Shooting in Low Light Without a Flash

Shooting in churches is often difficult because of low light.

Shooting in churches is often difficult because of low light.

Using flash is sometimes the only way to get a picture – or is it? Actually it is perfectly possible to get a shot in low light without using the DSLR flash. You will need to actually take control of your camera a little.

Lets look at the situation. Often in churches, museums and other public places you are not allowed to use a tripod. It creates a trip hazard apparently. These places are often dimly lit. That’s ironic, it’s just where you need that tripod. So if you have to handhold a shot you need flash right? Well, you may also have noticed that flash is often banned in these sorts of places too. Flash distracts other people and the strong light degrades art treasures and artifacts. So with no tripod or flash how do you get that shot you so badly want? The answer is you need to play with the ISO setting.

A high ISO setting is what you need. High ISO is considered to be a high number. On most DSLR cameras ISO can be found as a setting in a prominent position – look it up in the manual. You will probably find that you can set the settings from about 80 to some very high numbers – possibly thousands – depending on the camera. To use the ISO setting you will also need to be using one of the manual settings too. Aperture priority or shutter speed will both allow you to set your ISO. If you have not done this before try starting by selecting the aperture priority setting.

ISO sets the sensitivity of your camera to light. Low ISO means low sensitivity. In low light it will take a long exposure to collect a lot of light. High ISO means high sensitivity to light. Set high ISO to collect more light when you are in a low light situation. Then the camera will be sensitive to the light and you will not need a long exposure.

So, if you need to hand hold a shot in low light you need to set the ISO high. In a church for example you will find it is pretty dark for most cameras. However, if you set your ISO for, say, 800 you will find that you will be able to get a reasonable speed of shot on aperture priority… if you open your lens right up.

Your lens has an aperture… a hole through which the light enters into your camera. When you set the aperture you are controlling the size of that hole. The aperture size is numbered using something called an f-stop. The rule is high aperture (say f22) -> small hole. Small aperture (say f4) -> large hole. So go for the large aperture to let more light into the camera try f4 or even lower if you can.

Try experimenting with different ISO settings and different f-stops. In aperture priority your camera will set the length of exposure for you. So you can try out different things and still get a good result.

If this article has given you the taste for more understanding and control over your camera keep watching this space. we will be doing more on exposure soon.

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