You’re getting ready to take a photo outside in low light. You know from our other lessons that having the ISO, aperture and shutter speed set to work together is important. Yet, when you click the shutter, you hear the slow “ka-thunk” of the mirror moving, and you instantly know that your image is going to be blurry. You’re at the end of the range of your lens’ capability to open up to a lower aperture, and your shutter speed is just too slow for you to hold the camera steady. What are your choices in this scenario?
1. Increase the ISO. You could bump up the ISO to raise that shutter speed. However, it does come at a price with more artifacts or “digital noise” appearing in the image. This means you may not get exactly the effect you hoped for, or that you may be limited in how big you can print the image.
2. Grab a tripod. Tripods are the answer if you have long shutter speeds, but what if you don’t have one handy? You can try a few things to make yourself a human tripod! Brace your elbows on your chest, breathe out slowly, hold your breath and gently depress the shutter. Alternatively, kneel on one knee, and rest your elbow on the knee and brace the camera. You can also lay down on the ground and prop the lens up with your hand or fist and try shooting from this prone position.
3. Choose a lens with a lower aperture. Now you know why those f1.2 and 1.4 lenses are so much more money than their f3.5 and f5.6 counterparts! Having that extra stop or so can make all the difference. However, it may compromise your composition if you must go from a long lens to a fixed focal length. The rule of thumb for a sharp photo is to use a shutter speed that is at least as fast as one divided by the focal length of the lens. So, if you are using a zoom lens set at 50mm, you should have a shutter speed of 50th of a second. (I highly recommend picking up a 50mm 1.8, which is hand’s down the best bang for your photographic buck!)
4. Use Flash. Flash may be the only answer to getting the image in the situation you are in. The trick is to determine how much, and where that flash should come from. Can you use fill flash from a pop-up flash? Overpower the scene with an external flash off camera? Learning to use flash in different ways can make the difference between being able to capture the photo or being unable to.
As you photograph more and more, you’ll start to naturally intuit how ISO, shutter speed and aperture play into being able to take photos in difficult lighting conditions. I know I sound like a broken record, but the truth bears repeating: practice makes perfect! I’m here to answer any questions you might have!