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Shooting in low available light

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. On a holiday, you might be 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 Mark 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.

model:Canon EOS 5D Mark III Focal length:75 mm Exposure:1/640 at f/4 Exposure bias:-1 EV Exposure prog.:Aperture priority ISO speed:ISO 2500 Metering mode:Pattern

Look out for the spotlights and the peak action moment. the shutter was released just at the moment to capture this subtle candid 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 Focal length:70 mm Exposure:1/160 at f/4 ISO 200 Metering mode: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 Focal length: 24 mm Exposure:1/30 at f/4 Exposure bias:-2/3 EV Exposure prog.:Aperture priority ISO speed:ISO 500 Metering mode:Partial


Not strictly very low light as there was light coming inside the cafe through these large windows, I decided to get the silhouette of the lady sitting next to the window. Check out some creative ideas of using a Window.

Canon EOS 5D Focal length:80 mm Exposure:1/60 at f/6.3 Exposure prog.:Shutter priority ISO speed:ISO 200 Metering mode: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 Focal length:88 mm Exposure:1/60 at f/4.5 Exposure prog.:Shutter priority ISO speed:ISO 200 Metering mode: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 handheld at f4 at 1/250th sec at ISO 1000.

Canon EOS 5D Focal length: 85 mm Exposure:1/250 at f/4 Aperture priority ISO speed:ISO 1000 Metering mode: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 Focal length:24 mm Exposure:1/200 at f/8 Exposure bias:-1/3 EV Exposure prog.:Aperture priority ISO speed:ISO 100


The only light source in this image is the one coming from the lamps in the plate. the focus is on the face and you will notice that in order to have a better exposure on the face, the flames of the lamps are a bit overexposed.

ISO 1600 | Evaluative metering | f3.2 | 1/50th sec | EF 40mm f2.8 STM | Aperture priority


Tram at Twilight in Lisbon, Portugal. This is a good time to shoot as things have not gone too dark as yet and one gets good contrast of the Blue sky and the yellow tungsten lights as these get switched on around the town. When the ISO is pushed high, both the natural illumination leftover from the daylight as well as the one from the artificial tungsten lights gets registered and quite well balanced on the camera's sensor.

ISO 5000 | 24mm on 24-105mm f4 lens | f4 - 1/60 | Aperture Priority | Canon 5D mark III

Do not always correct the White Balance

I almost always shoot on "Daylight" white balance as that is closest to shooting on Film. It is the blue cast here that is giving the effect of late evening towards the twilight. Correcting the white balance may not have conveyed the same mood.


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 lower 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 daylight. But inside an Auto rickshaw it is relatively quite dark as it is mostly covered from all sides. This lead

to pushing the ISO to 400 to get the shutter speed of 1/160th sec at f4. Amritsar, Punjab 2009

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