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, let's look at what else you might consider.
The vital ingredient. You might lean against a wall, and balance your camera on your bag, but the only way you will get top-notch low-light images is by 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.
A tripod is vital for shots like this by Stefano Montagner
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 an 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 possibility of camera shake.
A modern remote can do so much more than fire the shutter by Andrew Starwarz
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.
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. 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
If you need to add extra illumination to closer subjects, then a flashgun is 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.
Painting with flash to illuminate the foreground by R.E. Barber Photography
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 off your shot. For darker, later-night shots, try a 6-stop ND filter.
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 colour and contrast of your shot.
Long Exposure Calculator
Your camera does 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 they also calculate the increase in required exposure when using ND filters. They are available for most modern smartphones.
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.