Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod

A tripod is my most valuable photo accessory. In fact, I view it as an essential item, and not an accessory. But sometimes using one is just not practical. Sometimes you get caught without it unexpectedly, and sometimes they even break. It’s good to know what to do in these situations so you don’t miss any photo opportunities.

Sunset in The Valley of Fire, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

While shooting in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, I broke my tripod. Of course, there was a spectacular sunset that night. I was able to make this photo by increasing my ISO to 2000 and using a wide aperture of f/5.0 (the widest aperture for the lens I was using) when normally I would have used a much small aperture for this scene.

If you don’t have your tripod with you, or you’re trying to make do without one, you still have some options for low-light photography.

1. Use a wide aperture

If you want to handhold your camera in low light, you’ll have to work with a wide aperture, a high ISO, or both. Often landscape photographers want to use a small aperture such as f/18 to get maximum depth of field, but that isn’t practical for low light situations. Instead, use your camera’s widest aperture (the smallest f number) and focus on the most important feature in the frame.

Most standard kit lenses don’t perform very well in the dark, so if you do a lot of this type of photography, consider picking up a simple 50mm f/1.8 lens; nearly every brand has a cheap one and they’re well worth it for their sharpness and low-light capability. The maximum aperture of f/1.8 is a full 3.5 stops (lets in 12x more light!) wider than a standard 18-55mm kit lens at the same focal length.

2. Use Image Stabilization

The rule of thumb for shutter speed is that if you want a sharp image, the shutter speed should be no slower than the same fraction as your focal length – that is, if you’re using a 50mm lens, set your shutter speed to 1/50 second. However, if your lens has image stabilization, the shutter value can be two or three stops slower than this. This leeway makes a big difference in low light situations.

3. Use proper camera holding techniques

In low light photography, learning the proper stance and camera holding technique can give you even more leeway when it comes to preventing camera shake. It’s all about stability – plant your feet firmly, about shoulder width apart. With your right hand on the shutter button, hold the lens with your left hand, to steady it. Tuck your elbows tightly into your chest and control your breathing, shooting after you exhale whenever possible. All these things will contribute to your own stillness, minimizing handshake blur.

New York New York, Las Vegas by Anne McKinnell

In Las Vegas, I wanted to make an image with a fairly long shutter speed to blur the motion of the cars. However, I was standing on a bridge that had a chain link fence, and it was also a narrow pedestrian bridge with lots of pedestrians. Using a tripod was not practical. Instead using ISO 1250 and proper camera holding techniques allowed me to hold it steady for half a second.

3. Use a high ISO setting

ISO refers to the level of light sensitivity of your camera. The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to light, therefore the less light is needed to make a good exposure. The downside is that the higher the ISO, the more “noise” you will find in your image. Noise is a grainy look as opposed to a smooth look. Some noise is okay and it can often be removed in post processing.

When photographing in low light, turn your ISO up as high as you can before the image quality gets too noisy. This setting is different on every camera and an acceptable amount of noise is different for every photographer.

I recommend that you do an exercise so you know the maximum ISO for your camera, that results in a noise level you think is acceptable. Take the same shot at a number of different ISO settings and when you view the photos on your computer later (view at 100% size or 1:1), you will see at what point image quality begins to deteriorate. With today’s cameras this point is probably higher than you might think. Often with ISO 800 or 1600 you will see some noise, but not so much that you can’t fix it in post processing. It’s a good idea to try this exercise both in good light, and low light situations.

Canada Geese at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

Photographing Canada Geese flying overhead at twilight meant that I needed a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the motion. Therefore, I had to use a high ISO and a wide aperture to enable the faster shutter speed. This image was made at ISO 1600, f/4.5 1/200 second.

Noise is not necessarily a bad thing and can be used for creative purposes. If you are using a very high ISO, try shooting in black and white – it removes the colour from the noise and instead gives your photos an old-school grainy look.

Some of the most beautiful landscape photographs are made in low light, so learning these techniques will help you take advantage of low light opportunities and get that great shot even when you don’t have a tripod.

Further reading on low-light photography:

  • A guide to outdoor low-light photography
  • Better low-light photos without a flash
  • 15 tips for low light landscape photography

The post Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Self Assignments That Teach You To See

In my 20 years in photography, I’ve seen a lot of different assignments teachers have given their students. Most I have heard, or been given myself from time to time, have centered around learning to use the camera. Things like “Use Only One Exposure Mode”, “Use Only One Lens”, or “Use One Aperture Setting”. The most interesting to me, from a photographic standpoint, involved learning to see. The reason I say this is that simple camera use can be easily learned. It’s basic math when you boil it down. But learning to see creatively, learning to compose a shot, takes much more than learning buttons, dials, and controls. These self assignments force you to look around you, to really see what you’re shooting and try to make interesting images.

1. Pick A Color

Pick up your camera and choose a color for the day. Go out and make images with that color as a dominant element in the image. Find as many different ways as possible to do this.

This image I went in search of things red. 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 1000. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro.

This image I went in search of things red. 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 1000. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro.

2. Pick A Shape

Choose a shape and create images which use that shape in an interesting way. It could be features in architecture, artwork, or juxtaposition of multiple structures. Squares are relatively easy. Start there, and then search out triangles, circles, or combinations of shape. Again, look for the most interesting composition you can to highlight that shape in your image.

I ventured into Central Park in New York City without a real game plan in mind. I found a sundial and started shooting that, and then went in search of more circles. Found this ironwork and used it to frame a pair of lovers in a rowboat. 1/160. f/2.8, ISO 100. EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 24mm.

I ventured into Central Park in New York City without a real game plan in mind. I found a sundial and started shooting that, and then went in search of more circles. Found this ironwork and used it to frame a pair of lovers in a rowboat. 1/160. f/2.8, ISO 100. EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 24mm.

3. Shoot Something Different

If you’re like me, you probably have one type of subject you gravitate to more than any other. But it’s easy to get too comfortable, and miss opportunities to make great images, when you’re only looking for one thing. Once in a while it’s a good idea to change things up and shoot something different. If you’re a sports shooter, try shooting a still life. If you’re a landscape artist, try shooting macro. These types of exercises forces you out of your comfort zone and helps you learn to see in a new way.

Normally I'm a landscape guy first. But I decided I wanted to try a still life of one of the tools of my trade.  I used some black plexi as the table, and black matte board for the background. I used a single speedlite in a softbox above and behind the subject. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. 1/200, f/8, ISO 100.

Normally I’m a landscape guy first. But I decided I wanted to try a still life of one of the tools of my trade. I used some black plexi as the table, and black matte board for the background. I used a single speedlite in a softbox above and behind the subject. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. 1/200, f/8, ISO 100.

4. Shoot Reflections

Reflections are a powerful element in photography, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to actually start SEEING them. I had a “lightbulb moment” one day when shooting with a friend of mine, and since then, I am constantly looking for reflections as an element in my work, whether it be portraits, landscapes, or still lifes.

This is probably the most photographed puddle in New England, but it's great for producing a reflection of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Reflections add interest to images so always be on the lookout. EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/20, f/16.

This is probably the most photographed puddle in New England, but it’s great for producing a reflection of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Reflections add interest to images so always be on the lookout. EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/20, f/16.

5. The 15 Foot Circle

Stand in the center of a room, or wherever you happen to be. Make photographs only of subjects that happen to be within 15 feet (or 10, or 5) of where you’re standing. Give yourself a time limit. Exhaust all possibilities. Get as many images as you can using only that area before moving on. This kind of exercise forces you to really look at things and work to compose interesting images.

I was standing in a dining room at the holidays last year and decided to try the 15 foot circle. This was a line of candles on a fireplace mantle. EOS-1D X with EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. ISO 400, 1/250, f/2.8.

I was standing in a dining room at the holidays last year and decided to try the 15 foot circle. This was a line of candles on a fireplace mantle. EOS-1D X with EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. ISO 400, 1/250, f/2.8.

For beginners, these assignments are great for learning to see. For more experienced photographers, these are great ways to stay fresh, to restart the creative eye when you’re feeling blocked, or to just do something different. What other self assignments have you tried to refresh your photographic vision?

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Five Self Assignments That Teach You To See

Delete Images?? NEVER!!

Recently, Russel Masters wrote that deleting images was good for you. While I agree there is a reason to delete some images- those clearly out of focus, poorly exposed, or with fatal composition flaws, I’m not a fan of wholesale deletion of images from a set. This rule applies to portraits, landscapes, and anything else I shoot.

Sand Harbor

This image of Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, languished on a hard drive for 3 years before I got around to editing it. It wasn't even in the folder I designated for the “keepers” I shot that day. The technical details: ISO 100, 1/25, f/16. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 14mm f/2.8L II.

Here’s the deal. I go through all of my images and immediately begin processing the ones that immediately strike me as being worthy. Eventually I get through those, and then tend to walk away. At this point, it seems Mr. Masters is content to keep the ones he’s deemed as “keepers” and deleting everything else in the name of hard disk space.

I emphatically disagree with this philosophy. First off, disk space in this day and age is relatively cheap. A 1TB external hard drive can be had for less than $100USD. I try to maintain redundancy with regards to hard drives, keeping two identical drives to store the files. One is my working copy, while the other is simply a backup of RAW files, moved offsite to my office for safe keeping.

Second, and more importantly, sometimes the emotion from the shoot gets in the way. Several times, I’ve come home from a trip or a shoot and immediately worked on the images that struck me as keepers as soon as I shot them. And those images still strike me as keepers, even years later. But I’ve had several times where I went back through images years after the originals were shot, and found gems that for whatever reason I didn’t even mark as a potential keeper.

The above shot of Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe is one example. I shot this image, along with others that day, in 2009. I had several nice sunset shots and dusk shots that really popped for me. This shot was taken as I waited for the light to get more dramatic, and then was apparently forgotten in the heat of the moment as other images jumped ahead of it in my mind. Fast forward to 2012. I was going through old images on this hard drive, just basically looking for images I hadn’t yet processed and might want to. I was bored and was looking for something to do. I went through the images shot that evening and saw this one and wondered what I had been thinking in not processing the file. Truth be told, it was a lot easier to process than some of the images I immediately worked on. I simply tweaked the saturation and contrast and was done. Posted it to my website minutes after I completed the processing. Within two hours, I sold a 20 30 print on acrylic for $225USD. Well worth the time and effort to edit.

Boston Skyline

This is another image, taken the same month as the Lake Tahoe shot. This was an exceptional shooting day for me. I went into Boston in search of this spot, found parking, and was thrilled to see all the sailboats on the Charles River, making for an excellent foreground. I used every lens in my bag this day, getting salable shots with each- everything from a 14mm f/2.8 to the 70-200 f2.8L IS. This shot was taken with the EF 24-105 f/4L IS, at 47mm. But due to the number of good shots captured that day, I just ignored it as being too blah. Since I finally edited it, it has sold 5 times!.

Another such image is this one, of the Boston skyline. I’d shot this image in August 2009 as well. I’d had several shots I absolutely loved from this set. For some reason, I find some of my best selling images are from in and around Boston. I had decided to see what else I hadn’t posted to my website to see if I had anything worth posting that I thought might sell. This image was one. It’s less dramatic than some of the keepers I immediately edited that day. In fact, it’s a fairly standard shot. But I had a great sky and good light that evening. I felt it was worth working this image and posting it. I’m glad I did. In the 3 months since it was posted, the image has sold 5 times! Between the two images, I’ve made enough to purchase five 1TB hard drives- making Mr. Master’s argument about saving disk space moot.

This shot was instantly deemed a keeper in my eyes, and edited immediately. I loved the effect the 14mm lens had on the clouds, and the interest added by the sailboats in the foreground. I had deemed the other shot, Boston Skyline, a bit too blah at the time of the initial edit. Three years later, I edited it, and within a few months has become one my best selling images.

The bottom line is, I would be VERY careful of what I delete in terms of images. Yes, get rid of those clearly flawed images. But the rest, even the ones that don’t strike you as worth processing? Give them some time to age. You may find they are a fine wine just waiting to be uncorked.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Delete Images?? NEVER!!