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Low Light Portrait Photography Tips

10 min read

Some of the hardest photos to take are those in low lighting conditions.

In this tutorial we’re going to teach you some low light portrait photography tips that will help you capture better looking portraits in any low light situation.

Low Light Portrait Photography Tips Without Using a Flash

  • Set the ISO as high as you can without creating too much noise in the image.After a certain level you’ll notice a high ISO will turn the photos grainy. Some cameras may only go up to 1600 while others may go all the way to 6400.

    The level of noise that is acceptable to you will be a personal choice, but remember, you should be able to filter some of it out by using a post-processing photo-editing program.

    If you shoot in the RAW mode, you’ll have a better chance of adjusting the noise afterwards.

  • It’s important to open up the aperture to enable more light into the camera lens when shooting in low light situations.Remember, the lower the aperture number, the more light you’re letting in.

    For instance, f/2.8 lets in a lot more light then f/5.6. In low light settings open your aperture to its widest setting.

  • If possible, slow the shutter speed down as this will also allow more light into the lens.This is easy to do in low light portrait photography because the subject won’t be moving.

    However, for action shots, you need to use a fast shutter speed. You could also use the camera’s image stabilization mode if it has one or a tripod to steady the camera if the shutter speed results in visible blurriness caused by camera shake. Try starting at 1/60th of a second and go from there.

  • If the camera has the capability of exposure compensation you can overexpose the shots on purpose.Many modern DSLR cameras have a scale from -3 to +3. If you set the exposure compensation dial to the positive side you should be able to achieve this.
  • If there is an available light source, such as a window, position your subject so that they are closer to it and the light is shining on their face.Always shoot you photo with the light source coming from behind the camera. Never photograph a person in a low light setting with the main light source positioned in front of the camera and behind the subject, otherwise will end up capturing a silhouette photo since the background is brighter than your subject.


Photos by bloowitt and rachel sian.

Notice how in the photo above on the left the photographer positioned the subject as close as possible to the available light coming from the window. An off-camera flash (mentioned below) could have also been used to help brighten the details within the shadows. In the photo on the right the photographer positioned the available light source (possibly a candle or flashlight) below the girl to help illuminate her face. Details in the hair are not needed as the focal point is her face.

Using a Flash in Low Lighting Photography Situations

If a flash is needed, it’s a good idea to skip the pop-up type on the camera if possible since these can sometimes flatten the image since the light will be directly hitting your subject.

An off-camera flash is a better option for a low light portrait as you can angle the light with it.

Most subjects look more flattering when the flash is angled from a 45 to 90 degree angle. You can lessen harsh shadows by using a diffuser or bouncing flash light off of a wall or some other surface or object.

Photos by aranyember and elfmage.

In the image on the left a hard light flash was used from above to illuminate the subjects. In addition to illuminating the faces the positioning of the light above also helps bring out the details in the clothing by casting hard shadows. In the image on the right a hard flash was positioned to the left of the subject and slightly above eye level pointing down. Another diffused flash was possibly used and positioned to the right of the subject and at half power to help brighten the shadows and bring out details within the dress. If a pop-up flash was used or off camera flash positioned straight on to the subjects it would have resulted in a flat image without rendering details from shadows as seen in these photos.

Focusing in Low Light

If you have a hard time focusing on a person in a low light situation, a good tip is to shine a flashlight on them. Then make your focus adjustments.

Finally, turn the light off and then take your photo. You’d be surprised how simple this trick really is and how many photographers don’t even know about it!

The photo above can help you understand the general idea of using a flashlight to illuminate your subject in order to see clearly through your viewfinder to adjust proper focus.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on low light portrait photography tips. Share with us your experiences in taking low light photos in the comment box below.


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  3. Abdul Hafeez

    September 9, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Thankyou good Coapration from your side i recevied DSLR Photography Tips so nice you I thankyou again

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