend you pick up a pair of barn-door attachments to better control the light coming from the strobes. My advice is to act what may seem overly confident, constantly giving positive feed back and reassuring your subject that they are looking great. No matter how good your images look straight out of the camera, you can always add a little punch in post processing. These tools allow you to convert the images to black and white, soften skin, bleach or saturate colors, and much more. Subconsciously I tend to shoot a little wide knowing that it provides more options in postproduction.
This is definitely the type of assignment that demands a good conversation with the subject.
Black velvet is the best fabric for absorbing light, and will work better than most other black materials.
I used a large piece of black felt when I did an at home photo session of my little guy and it worked better than I had hoped! I just used a soft box on low setting and used a dark backdrop- very soft lighting on my subject. Also, after having a great pep talk from Natalie who features on here quite a bit,I wasnt nervous at all.
Maternity photography is something I would like to add to my portfolio for confidential portraits. Very helpful, I recently did my friend and it was hard to make her feel relaxed while posing. While shooting in the dark with night sights, you will not be able to see lights gaps on the sides of your front sight post very well, if at all. While shooting with a light attached to your pistol, you won't be able to see the dots on your sights well, so you have to get the same sight picture without the dots. Many folks in fact go on to buy a more expensive camera thinking the problem will be solved.


Do you realize when you’re out in sunlight and taking a photo of the kids running around, the pictures turn out pretty spectacular?
With the lights dimmed and the birthday cake taken out, snapping a photo in those conditions will most likely result in a fuzzy and poor picture. What you need is more light, which is why the first thing we do is to activate the pop-up flash unit and zap!
I always think that flash used full blown in low light ruins a picture because of its harshness. They allow you to just set the ISO as desired and are usually defined in the range of hundreds: 100, 500, 800, etc. Also, set your camera to Aperture Priority and set an f-stop that allows more light through (bigger aperture). Noise Ninja is very effective in combating image noise and I practically swear by it when I have high ISO pictures to process. The trick is really to get more light into the camera without using that harsh flash—and we can do that by cranking up the ISO and setting the camera to Aperture Priority mode. Sadly there are some who hear about the latest and greatest camera and believe that’s the course to go versus using their current camera to its fulles potential. I set up my trusty tripod and let the camera take as long as it wants to gain the correct exposure. Realizing your cameras limitations will aid you in knowing if this article has a positive affect on your photography or not. What saved the day for me was having lenses with advanced vibration reduction technology built in.
Due to the presence of shadows, Low key portraits are often very dramatic and do convey a lot of atmosphere and tension. Pictures taken with high key lighting conveys a happy mood perfect for a rich and lively setting and those taken in low key lighting convey more drama and intensity perfect setting for a horror film kind of scene. That brings various photographic light modifiers like barn doors, snoots, grid spots, cutters, flags etc to use. Low key shots could be taken outdoors when the amount of sunlight available is relatively low, like in early morning and late evening.
What is important is the direction and strength of your light source; it is what determines the mood of the picture. It takes good knowledge of light, shadows and tones and skill to control shadow detail to make a good low key photograph.
For both studio and outdoor sessions, much of the mood in an image comes from the background. I used duct tape to hang the paper from the top of the wall down onto the floor where she would be standing, creating what the industry refers to as an seamless background. The fuzzier the blanket is the better, as it absorbs light without bouncing it back into the camera. I started with the typical two-light setup, each at 45 degrees as shown in the diagram below, with the third flash directed behind the subject onto the backdrop to eliminate any silhouettes and shadows.
You can’t go wrong at only $10 a pop and they allow you to focus the light where you want it. This relieves the pressure of having to remember all the sitting positions and lighting techniques you want to try. This usually amounts to picking your favorite raw editor such as Lightroom or Aperture and perhaps a few colorizing filters or effects.
Most have probably never done a shot like that and we should make sure they are comfortable with certain aspects of it before starting. I have several maternity sessions coming up in the next few weeks and have only done a couple in the past. It was really cheap to get what I needed from the local craft store and it can be used as a felt board background in my elementary school teaching lessons.
I have only done a few maternity shots, so it’s great to have some more firm advice to go by. A friend of mine is due in 4 weeks time, and asked me if I could take some of her and her lovely bump. You'll get some very cool effects with it and expecting mom's are often less concerned about how their figure looks in the shots :) I'd have at least one other lens handy, preferably in the 50 to 85mm range.
I've got an uber sweet wide angle, but I'm worried that it may distort the poor mama-to-be. For fast, defensive shooting, I instead focus my eyes on the target - This leaves my target in-focus, while my sights are slightly out-of-focus (but the 3 dots are lined up on target). Keep the top of the front sight post level with the top of the rear sight, while keeping an equal gap of daylight on each side of the front sight post. In this case, line up the glowing dots on your night sights so they are all level across the target before firing. Line up the front sight post in the middle of the notch in the rear sight (just like you would in daylight).
If you have a CC permit (or it's legal to carry concealed in your state), how often do you carry your gun on you when you leave the house? You’ll see that you can even take good pictures in low light even using point-and-shoot cameras. Back in the days of analogue 35mm cameras they had different films which had different light sensitivities.
It also helps to shoot in RAW mode so that you capture maximum detail in your digital shot (no compression in the captured image). To combat the image noise introduced by the high ISO, make use of RAW image shooting to capture maximum detail and use software like Noise Ninja to remove the offending noise elements.
The author also recommends using denoising software, which is understandable (and necessary) if you do happen to increase the ISO.


