Photo Tip Friday - Shooting in Low Light, Part 1

Welcome back!

Today's tip is about taking shots in dim lighting.

This week is part 1 and we're going to cover photography in an outdoor setting.
Next week, we'll cover indoor shots.

Taking photographs in low light can be challenging. I'm sure you've taken a shot outside which looked cool when you pulled out your camera. But once you took the shot, it was too dark to be worth much.

So then you turned on the flash.

Either it didn't help at all (because the subject matter was too far away) or it washed out the shot (because the subject matter was too close).

And, you came away disappointed. Well, let's try and remedy that.

A quick reminder.

Time Value        = how long the shutter is open to let light in
Aperture Value = what size the aperture (shutter) is: 
                                f/5.6 lets in more light, f/22 lets in less
ISO                     = "speed" of the film: sunlight uses 100 
                                                              candlelight uses 1600 or higher

Let's go over some photos. You'll notice I put the Time, Aperture Value (Av) and ISO on each photograph. This is to help you learn these terms so you can start to experiment on your own!

Mary Denman Photography
Here's a nice, warm fire. Flames are never the same in any picture. Writers say they dance for a reason.

The flash wouldn't have resulted in the warm red and orange tones you see here. So I held the camera for 1/4 of a second. If you look closely, it's not crystal clear. But for me for this shot, that's okay. This is a "family" shot.

Mary Denman Photography
We were sitting around the fire with our kids. And here's one of them now.

Notice the difference in the ISO I used? When I was focusing in tight on the flames in the shot above, I used a lower ISO of 200 because fire burns so bright.

But in the second shot, I used a faster ISO of 800.

Why? I had to take into account both the very intense light of the flames and the reflected light on his face.

ISO 200 in this shot would have washed out the flames and struggled to capture enough light to see his face.

How do I know this? Because I've washed out a few pictures....

But digital gives you a great chance to learn quickly!

Mary Denman Photography
Okay. I love storms. I've wanted to get a shot of lightning for quite a while. Last summer, we had a massive storm come through and I took this shot from my front door. On a tripod. Even so, I, my lens and my foyer ended up soaked. But it was worth it.  

This shot required a lot of patience. Lightning is so fast and bright, that you can't just "snap" a shot when you see it. Notice I left the shutter open for 4 seconds. Knowing I had to leave it open for so long, I made the Aperture f/22 which means the shutter opening is smaller and lets in less light. 

I played around until I found that ISO 1600 worked well. 

Mary's Cheat Sheet: Take more than one shot! 

Please know that I probably took 30 photos during that storm to get 4 or 5 that were really good. Digital is free for taking shots, so take plenty, sort out later! 

Mary Denman Photography
This is an urban, nighttime photograph. 

The sun had been below the horizon for a while. But the city lights and the spot lights on the falls made for a tricky picture situation. And, I wanted the water to be milky which meant I had to leave the shutter open longer.

I didn't have my tripod, so I used the rail of the bridge as my stabilizer. 

Mary Denman Photography
I even used the railing as my "tripod" to get this picture of the bridge itself. 

Notice the people on the bridge are a little blurry? That's because of how long the shutter was open. I like the sense of movement they bring to the photo. 

Remember for low light, outside shots, you'll need to play with your settings to get the right combination. Go outside tonight if you have time and play around with your camera. Experience is the best teacher. 

Then, when you want to know what to do when you see a gorgeous sunset, or fireworks, you'll be better prepared.

Hope this tip helps! 

Keep on clicking.



  1. These are great photos. My camera is my cell phone, and my pictures show it.

    1. LOL Joyce. What kind of a cell phone do you have? If you let me know, I can try and give you some tips for your phone! :)

      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Even though I only have a point-and-shoot, Mary, my eye and my ideas have improved because of your posts. Thank you!

    I keep your articles in a file for the future, when I hope I can make use of the technical aspects. You explain things so clearly.

    1. I'm so glad Robin! I love photography. And I'm so happy to be able to help you! Thanks for your encouragement. I'm trying to simplify the technical parts to make it understandable. :)

      Have a great weekend!

  3. Beautiful shots, Mary. They look like postcards of Greenville!

    1. Thanks Ellen! We do live in a beautiful area!

  4. Thanks for the tips, Mary! I absolutely love how the waterfall photo turned out.