Low Light Photography

Los Angeles photographer Rebecca Aranda gives her low light photography tips, used for weddings, parties, events, portraits, and any kind of photo where the light is dim. California event photography and beyond!

getting it right
in-camera & beyond

The majority of the events that I shoot are at night, often with difficult lighting set-ups: colored LED lights, string lights, searing yellow tungsten lightbulbs, overhead flourescent lights, sporadic lamps, candlelight... even the dreaded NO LIGHT in bars and clubs! If you've tried to snap a photo with your cameraphone in these environments, you might have an idea of how difficult this can be. The average photographer either has to deal with low light, motion blur, smudged out faces... or harsh on-camera flash.

How do I handle these situations? With my years of experience, I've got a consistent method for dealing with low light:

  • Get it right, in camera. I'm always sizing up the venue and thinking about what kind of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture I'll need to retain all the details that I want to keep. As the venue gets darker, I know exactly how I need to adjust these settings to maintain the look of the photos - while still remaining true to how it really looks.
  • Use flash, if necessary. I prefer not to use flash, and my second shooters and assistants usually feel the same way. I like to be unobtrusive, like Harriet the Spy. However, if I'm in a really dark room, I'll use a pop-up flash and a diffuser, and bounce the light around so it becomes soft - not like the harsh white on-camera flash on disposable cameras. We only want to use flash to keep the details we want to keep, like the movement of a dress in a fast dance number, not to emphasize things that only come out when you have a flash in your face (like under-eye shadows or grimaces from a too-bright flash).
  • Edit the hell out of it! (But carefully!) I have a great post-production technique using several different editing programs (depending on what the situation calls for). Some clients have felt burned before by photographers and/or retouchers that go overboard with editing - and believe me, I feel you! I can't stand the "airbrushed" look, and I also don't like it when I see a picture and think... "uh, that's not at all what that looked like." I don't want to add lights that weren't there to a photograph; rather, I want to enhance what the camera captures so that it looks like what it really looked like in the moment. The human eye can see so much more than a camera can. I aim to work beyond the limitations of the camera's mechanics, and to use my editing to make each photograph like a real life memory.

 (This photo was taken in a very dim restaurant. There are more than a few tricks going on here... but no magician reveals the steps to her illusion!)

(This photo was taken in a very dim restaurant. There are more than a few tricks going on here... but no magician reveals the steps to her illusion!)