I had gotten to the point in my photography journey were I could take a good photograph, following photographic rules and correct techniques but something still felt like it was missing in my work. I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on it right away so I did what I always do when I’m stuck and I studied. I studied other peoples work that made me “feel something” when I saw their photos or stopped me in my tracks as I was scrolling through Facebook or Istagram feeds. What I began to realize about those photos was the dynamic use of light and shadows. Even deep dark shadows in some of the photos. It made me feel something; sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness, sometimes curiosity. I was always in awe of how the photographer used both light and shadows to convey an emotion or even story.
Now that I knew I wanted to shoot my own stories using this type of light, I realized I needed to learn how to shoot in “low light”. Oh man was it hard at first! I failed, many times, before getting it right. So again, I studied. I read everything I could get my hands on about low light and just kept practicing.
At first I thought low light meant almost no light, however that is so not the case. The “blue hour” of evening, just after the sun has set, is a great time to shoot in low light; both outdoors like in the feature photo above and indoors by a large open window. Low light can be found indoors where there are small pockets of bright light with lots shadows surrounding. It can be found in a dark room lit by artificial light such as a nightlight, lamp, string lights, etc. Bright light can even be manipulated with shutters or curtains to create low light.
I’ve learned I have to be okay with a little grain in my images. I still have to consciously remind myself that it’s okay, even necessary, to raise my ISO enough even if it means getting grain. I usually like to keep my ISO as low as possible when I can but with low light, I crank it up and I’m okay with that to be able to capture the moment in front of me. I’ll also use a wide open aperture to let in as much light as possible but keep my shutter speed as fast I can have it with proper exposure to avoid blur. I set my exposure based on the highlights in the photo so as not to clip them and keep as much detail there as possible. I’ll watch the histogram to so I don’t clip too much of the blacks as well but sometimes have to make the choice of which I’m willing to compromise on.
A black and white edit works great on low light photos to emphasize the contrast of highlights and shadows. The majority of my low light images are edited in black and white both for this reason and for the fact that I’m still finding that sweet spot for editing low light images in color.
In my quest for wanting more out of my photography, I feel in love with low light and it’s storytelling abilities. I hope you take the plunge and try it out as well, who knows maybe you’ll fall in love with it too. If you have any questions or other tips to share, leave me a comment or send me a message. Or if you love the look of this type of photography, I now offer Childhood Sessions in black and white for those in and around the Denver Metro, Westminster, or Arvada area.