How to Work Around Low Lighting Conditions
Taking mobile photographs in low lighting can be challenging for…
Have you given up trying to take pictures at night with your smartphone camera because you’re getting less-than-ideal results? Are you getting blurry, out-of-focus images that look grainy? It’s time to take charge of your night vision and capture some great shots. Here are seven ways to improve your mobile night photography.
You need light to take any picture. With night photography, you will likely be dealing with a lack of it, which only makes things more difficult to get great pictures. Your shutter opens, your shutter closes. During the time it takes to do this, it’s recording your image. So you are going to need to either add light to your subject and/or make sure your smartphone is absolutely steady. More on that in a moment.
If you try to use your smartphone’s built-in flash, you will likely be disappointed with the results. It’s a small light source that hits your subject like an explosion—not very flattering. If you want to use a flash, make sure it’s of the off-camera variety or don’t use one at all. Assuming you are going to want to carry this extra accessory around with you, it’s a good solution if your subject is relatively close to you and you are dealing with very low light conditions.
It is virtually impossible for anyone to remain steady enough to get a quality picture at night. This is where a good tripod comes in handy. There are lots of great portable smartphone tripods to pick from, so find one that best suits your style. The only other option you will have is to prop your device against something stable, like a building, wall, or bridge—anything that won’t easily move. The word of warning here is to make absolutely certain your smartphone is secure—both for the improved quality of the picture and the safety of your device.
Once your smartphone is in place and you have selected your subject and framed your image on the screen, it’s time to manually lock your focus. If you have an iPhone, this is easily accomplished by pressing and holding on the screen—right where you want your image to focus. You will see a yellow AE/AF (Auto Exposure/Auto Focus) box appear at the top to let you know you are in the correct mode.
If you want clear, crisp nighttime images without that grainy appearance, you might need to reduce the exposure manually before you take the picture. You may think that lowering exposure is counterproductive because, in essence, you are making a darker image even darker. But what you are also doing is eliminating some of the noise or graininess that will inevitably appear, both to your naked eye and especially when you edit your photos later.
After you have locked your focus and exposure, simply slide your finger down a bit on your screen to reduce the exposure until you see the graininess begin to disappear. You will notice that the colors will become richer when you do this.
Once you are ready to take your photo, you don’t want to ruin the entire process by tapping the shutter release button on your screen, thus moving your smartphone, if ever so slightly. Try a remote shutter to release the shutter and take the picture. This could be a Bluetooth-enabled device that isn’t connected to your smartphone at all, or if you are using an iPhone, you could use the Apple EarPods that come with it. Just plug the EarPods into your iPhone and take a picture by pressing on either the up or down volume button.
If you get really confident with your nighttime photography skills, try an app that slows down your shutter speed to get really unique effects. For example, if you were shooting a street with moving traffic on it, you could use an app to create long light trails as the vehicles move back and forth. Because you are using a tripod and a remote shutter, everything else in your image will be perfectly still. Your smartphone’s shutter will remain open, however, to record the movement of the traffic for a few seconds—or however long you tell it to record. Practice with this for some really cool nighttime images.
As is the case with any kind of photography, you don’t want to rely on the editing process to produce great photos. Especially with night photography, adjusting your exposure on-screen before you take a picture will only serve to help when it comes time to edit. When you’re editing, however, try some basic adjustments with brightness, contrast, or exposure to see if you get richer colors and less grain. Just don’t take it too far. You don’t want the brighter lights in your picture to look blown out as a result of your edits.
Also, consider targeting your edit with selective adjust. Using the Enlight app, Image > Target will give you a focal point to direct your edit. That way, if you make a contrast adjustment, for example, it will only affect the area you designate. If all else fails, or if you find that some grain remains, try converting your images to black and white.
With this method, you can really show off the contrasting lights in your pictures, plus any grain that’s left will look better in black and white than color. In some case you may even embrace the grain or want to increase it (Filters > BW > Tools tab > Film > Grain); in many photos it works well to give the image movement and artistic texture.
Night photography with your smartphone is possible. Apply these tips and it will open a whole new world of variety to your personal photo collection.
Written by: David Kindervater of iPhonePhotoLab.com.
Contributing Photographer: Brendan Ó Sé, from Cork, is an award-winning photographer, winning the Mira Mobile Photography Prize and Florence Photography Awards this year. He has exhibited in Dublin, Miami, Florence, Lecce and Porto. Brendan’s photograph is on billboards in 73 cities around the world in Apple’s World Gallery of images shot on iPhone 6.