Best Shooting Techniques for Low Light Photography

Hello people! Have you ever had to shoot a video at night and struggle with the lighting? Did you increase your ISO all the way to capture as much light as possible? Are your plans saturated and grainy?

Do you want to know how to shoot in low light? Don’t panic: we’re here! We share with you 8 infallible techniques to succeed in filming at night or in the evening. Let’s go!

Best Techniques for Shooting Low Light Photography

1. Have a Light Source

Having good lighting is essential for filming at night or even in the evening. Without light, your scene will be too dark. You might think that increasing the ISOs is enough to remedy the problem … mistake! Yes, increasing the ISO value will inevitably generate noise in the image.

The solution is to carry a light source with you, a key part of video equipment when you want to shoot video in low light conditions. We therefore always have a small LED light in our camera bag to have something to illuminate a face or a scene if necessary.

Another option to consider is to use natural lighting provided by the environment. Are you filming next to a campfire? Enjoy the light emitted by the flames. Do you shoot a video in the city center? Use street lighting to highlight your subject (interior of stores, street lights, etc.).

Little Tip: Don’t hesitate to play with light to create more artistic videos. For example, shine your light on the subject’s back to stand out the silhouette from the background. This backlight, or backlight in French, will give your shot a very cinematic look!

2. Equip Yourself with a High-Performance Low-Light Camera

There are cameras whose technical characteristics offer good performance in low-light situations. Nothing better for shooting in low light than investing in such a device.

In general, assume that the larger the camera sensor, the more light it will pick up. Just like 1 + 1 = 2, a full-frame camera will therefore be better suited than a camera with a micro 4/3 sensor, for example, for filming at night.

Some cameras such as the Sony A7SII or A7SIII are specially designed 4K camcorders to shoot under low light backgrounds. Others allow shooting in RAW, such as RED or BlackMagic Pocket Cine, allowing more flexibility in color and exposure correction in post-production.

3. Use a Bright Lens to Film at Night

A bright lens is a lens that has a large aperture. Why is it important to use it for filming at night? Because the larger your aperture (f1.2 to f2.8), the more light the sensor receives. This will allow you to keep your ISOs to a minimum and keep a sharp image.

With a small aperture (f3.5 to f22), you will be forced to increase your ISOs to compensate for the low level of light perceived by the camera.

OK guys, let’s see if you’ve followed this up now. If you are told “high ISO sensitivity”, you answer … “grain in the image”! Good job! You should therefore use a bright lens with a large aperture to avoid degradation of your shots.

Little tip: Keep in mind that prime lenses can open up to f.95, unlike zoom lenses. In conclusion, choose fixed focal lengths if you are filming a really dark scene.

4. Reduce the Frame Rate

To film in the evening, we advise you to set your framerate to a relatively low value: 24, 25, or 30 frames per second. The lower you shoot with a lower fps, the slower the shutter speed you will be and thus capture more light.

A quick reminder On the GO: filming with a shutter speed equal to twice the number of frames per second allows you to maintain a natural motion blur in the image.

Do you have a camera that performs well in low light? The good news is that you can shoot at a higher fps and increase your ISOs without worrying about compromising your image quality. Cool, right?

5. Display your Scene Well

When shooting at night, the goal is to get a good exposure while avoiding introducing grain into the image. Here, no mystery: it is imperative to limit the increase in ISOs.

How? ‘Or’ What? By opting for a shutter speed equivalent to double the frame-to-second ratio and the widest possible aperture. For example: 24 fps, 1/50 s, f1.8, ISO 1600.

In real life, it is not always easy to apply these tips, especially since it depends on the technical capabilities of your camera! In general, here is the maximum recommended for ISO sensitivity before having a grainy rendering:

  • ISO 6400 for a full-frame camera.
  • ISO 3200 for an APS-C camera.
  • 1600 ISO for a micro 4/3 camera.

Of course, this rule is not universal: the best is to test yourself in real conditions with your camera!

6. Exhibit for Highlights

An essential technique! It consists of exposing the scene for the illuminated areas and not the shadow areas. Yes, because if you do the reverse, you will notice a lot of noise in the dark areas while the bright parts will be saturated. The catch? It is not salvageable during editing. So, remember to display for highlights and you will be fine!

7. Shoot at Night Without an Image Profile

If you are shooting videos in low light, do not shoot with a LOG image profile. Why? Because filming in flat will encourage the appearance of grain when you calibrate.

Trust us and shoot without an image profile, so in neutral: the colors and contrasts will naturally be correct, and as a bonus … no noise in the image!

8. Use a Noise Reduction Video Plug-in

Despite all these precautions, do you still notice a slight grain that degrades the quality of your shots? You’ll love the last tip: use a noise reduction plug-in in post-production.

This will analyze your image and try to remove the lingering grain. Even if this type of plug-in does not do miracles in the editing, it can still help you to recover a good part of your rushes. On our side, we use the Neat Video plug-in, compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, FCPX, and Davinci.

That’s it, guys! You are now ready to shoot at night. A lack of light can ruin your video footage. Filming the perfect video in low light can be an extremely difficult task to master without having the right tips and tricks. Usually, the result is always grainy, undersaturated with low contrast, and somewhat blurry video images.

Fortunately, the above mentioned techniques will allow you to shoot your videos in low light without losing quality.