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2,862 Tutorials

How to control your camera's focus in low light

Take great snaps in the gloomiest of conditions

For those of us who live in Britain, a country with more gloom than a Christmas episode of EastEnders, taking photos in low light is a serious problem. No matter what the time of day, we’re likely to be taking our snaps in far from perfectly lit conditions.

Low light bemuses the camera – it struggles to get a focus lock or find the right auto exposure. And the flash goes haywire, firing or failing to fire at the wrong moments.

You’ll never take a perfect picture in a badly lit room, but there are a few tricks that can improve the situation. As good as digital cameras get, your own eyes will always be better, so judicious use of manual settings can help produce decent snaps. But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.

1. Your camera’s autofocus sensor may struggle to acquire a focus lock in low light. To solve this, focus on something that’s better lit and about the same distance from you as your subject. Lock the focus with a half-press of the shot release button, recompose and press down fully.

Step 1

Step 1

2. A simpler but frequently neglected solution is to change the lighting. If possible, move your subject to a brighter location. If you’re indoors, switch on a light! Dark shots might seem atmospheric at the time, but a bit of illumination will enable you to get a focus lock before shooting and improve the picture.

Step 2

Step 2

3. If you’ve got a manual focus, use it – even if the lighting means you have to use some guesswork. Most digital camera lenses have a great depth of field, which means you’ve got a pretty big margin for error. In the image above, we’ve focused on the background, but the subject is in decent focus too.

Step 3 - Focused on background

Step 3 - Focused on background

See also:

When and how to use your flash

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