Mastering Shutter Speed in Low Light Situations

With today’s enormous variety of fully-automated digital cameras it can often be difficult to capture low-light indoor and action photos that are pleasing and successful. For example, pictures from a recent indoor family gathering might be full of red-eyed friends and relations and clusters of people brilliantly over lit by the flash. So, how does a photographer avoid this?

It requires the consideration of a few factors and settings on the camera to overcome some of the typical challenges of low-light photography. The first things to consider are the automatic features on a digital camera. Today’s cameras want to help people take pictures with as little photographic skill or knowledge as possible, but the settings at work in the automatic cameras are not always suitable to each situation. For instance, if someone sets their digital camera to one of its automatic functions, such as motion or sports imagery, the camera may work to adjust the aperture to get enough light into the camera’s sensor, but it will also slow down the shutter speed, rendering the image blurry.

Luckily, many cameras allow their users to go to a fully manual mode, meaning the photographer can set the shutter speed, f-stop and ISO. What do these settings mean? For any discussion of low-light photography the shutter speed is basically the way of allowing the camera to capture the action clearly, meaning that it will have to be as fast as possible to catch the image, but also slow enough to allow in adequate lighting. This is helped by adjusting the f-stop, which is the setting on the lens that allows enough light to reach the sensor. Additionally the ISO, what used to be called “film speed” for traditional photography, can allow for faster shutter speeds, but introduces something called “noise” into an image.

Noise is basically defined as the ability to distinguish the dots or pixels that make up the photograph, which is an undesirable effect in photographs. Adjusting the ISO is usually not recommended, but no discussion of photography would be complete without the recommendation for experimentation with settings on a camera in order to determine the results. Unfortunately, most modern digital cameras also create “noise” in their images with slower shutter speeds as well.

So, how do you take a good low-light photograph? There are many things a photographer can do to capture images in low lighting and the first is to make adjustments to shutter speed to see if this helps. The next recommendation is to work with a tripod if possible to allow for reduced camera shake; try adjusting the aperture to allow as much light inside the camera, and finally experiment.

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