Shooting in the dark: lose your fear of pushing up the ISO!

Shooting in the dark: lose your fear of pushing up the ISO

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to take the grain with the gain and lose your fear of shooting in the dark at high ISO settings!

Shooting in the dark: lose your fear of pushing up the ISO

Too many photographers have an irrational fear of pushing up ISO. Years ago, changing ISO meant changing your film, but nowadays you can tweak your camera’s’s all-important sensitivity control for every shot. The fear today is of noise – digital grain that creeps in gradually as you turn up the ISO.

However, there are two good reasons whey you should learn to love the big-number ISO settings. The first is that boosting the camera’s electronic gain is a very simple and effective way of beating unintentional blur created by camera shake or subject movement. Remember, it is always better to have a grainy shot than a blurry one.

Second, high ISO settings are liberating. They let you take pictures in situations where you simply wouldn’t otherwise get a shot: in places where you just can’t use a tripod, or even in places that are so dark you can’t even see what is front of your eyes.

Go to extremes
Investigate the highest ISO settings your SLR offers (often labelled H). The grain and blotchy colour are an artistic effect in their own right, and enable you to take pictures in near total darkness.

Switch to automatic
If you struggle to switch the ISO early enough or at the right time, try setting your DSLR to Auto ISO. It is surprisingly good, and you can even set up the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed you are prepared to put up with.

SEE MORE: What is ISO: when to increase sensitivity, types of noise and more

How to improve your white balance

How to improve your white balance: why you need white balance

Why you need white balance
On the parade ground we like our whites to look white! The Auto White Balance (AWB) system can usually do this for you, but in some situations, colours can look wrong…

 

How to improve your white balance: tweak the colours

Tweaking the colours
In artificial lighting images can look a touch orange or a tad green. To correct for this cast, you switch the White Balance to manual and play with the different preset options.

 

How to improve your white balance: neutralise the orange

Neutralise the orange
The Incandescent setting (represented with a light bulb) is the one to use tweak images that look too orange. To beat a green tinge, try the Fluorescent strip-light option.

SEE MORE: ISO settings in low light – when (and how) to increase your camera’s sensitivity

How to shoot handheld in low light

Image copyright Tom Mackie

How to shoot handheld in low light
Professional photographer Tom Mackie shot this picture at the Taj Mahal – just the sort of place where you wouldn’t be able to use a tripod even if you had one.

His solution was to whack up the ISO to 3200 so he could come home with a sharp handheld interior shot.

SEE MORE: White balance – Photoshop fixes and in-camera solutions for any situation

Must-have items for shooting in the dark

Must-have items for shooting in the dark: tripod

Tripod
A tripod is a necessity, not a luxury. If you shoot a static subject, you should use one unless there is an operational reason not to! It frees you up to use low ISOs even in low light, and gives you a freer choice of aperture and speed.

Must-have items for shooting in the dark: superzoom

Superzoom
To travel light but leave as many photo opportunities open as possible, consider using an all-in-one superzoom lens with built-in optical stabilisation.

READ MORE

Photography Basics: the No. 1 cheat sheet for metering and exposure
10 things photographers can do to stop wasting pictures
44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
How to reduce noise at high ISO settings
What is exposure compensation: free photography cheat sheet