Changing ISO changes the gain that is applied to the result of the light captured by the sensor in camera or in software which has the effect of brightening the photo at a higher ISO setting, given the same aperture and shutter speed combination.
The larger the room the easier it will be to work, you could put some distance between the subject and your background and thus it becomes easier to light your subject without the fear of light reaching the background (light contamination).
Do experiment with your lighting (strength, direction and light ratios) and subject placement till you get the shadows to fall exactly where you want them. I questioned whether an article about maternity photography would be useful to many readers, but in the end, most of the tips shared here can be used for many types of portrait photography, be it mothers-to-be or couch potatoes with beer bellies. Also remember the basic rules of lighting, the brighter you make your subject, the darker the background will appear to be in the image. Once you’re set up, the three flash units can be moved about the room to experiment with more artistic and dramatic lighting techniques. As much as they seem unrelated, your ability to interact positively with whomever you’re shooting is as important as having the proper technical skills to take the picture.
Although I have learned to do most everything directly within Photoshop, these days I generally turn to products such as Viveza, ColorFX or Kubota. Lately I’ve even found myself adding in a touch of grain or noise, something I always removed previously. Notice the different feel in the two images below that is conveyed with slightly different cropping and coloring. I will be using a small Interfit portable studio kit for the first time – and will be living on my nerves. I will be using a small Interfit portable studio kit for the first time - and will be living on my nerves. Keep your sights level across the top, while keeping an equal gap of light on each side of the front sight post.
It looks like I am having the same issue as your pictures show above:When the top posts silhouettes are level, the dots are not, making shooting from point of aim with the dots slightly lower. If you wanted a film that was more light sensitive, you literally had to switch out the camera film before your next shot. As you increase the effect of the photons that are captured by the sensor you also increase noise, which is about random variations and issues with the sensor itself apart from light from the scene being photographed. This is achieved by varying the power of the key light and the fill light; otherwise known as the light ratio. It is also possible to take perfect low key images using available light, only make sure that you place your subject in such a way that the subject gets at least a couple of stops more light that its surroundings.
I wanted two dramatically different backgrounds typical for this type of shoot: black and white. Also, don’t be afraid to try cutting off heads, feet or other body parts to emphasize areas of your image. I only have 1 SB800 (my other was stolen!) – any killer advice, technical or otherwise would be much appreciated! I only have 1 SB800 (my other was stolen!) - any killer advice, technical or otherwise would be much appreciated! Even if you're feeling flustered don't let it show on the outside otherwise your subject will pick up on the negative vibes. I have considered filing down the rear posts some, but am looking for a better solution to solve this issue.
A low ISO reduces the amplification of light landing on the sensor, but you get less digital noise appearing. A basic problem besides noise is focus blur, the camera will sometimes refuse automatic focus in low light and it is not possible to manual focus through the viewfinder because you can’t see the subject well in that tiny area.
You could talk about increasing ISO increasing the sensitivity of the sensor if you equate a brighter result with sensitivity, doing more with less light. For this shoot I had a white tablecloth on hand and large paperclips that converted it to something wearable. Having a camera with live view like my Nikon D5200 (not a high end camera) and the rarely seen, even in high end cameras, articulated screen I couldn’t do without.
On the other hand if you think about sensitivity as the amount of light a given sensor can absorb in a given time frame, then the sensor has a fixed sensitivity and ISO doesn’t change that.
So, to get a smoothly lit background many studios turn to the high-tech material commonly known as paper. I yet to have a background or stand so your ideas of a makeshift background is the key for me. During night shoots, using the lower bank, my groups were point of aim and point of impact at 50 yards. Being able to analyze, with shotgun, rifle or pistol what your body does when challenged with the recoil of the weapon is critical.
If I create a certain amount of tension on the outside of my dominant forearm, I dont get that stereotypical drift off center mass up and to the right. Also being able to use your body as a fuse to transmit recoil to the ground like an electrical current. If electricity ALWAYS wants to go to ground, then we should be able to make recoil do the same. Smooth your movements out and make them economical, then your time to hits will decrease and your accuracy will increase. Most folks, especially males, tend to have that ego and its hard for me to get it into their heads that shooting is a scientific endeavor not solely based on skill. I always say that all you need to hit a deer at a half mile with a .308 is a bullet, a rifle and a calculator, but that usually falls on deaf ears.



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