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.
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.
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
4. The multi AF autofocus setting is useful in good light but can ruin a shot in dimmer conditions. Multi AF will lock on to the area of your shot with the most contrast and, annoyingly, this is never your subject’s face. If you decide to leave your camera on autofocus, use the centre AF setting.
5. In gloomy conditions, automatic settings will reduce the shutter speed to allow more light into your camera. To minimise shake, you’ll need to hold it very steady. If you don’t have a tripod, use the optical viewfinder and brace the camera against your cheek. Better still, rest the camera on a surface such as the back of a chair.
6. A faster shutter speed will reduce the effects of camera shake. Select this by increasing your ISO. This is quite simple to do through your menu settings, but beware: the higher the ISO settings, the more camera ‘noise’ will appear in your shot. Try to achieve a balance shot that’s focused but clean.