shooting in available low light

April 14, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

© munish khanna photography

Out of choice or out of compulsion you may not be carrying along all your lighting paraphernalia with you. While traveling and on a holiday, it's not possible to take along the lighting gear with you. You might even consider taking along the most basic photography equipment with you as compared to when traveling on a photography assignment.

This time around, you are not creating the shot. It's already lighted up and is ready to get noticed by an able photographer to bring out the best of the scene as well as the photographers potential.

While you get slow shutter speeds shooting fast is the key to get the shot when the subject is at the right spot with the right kind of light falling on it. Faster lenses are important but with technology improving with every new camera the quality of photographs at higher ISOs has improved drastically making it relatively less dependency on faster lenses. Good lenses today focus very fast and again it becomes less important for one to have a faster lens which would focus relatively faster in low light situations. However, to get good shots, think beyond the Photography gear.

White balance can sometimes be challenging while shooting indoors in mixed kind of lighting. Most professionals would shoot on RAW and handle the fine tuning of white balance later on in the RAW converting software be it Adobe's Lightroom, Canon's Digital Photo professional, Nikon's View NX or Phase one's Capture one. 

Sometimes, supplementing the low available light with a small portable flash helps bring out better detail along with the required "kick" in the shot. It also lets you shoot at a relatively lower ISO striking the right balance between ISO and exposure.

Do remember, noise from shooting at higher ISO can be taken care of in image editing software but nothing can be done for the blur due to the camera shake registered due to the slow shutter speed of the camera. NOISE today is not so much of a problem with cameras like Canon EOS 5D Mark III and I generally choose not to correct it as sometimes correcting the NOISE loses on the contrast of the photograph. 

The lighting was constantly changing as the Ladyboys were photographed with Canon EOS 5D mark III at the Starz Cabaret in Koh Samui, Thailand. Exposure was reduced by one stop to achieve a higher shutter speed. While shooting dance movement its important to take care of the subjects movement as well besides considering the camera shake. Performance of Mrk III is pretty good at ISO 2500. It's always good to shoot right to begin with but In these shots it's actually irrelevant to "correct" the white balance as the whole mood is being created by the coloured lights. What's correct and what's incorrect is all very relative. Technically wrong is the right here.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 75 mm 1/640 at f/4 -1 EV Aperture priority ISO 2500 Pattern

Look out for the spot lights and the peak action moment. the shutter was released just at the moment. Notice the lips and the position of the hands. 

The ISO was further pushed to 6400 to achieve a higher shutter speed of 1/1000th sec with the focus at the distant dancer.


Canon EOS 5D Mark II 70 mm 1/160 at f/4 ISO 200 Partial

This is just around one of the malls in Dubai, UAE. Even with a slower shutter speed, the boat is sharp as the scenes has been photographed with a wide angled lens.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II 24 mm 1/30 at f/4 -2/3 EV Aperture priority ISO 500 Partial

Not strictly very low light as there was light coming inside the cafe through these large windows, I decided the get the silhouette of the lady sitting next to the window. 

Canon EOS 5D 80 mm 1/60 at f/6.3 Shutter priority ISO 200 Pattern year 2008

On the other side of the cafe, I noticed the reflection of this young boy sitting next to the window. The glass actually shows the outside view instead of the framed poster itself. Kohima in Nagaland has several cafes along it's streets. 

Canon EOS 5D 88 mm 1/60 at f/4.5 Shutter priority ISO 200 Pattern

I let the exposure be the one suggested by the camera's multi pattern Evaluative metering. The window lighting is creating a rim light effect while I was able to shoot hand held at f4 at 1/250th sec at ISO 1000.

Canon EOS 5D 85 mm 1/250 at f/4  Aperture priority ISO 1000 Pattern year 2009

Available but not strictly a low light situation as it was shot in Nubra Valley in Ladakh towards the setting sun. To add interest, I asked my fellow photographer to stand right there to get the star burst effect. To achieve a star burst effect, one needs to close down the aperture quite a bit and the sun needs to shine through the edge of the subject. One can see the effect through a DSLR.

Canon EOS 5D 24 mm 1/200 at f/8 -1/3 EV Aperture priority ISO 100

Interestingly what we define as low light in photographic terms is often too good to see around with the naked eye just because of the adaptive nature of the human eye. On the other hand, it's low for photography purposes as it leads to the usage of low shutter speeds even with the aperture wide open. As the light gets lower, there is no option but to increase the ISO so as to be able shoot handheld.

Not a low light situation as such because it was shot in broad day light but inside an Auto rickshaw leading to pushing the ISO to 400 to get the shutter speed of 1/160th sec at f4. Amritsar, Punjab 2009

Munish Khanna is a renowned Advertising and Fashion photographer who is actively involved in Photography assignments across a wide range of genres. His work can be viewed at  While he started teaching photography in early 90's at New Delhi, he has recently put together his vast experience in the form of an online photography course 

His company, is involved in wedding photography and films besides corporate films and documentaries.   


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