How to Tutorial: Shooting in Low Light Without a Tripod – 3 Solutions


Shooting in Low Light Without a Tripod – Simple Solutions to a Common Problem

The golden hour and the blue hour are amongst the very best times for shooting. The light casts long soft shadows before slipping gently into the cerulean colors of twilight.

shooting in low light without a tripod
Image by revac film's&photography

Of course, the gradual reduction in the intensity of light means a gradual reduction in our shutter speeds too. This can lead to problems with camera shake – i.e. blur in your images.

The obvious solution to this is to use a tripod, but I am sure that like me, many of you get caught in this beautiful light without your three legged friend. So what can you do? Let’s have a look at some of your low light options if the tripod is gathering dust at home.

Photo by Roman Boed

Beautiful shot but can you do this without a tripod?

Number One, Try Increasing Your ISO

This is often the first course of action. Increasing the ISO increases the sensitivity of your sensor and allows you, in turn, to increase or maintain your shutter speed. The trade off is of course quality. As ISO increases, so does image noise eventually to a point where the image is unusable.

Camera’s low light capabilities have improved immeasurably over the last few years. It is possible to hand hold in extremely low light and get acceptable images. The key point here though is acceptable, whilst the shot might be good for a quick glance on your computer screen, it may not hold up to more detailed scrutiny.

Photo by Paulo Valdivieso

Learn the limits of your camera's ISO.

Widen Your Lens' Aperture

Another way to get better low light images is to increase the amount light hitting the sensor. Seeing as we're trying to avoid longer shutter speeds, another alternative is to use a wider aperture.

As with increasing ISO, there is a trade-off. If you are looking for a deep depth of field, you are going to have to sacrifice that to “get the shot” I'm afraid. You are also going to need a lens that has a wide aperture, a so-called fast lens. These are usually f/2.8 and faster.

Most kit lenses do not fit into the fast lens category but it is possible to pick up fast primes for a good price either new or secondhand. A perfect example of this might be a 50mm f/1.8 – many manufacturers produce this particular lens.

This may well give you an extra three to four stops of shutter speed over a standard kit lens. That can make all the difference when shooting in low light without a tripod.

Photo by Soe Lin

Use a fast lens.

Consider Using Image Stabilization in Low Light

There are two main types of image stabilization in use today, in camera and in lens. Companies like Nikon and Canon use stabilization built into certain lenses, whilst others actually stabilize the sensor to allow for lower shooting speeds.

The general thought is this, lens stabilization has a slight advantage in terms of the number of extra stops it gives you. The downside is that you need to buy dedicated lenses for it to work.

You will need to switch stabilization on, either from a switch on the side of an appropriate lens or via the camera’s menu system. It will give between 3-4 stops extra speed for shooting before camera shake comes into play.

For example,

If you're shooting a 28mm lens, the minimum handheld shooting speed would be around 1/30th of a second. With image stabilization, this would drop to 1/4 to 1/2 second.

As a side note, if you are going to use some solid support as discussed next, you should switch off image stabilization.

Photo by Alex Massengale

Image stabilization is a very useful tool.

Your Technique. Your Stance. And External Support

The last area we can improve our chances of a good shot involved any or all of three techniques.

  • Firstly is the way you hold the camera and press the shutter. For maximum hand-held stability, grasp the camera lightly and tuck your elbows into your sides so that you form a triangle.

When pressing the shutter, use a smooth slow press rather than jabbing at it.

  • Stance is also very important. Like with your arms, keep your legs apart a little, again forming a triangle.
    Keep your knees very slightly bent, this avoids you locking your knees and projecting any small tremors into your camera. If there is a wall or other solid object nearby utilize that, effectively making a third leg.
  • Lastly, external support. This could be a wall, a park bench or even your own camera bag. You can utilize anything that has solid contact with the ground as a support for your camera.
    The way you press the shutter is important when doing this, again a slow steady press will benefit you more than jabbing at it.
Photo by Hernán Piñera

Use your surroundings as a support.


All these techniques will allow you to gain some stability when shooting in low light without a tripod. Be prepared to check your images carefully on the LCD, zooming into 100% to check sharpness.

You can use combinations of the above techniques to increase your chances of a good shot, for example, a higher ISO and image stabilization.

Low light is one of the best times to take photos, don’t miss out just because your tripod is sitting at home.

Shooting in Low Light Without a Tripod – Top Takeaways

  • Grab yourself a fast lens to take advantage of wider apertures. This doesn't mean a Nikon or Canon 24-70 f/2.8, we're talking a 50mm, 35mm or a 28mm prime (as examples). You can read about how primes will help you improve your photography.
  • If you see something solid or sturdy, use it to prop yourself – i.e. your arms on a low wall.
  • If your lens or camera (or both) has image stabilization, learn the benefits of using it and give it a try – you may just notice a huge improvement in your photos with minimum effort!

Further Resources

Further Learning

Understanding Light is absolutely essential – as photographers we all know it, there’s no getting around this one.
So, just for the readers, we have an excellent and comprehensive Guide for you: Fantastic Fundamental Light Skills“The fast and easy way to develop a fundamental understanding of light so you can take better photos!”

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Excellent primer, bit I would add you may want to suggest that readers take advantage of the burst feature of their camera. Shake comes from the body trying to stabilize itself over time and there are instants where motion stops and reverses. For example, when changing leaning from right to left. The more bursts you take at a preferred exposure, the better the chances of one being very sharp.. This will be reflected in the size of the raw or jpeg image file. The sharpest capture of the identical scene will have the most bytes as sharp details are less compressible. This is the essence of how Nikon’s Best Shot mode works. Depending on the scene and how low your shutter speed must be, take 10 to a 100 shots. One will be likely to be perfect. It works well down to 1/4 of a second.

RS Blum, Great Idea, thank you for sharing. I always shoot in burst mode, so it’s easy for me to have well over 100 images, during the course of a shoot. But post shoot, if we take the time to look at file size; it could save some time scrolling through images, looking for the best shot. 🙂

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