Some may think that shooting in low light will result in bad video, but in many cases, the increased ratio of darkness to brightness results in a more dramatic and artistic looking image. However, shooting in less light requires more attention to detail and familiarity with your camera. I’ve listed below what I feel are essential tips when shooting in such conditions.
1. Wide Angle Lens
I often get better results in low light by using a wide-angle lens because of the greater depth-of-field. This allows me to keep more of the foreground in focus and allow more light into the lens. For example, when I’m shooting a wedding, many of the reception halls dim down the lights to create a romantic mood. As a result, I equip one of my cameras with a wide-angle lens to capture a panoramic view of the dance floor – often from the 2nd floor. I use the wide-angle perspective to my artistic advantage and never have to worry about shallow depth-of-field or focusing issues.
2. Say “NO” to Zooming
As you increase the focal length (by zooming in), you reduce the amount of light allowed into the lens. As a result, you will find your image gets darker as you zoom in. This can be problematic if the ambient light levels are already insufficient. If you must get closer to the action, then you need to physically move closer.
3. Be Pragmatic
Don’t expect the quality of your image to on par with a daylight lit, grain-free, video set-up. I find the heightened drama of the picture often outweighs any quality loss. Some of my best shots were taken under low lighting. Often times when I’m at a wedding and shooting dance footage, I prefer to keep my on-camera light off in favor of the more seductive look of the multi colored DJ lights. Don’t be afraid to experiment and go natural.
If I’m filming on the beach natural lighting can be my best friend. If you live in Southern California, you won’t have to worry much about overcast skies. The golden tinge produced at sunset on a clear day will surely give your video that expensive look without costing you a dime.
4. Pros and Cons of On-Camera Lights
Having an on-camera light can be a lifesaver when you’re left with little or no options for shooting in the dark. However, when shopping for a light I would stay clear of any that don’t allow you to dim your output (brightness). The problem with a fixed light intensity is that it is very easy to over or under expose your image. As a result, you will have to constantly adjust your aperture or shutter speed to compensate. Considering it’s hard enough to focus in low light, the added complications inherit are simply not worth it.
Another tool to consider is a diffusion lens. Without any sort of damping an on-camera light will project a harsh beam onto your subject and give them a washed out appearance. If you’re a wedding videographer or trying to create a romantic look it is imperative that you apply a diffusion lens onto your light.
5. Use Electronic Gain Smartly
In film terms, electronic gain is like using a higher speed film. The advantages include greater light sensitivity but with the expense of increased video noise. For every 3 decibels of increased gain the increase in light is equivalent to 1 f-stop. Sometimes the increase in noise can be used artistically but exercise caution.