Low light photo guide

Do you try taking photos at concerts and shows but all you end up with is a blurry and/or dark photo? Flash isn’t rarely¬†an option in these situations because they are either prohibited or you just really don’t want to be that guy with the flash. I’m going to teach you how I take photos in low light settings without a flash.

Setup before the show


I like to find a seat that provides me a clear view of the stage, preferably around eye level with the cast. This allows the photos to not be obscured by people or props and it looks more natural in the end photo. This isn’t always possible but it helps. Before the show gets started I setup my camera using the house lights. This will give me a pretty good starting spot for when the show starts. I take a few test shots of the stage and dial in my settings.

I usually go full manual here. I try to keep my shutter speed somewhere between 80 and 250 but it might go higher than that. Anything lower and you’re going to get blur either from camera shake or movement of the subject. Keep in mind the longer the lens, the higher the shutter speed will need to be to compensate for shake. I keep my aperture as wide as I can so I can capture the most amount of light.

The tough one is ISO because you want it as low as possible to avoid grain but high enough that your subject is properly exposed. This setting you may have to mess around with to get correct which is the reason for the test shots. Sometimes I will leave ISO on auto if the lighting is jumping around too much, if you find it pretty steady you can find a comfortable setting and leave it there until a change is needed.

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This was taken at ISO 2000 with an aperture of f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/320.
He was moving pretty quickly but the spotlight was helping to keep the ISO down.

Adjusting on the fly


You are going to have to be flexible throughout the show. Scenes change and the lighting will change with them. You are probably going to be toggling from closeups of the lead cast members to wider shots which you may need to adjust for. Also, once the show starts you will need to adjust your initial settings to compensate for the spotlights that are now trained on your subjects. Failure to do this will result in blown out highlights.

The main dial near your shutter button is very helpful for this, if you have your aperture and ISO set then you can alter your shutter speed to adjust for when the lights get too bright or too dark. This dial allows you to do this quickly without taking your eye off your subject.

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The lighting changed in the next scene so I had to push the ISO up to 6400
but I kept the aperture at f/5.6 and increased my shutter speed to 400
since the cast seemed to be moving faster than before.

Expect the unexpected


Unless you’ve seen the show before you may not know what to expect. Things happen quickly and you’ll need to be ready to react if you are going to get the shot. You may need to make a change to your settings within a few seconds to be able to capture a certain element of the show. Knowing your camera settings and being able to change them quickly is imperative for this type of situation.

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During this ice show, the scene was fairly slow but toward the end of the scene the skaters picked up speed so they could execute this move. Luckily I had seen the show before and knew it was coming so I was able to have my camera ready. If not, I may have missed this awesome shot.

Now it’s your turn


Next time your in a dark show with your camera, try out these techniques and get some amazing shots of your own! I guarantee following these very simple steps will help you get great results and you will be able to feel confident any time you find yourself wanting to take photos during a show.

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