To demonstrate a few ways to approach lighting a dark ceremony environment while still keeping the integrity of the photo, a high quality end image with minimal quality loss.
Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
- An understanding of how to control the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture in your camera.
- An understanding of Lightroom or Photoshop.
As photographers, whether we are shooting our first wedding/event or are seasoned professionals, we all eventually learn that light is king! The problem is that so many environments do not have good light which makes our job that much harder. For me, I have taken close to a Million photos in the past 7 years and have come across almost every lighting situation.
My definition of good light is enough light that your ISO doesn’t need to be boosted to anything higher than 1000 ISO. When we have a venue or environment that doesn’t have “good” light we need to get creative in how we shoot and edit our photos so that the end result still captures the moment in a beautiful way.
As a full-time professional wedding photographer I shoot a lot of weddings and there are many weddings where the ceremony doesn’t have good light. In those situations I approach my camera settings in a variety of different ways. This content can be applied to any low light environment so if you don’t shoot weddings, don’t stop reading. I use a Nikon D4 and my settings and approach are based off of using my D4, which is a pro grade body. If you have any model camera that is entry level or semi-pro then your result will vary.
In my opinion, the three basic ways that a photographer can approach shooting in a dark environment are as follows:
1) Rely on the camera’s ISO to boost the ambient light so that the image will look correctly exposed but it will have grain/noise that you will fix/remove in editing.
This is my first choice when photographing in a low light environment because with editing programs such as Lightroom it is easy to remove the grain created from a higher ISO. It is important to note that you only want to boost your ISO high enough to allow for the proper exposure you are looking for because if you use an extremely high ISO then your photo will only be able to remove some of the grain/noise. The photo below is an example of using ISO to boost the ambient light.
2) Shoot with a prime lens or any lens that allows for much lower f-stops (f2.8 of lower) so that you do not have to rely on your ISO.
This is another great way to document in any low light environment because prime lenses allow for a lot of light to be captured. This is my second choice when shooting in a dark environment as a prime lens limits the ability to zoom and frame a shot. A prime lens is excellent at allowing more light but it gives up the ability to zoom which means that if you choose to use the prime lens you will be limited to a fixed focal length such as 24mm 1.8, 50mm f1.4 or 85mm f1.4. The photo below is an example of using a prime lens to allow for more light.
3) Add exposure by using on or off camera flash units to add light during the event.
This is my last resort for adding light to a dark environment, as it is the most disruptive method. When photographers use on or off camera flash to add light they are making it obvious when they are taking their photos. Although this is the best option for adding the most light it is often frowned upon in many churches that do not allow flash photography during the ceremony. If a photographer chooses to use this method it is wise to know in advance of any restrictions from the venue. The reason why this technique is a very good method despite being disruptive is because of the amount of light that can be produced from the flash when it is activated. The photo below is an example of using camera flash units to add light.
All three ways are designed to add more light so that you get better exposure, however there is no one perfect way. I personally shoot wide open if possible (f-stops of 2.8 or lower), lower my shutter speed to no slower than 1/160th, and boost my ISO as high as I need. The reason why I do this is because I know that I will be able to remove the noise in post-production. The general rule of thumb that I live by when in a low light situation is to never put my shutter speed so slow that I get motion blur; grain or noise I can fix BUT motion blur is forever.
My settings and approach are based off of using my Nikon D4 being a pro grade body so if you have any model camera that is entry level or semi pro your result will vary.
** the general rule of thumb that I live by when in a low light situation is to
never put your shutter speed so slow that you get motion blur.
Grain/noise you can fix BUT motion blur is forever***