Capture stunning details, even in low light

Twilight and nightfall are magical times. These are the moments when festivals come alive, the mood of a city shifts gear and photographic opportunities abound. But capturing details when light’s scarce can be challenging - especially if you’re using the camera on your smartphone.

Low light situations are when the manual settings of a DSLR, mirrorless or advanced compact camera will help you get the sharp, detailed shots that you couldn’t easily achieve otherwise.

If you’re not already familiar with capturing details in low light, watch our video and then read on for our easy guide to aperture, ISO settings and shutter speeds.

Use a wide aperture (low f-number) to capture sharper images

If you have a camera that has manual settings, you can control your camera’s aperture (this is called ‘Av’ mode on Canon cameras). This simply tells your camera how much light to allow in. The more light coming into your lens, the faster your shutter speed can be. A faster shutter speed increases the likelihood of stopping motion blur. A good shutter speed for moving subjects is above 1/125th of a second or faster. Or for still subjects in low light, try to get as close to 1/60th of a second as you can depending on your aperture setting.

If you’re shooting pre-dawn portraits or want to capture the special nuances of city scene at dusk, try setting your aperture to its widest setting.

This means choosing the lowest f-number. How low you can go will depend on what lens you use. Many lenses will offer f/3.5. Other lenses may be able to go down to even lower f-numbers such as f/2.8 or f/1.4. An additional benefit of using a wide aperture is to produce a shallow depth of field which picks your subject out from a blurred background.

Increase the ISO setting for better light sensitivity

If you’ve used a wide aperture setting but feel the brightness of your image is still lacking, try increasing your camera’s ISO setting. This tells your camera how sensitive you want its sensor to be to light. It’s useful when shooting at night without a flash.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light it will be. Canon DSLRs, mirrorless and advanced compact cameras have large sensors (the part that captures the image) so they produce better high-ISO photos than cameras with smaller sensors, like smartphone cameras. Try shooting at 800 ISO, then increase it if necessary. You may see some ‘noise’ or increased graininess of your image, though many modern DSLRs, mirrorless and advanced compact cameras will be able to shoot at 1600 or 3200 ISO and produce great results.

Try burst mode for more chances to get great shots

Continuous shooting mode (also known as burst mode on some cameras) will capture a fast sequence of images in a few fractions of a second. It’s useful for shooting a moving subject or split second action. So if your camera has it, turn it on and give it a go – it will increase your chances of getting the superb low light action shot you’re looking for.

Review your photos for sharpness

When you review your low light images on your camera’s LCD screen, remember to zoom in to check if things really are as sharp as you want them to be. Your photos should look sharp, in focus, with no easily discernible grain or blurriness. If you’re not happy that they’ll blow up well for printing or editing, you’ll need to shoot them again. There’s nothing you can do once you’re back home from a shoot!

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