We photographers love a bit of low light photography. Whether it be a bright, neon lit cityscape or a subtle dusk landscape, low light can convey a sense of emotion in our shots. Most of us have taken low light shots at some stage or another, with differing degrees of success. One of the keys to getting great shots when darkness falls is having the right equipment. Today we are going to take a look at some of the essential items you need to get the best out of low light photography. As a camera and lenses are a given, lets look at what else you might consider.
Tripod: The vital ingredient. You might lean against a wall, balance your camera on your bag but the only way you will get top notch low light images is using a tripod. Don’t skimp on this either, a cheap tripod may end up giving you worse images than not having one at all.
Get a good sturdy set of legs and a head suitable for your style of photography. Check out our guide to tripods here and tripod heads here.
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A Remote Control: Another important item in the low light kit bag is a remote control. Depending on your camera this can be as simple as a cable release or as advanced as a modern wireless remote with intervalometer. The key point is removing any contact between you and the camera at the moment of exposure. You might think you have the steadiest hands this side of a sign writer but the fact is, as you press the shutter, there will be movement. Disengaging from direct contact with the camera will eliminate the possibilities of camera shake.
Spare Batteries: Often overlooked is the fact that because low light images require the shutter to be open for relatively long periods, your battery power is going to drop quickly. I am sure many of you have been surprised by a sudden power loss when shooting long exposures. Carry several fully charged spares to reduce the possibility of problems.
Small Torch: A small powerful torch is an ideal accessory when shooting in low light. Typically you can use it to illuminate the camera’s remote socket when plugging in your remote or find memory cards and other sundries in your camera bag rather than spend minutes feeling around in the dark. At a push you can also use your smartphone. Many of them these days have a quick access torch mode
Flashgun: If you need to add extra illumination to closer subjects, then a flashgun is an essential. Combining several wirelessly controlled flashguns you can light up dark corners in the scene you are shooting. Another option is to paint light with a flashgun.
Neutral Density Filters: Sometimes the light is just not low enough. You might want to eliminate people from your shots or maybe create a blurry, ethereal cloudscape or water. To get those shutter speeds even lower, you will need ND filters. These days the best choice are filters like Lee’s Big Stopper. These can knock an entire 10 stops of exposure of your shot. For darker, later night shots, try a 6 stop ND filter.
Lens Hoods: If your lens has one, put it on. When we move from day to night, we go from a single, relatively predictable light source to multiple different sources, all coming from different directions. The more of these you can eliminate from falling onto your optics, the better the color and contrast of your shot.
Long Exposure Calculator: Your camera makes a pretty good job of working out exposure in most lighting conditions, but as the light levels get low it can get harder to get the right look to your shots. This is where a long exposure calculator app can come in very useful. Not only can they suggest the best exposure for a range of different low light conditions but also calculate the increase in required exposure when using ND filters. They are available for most modern smart phones.
So these are just a few items that it is well worth packing when you go on a low light photographic shoot. The tripod and the remote control should be considered essentials for getting the best quality image. The others will help your shoot run more smoothly.