Taking photographs indoors in low-light conditions presents a special challenge for beginning photographers. Using a flash is one solution, but learning to use your camera without a flash can produce some beautiful photos that work with the lighting you have instead of against it. The key elements to understand are the camera's shutter speed, ISO settings and the effect low light has on a camera's ability to focus properly.
Using a Flash or Not
Using a flash in low-light conditions may seem like an obvious solution at first. Under some circumstances, however, a flash may just replace one problem with another. The dimmer the lighting, the brighter the flash needs to be to compensate, often resulting in harsh shadows on your subjects and on the walls behind them. Consider getting an external flash with its own settings and tilt settings. A good external flash doesn't just provide more power, it gives you the ability to use a soft flash, which enhances the natural light instead of obliterating it. An external flash with a tilt head is even better, because it gives you the ability to bounce the flash off of the ceiling instead of aiming it directly into people's faces.
If you are using a point-and-shoot camera or the automatic settings on a interchangeable lens camera, the camera will normally compensate for low-light conditions by using a longer shutter speed. A longer shutter speed lets more light into the camera but can produce blurry photos if either your subject or the camera moves even slightly. Using a tripod is the best way to keep the camera stable. If this isn't possible, you can often stabilize it yourself by holding the camera with two hands and bracing your arms or hand against a firm object like a table, wall or door frame. Ask your subjects to hold still for the split-second required for the shot.
Adjusting the ISO
The ISO setting dictates how quickly the camera's light sensor can collect light. Using a higher ISO increases the camera's sensitivity to light. While most photographers use an ISO of 100, today's cameras are capable of ISO settings of up to 12,800. Using a higher ISO in low light conditions can increase the amount of noise on the photo, so it's a good idea to shoot your photos in RAW mode rather than JPG. RAW photo files contain more digital information, so you have the option to use a photo editing program to reduce the noise if needed and pull the detail that you want from photo.
Low light conditions can interfere with a digital camera's auto focus, creating blurry photos. Switching to manual focus can solve this problem. If possible, practice using your camera's manual focus before you're in a situation in which you must get the perfect shot in a limited time period. For example, if you are going to take photos at an event, you may be able to use the event's rehearsal to practice with your camera.
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