As an abstract photographer, I’m always looking to push the boundaries of photography and I do not take pretty pictures. As a result, low-light has always caught my interest. Low-light photography, as the name suggests, is photography that omits traditional lighting, and instead utilises darker or gloomier elements to create unique images. In photography, it’s important to constantly challenge yourself and what you’ve been taught, which is what low-light is all about. We’re often told, especially when first getting into photography, that you shouldn’t work without light, and to always find the best lighting conditions possible. However, capturing moments where there is little light enables us to see a world we wouldn’t normally notice or look for. It allows us to capture the uncanny world, evoking a feeling of something strangely familiar within our photography.
How to shoot low-light images
Naturally, the best time to capture low-light images is at night. Venturing out with your camera after dark has always felt magical to me. It’s a time when the streets are quiet, and the landscapes are empty, allowing you to really experiment with your images. For moments like these, there are two typical options to choose from within your photography: The first is to use man-made lighting, such as street lamps or the glow from house lights, or even artificial lights. Photographer Tony Worobiec has been using the latter in his light painting pictures, which you can read about here. Another creative option for man-made lighting is car headlights, which can produce really special photos. Alternatively you could simply take advantage of the moonlight, which often creates unique and interesting images. It’s also key to think about exposure; long exposure can add a lot of depth and character to a low-light image, putting even more focus on the distinction between light and dark. There are two ways to utilise exposure; the first is to use a tripod to get perfectly still shots. The second is to handhold the camera, and introduce movement into the shots. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter, but it’s always best to experiment with both and find your own groove. I’d also recommend experimenting with the flash, especially if it’s raining. The flash from the camera can highlight the details in the raindrops creating beautiful unseen views.
When shooting at night, I usually travel lightly with just my compact Ricoh GR 2 - this camera is lightweight, but allows me a lot of control. Typically, I shoot at around 400ISO, and use the landscape to rest my camera so I don’t have the additional burden of carrying a tripod. However, you don’t necessarily need to go out into the world to explore low-light photography; I myself have produced many low-light images from the comfort of my own home. In fact, some of my more abstract photos have been created using my immediate landscape, focusing on small areas of light or details.
Just like normal photography, how the image is processed can play a huge part in how the final images appear. Low-light photography means working with a lot of black, so processing gives you a chance to experiment around with other elements. For instance, altering the white point can dramatically change the feel of an image. I personally like to introduce a strong contrast into a picture. Experimenting with low-light photography can create interesting, evocative images that really come to life when printed.
To get the best out of your photos, I’d recommend the following papers: