Shooting in Low Light without Flash

Shooting in low light is one of the most challenging, and most common, obstacles in capturing that perfect moment.  The obvious solution is to use a flash as it will not only add light but also stop action, but if what if you don’t want to interrupt an event with the abrupt intrusion of flash lighting?  

This situation often occurs during evening wedding receptions or other nighttime celebrations.  You want to capture the moment and the mood without the abrasiveness of bright light.  There are a few ways to combat low-light conditions and create an incredible image without flash light.

 1.  Increase your ISO:  Bumping up your ISO setting is the first line of defense against shooting in low-light conditions.  The ISO refers to the sensitivity of light striking your camera’s sensor.  Adjusting the ISO too much may result in ‘image noise,’ which are tiny flecks or ‘graininess’ in parts or on the entire image.   There are several noise reduction filters you can run in post-processing to help combat this issue, but if possible, adjust your ISO to the largest increase without creating noise.
 2.  Shoot RAW Format:  Keeping your Images in RAW format gives you far greater flexibility in the post-production process, particularly if you find you have an image that is underexposed.  Since a RAW image file will give you the entire dynamic range of an image, which is about eight full stops, this provides greater options for adjustment than if you had shot in JPEG, which provides a couple stops less in dynamic range.  And some of today’s models support JPEG+RAW, providing the best of both worlds.
 3.  Use a Fast Lens:  A ‘fast lens’ is one that has a larger aperture opening so it is capable of capturing light at a faster shutter speed than a lens with a smaller aperture.  The term ‘fast’ is sometimes debated as hobbyists might consider an f/2.8 lens to be fast whereas some professional photographers consider an f/1.4 lens to be fast.  There is also a considerable expense when purchasing fast glass, so evaluating how often you will be in the position to need this extra benefit is important.  Many people who shoot in the field and in varied conditions find the investment is far worth it because they capture countless moments that they might otherwise miss.