Five Ways to Deal with Harsh/Low Lighting

A common question I get here is how to deal with harsh or low light situations.  This is a great question, and for event photographers, it’s simply part of the job to recognize various lighting conditions and address them accordingly.  Today, I’d like to share  Five Ways to Deal with Harsh/Low Lighting:

1.  Cranking the ISO and hoping to fix in post

With advancements in technology, noise handling both in camera and in post production has resulted in some astonishing results that in previous years would have been literally unrecoverable.  While we should always endeavor to make our images shine as best we can in camera – advancements in tools of the trade simply give us more options and we would be foolish not to use them.

Here’s a good example of a shot that was done at a high in-camera ISO setting, that was recoverable to a good quality image.  It may not necessarily be of “stock photography” caliber (you really need every pixel to be perfect for stock photography), but for event photography, I would consider this acceptable quality.

Removing Noise

2.  Implementing additional light sources (Flash, video lights, etc.)

Adding light

3.  Using a tripod/monopod in conjunction with longer exposures to increase odds of sharp captures

Long Shutter Speed

4.  Use a gray card to get good white balance/off-set the ambient lighting conditions.

Having your subject hold a color balance card (or even just a gray card) in the scene for one shot is a great way to counter-act the effect of difficult lighting, including everything from halogen lights, to fluorescent, tungsten-florescent mixes, and the garish hue from sodium vapor lights common in locales like stadiums and street light settings.

Gretag Macbeth Color Wheel

Sample Graycard Shot

Sample Graycard Shot

5.  Use supports from the surroundings to brace your camera

Using a tree, a wall, or even the ground to help stabilize your camera can reduce the shutter speed considerably to help when shooting in low light situations.

Use a wall for support

As much as we may try to hand hold our cameras, blur is unavoidable due to our heartbeats, finger tremors, breathing, and a host of biological factors, the best we can do is help to minimize that blur by using supporting mechanisms and techniques to get as stable a shot as we can.  Even when we can hand-hold, matching that color from the scene is much easier to do when you start from a known vantage point, whether it be your own flash, or a controlled ambient scene.  So much to think about and so little time…where do you want to go from here?

Hint:  Sound off in the comments – would love to hear others thoughts, tips, and tricks for dealing with low and/or harsh lighting! Special thanks to Kerry Garrison of Kerry Garrison Photography for sharing a sample image from his own portfolio when I couldn’t track my own down in the library (bad me for not keywording fully!)…

Please follow and like:

5 comments for “Five Ways to Deal with Harsh/Low Lighting

  1. September 1, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Another suggestion for dealing with harsh lighting would be in post using a highlight/shadow adjustment in the chosen pixel editing app to reduce the contrast between the two.

    Personally, I really like the idea of using a door frame….genius 🙂

  2. September 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

    I run around with a Color Checker Passport in my pack at all times. It’s great. One shot with the model / client / whatever, and then I can quickly fix things in post when returning to the Mac. 🙂

  3. September 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    We don’t really shoot RAW, but I’ve seen the tip in other places where you intentionally overexpose to get better low light performance, then you bump the exposure back to normal in lightroom. Have you guys used this technique?

    • September 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      I have used this approach with mixed results. While Lightroom’s Recovery slider does wonders at times, intentional over-exposure loses more detail than I would have thought. It’s like the camera forces highlights to unrecoverable levels…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *