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  • Jeff Palicki

Best Camera Settings for Low Light

Whether you're photographing indoor sports, night games, concerts, wedding receptions, or late-in-the-evening engagement photos, we've all faced the challenges of photography in low light conditions. In my particular case, as a versed sports photographer and concert photographer, these once-hurdles have been conquered by understanding your camera settings and equipment capabilities. There are a few camera settings that can be adjusted to help improve the quality of photos taken in low light conditions.


Low Light ISO Setting

The ISO setting determines the sensitivity of the camera's image sensor to light. In low light conditions, you may need to increase the ISO to allow the camera to capture more light.


ISO is measured in numbers, with a lower number indicating lower sensitivity and a higher number indicating higher sensitivity. For example, an ISO of 100 is less sensitive to light than an ISO of 800.


Camera ISO Settings for Low Light Photography
Camera ISO Settings

In low light conditions, you may need to increase the ISO to allow the camera to capture more light and produce a properly exposed image. However, increasing the ISO can also result in more noise in the image, especially at higher ISO values. Noise is a type of distortion that appears as random pixels of various colors, and it can degrade the overall quality of the image.


It's important to find a balance between sufficient light capture and acceptable image quality when adjusting the ISO. In general, it's best to use the lowest ISO setting that will allow you to get a properly exposed image. However, if you do need to increase the ISO in low light conditions, it's a good idea to try to keep it as low as possible while still achieving a good exposure.


It's also worth noting that different cameras have different levels of noise at high ISO values, so it can be helpful to research the ISO performance of a camera before making a purchase. Some cameras are better able to handle high ISO values and produce cleaner images, while others may produce more noise at high ISO settings.


Camera's Aperture Settings in Low Light

The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens through which light enters the camera. A wider aperture (i.e. a lower f-number) allows more light to enter the camera, which can be helpful in low light conditions. However, a wider aperture also reduces the depth of field, which can be a creative effect but may not always be desirable.


On the other hand, a narrower aperture allows less light to pass through to the image sensor and increases the depth of field. This can be helpful when you want to keep most or all of the scene in sharp focus, such as when shooting landscapes or group shots.

Camera Aperture in Low Light Setting
Understanding Camera Aperture


It's important to consider the aperture setting when taking photos, as it can have a significant impact on the exposure and overall look of the image. In general, it's a good idea to experiment with different aperture settings to see how they affect the image and choose the one that best suits your desired outcome.



Looking for the best Nikon lens to shoot sports photography with?



Camera Shutter speed Settings in Low Light Conditions

The shutter speed determines how long the camera's sensor is exposed to light. In low light conditions, you may need to use a longer shutter speed to allow more light to reach the sensor. However, using a longer shutter speed can also result in blur if the camera or subject is not perfectly still.


Shutter speed can have a significant impact on the overall look and feel of the image. A fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000 of a second, can be used to freeze fast-moving athletes and eliminate blur caused by camera shake or subject movement. A slower shutter speed, such as 1/30 of a second, can be used to intentionally create blur to convey a sense of movement or to create a more artistic or abstract effect.

Shutter Speed for Low Light Photography
Slow Shutter Speed | Long Exposure


In low light conditions, you may need to use a longer shutter speed to allow more light to reach the sensor and produce a properly exposed image. However, using a longer shutter speed can also result in blur if the camera or subject is not perfectly still. To avoid blur, you can use a tripod to keep the camera steady or increase the ISO or aperture to allow more light to reach the sensor without using a longer shutter speed.


It's important to experiment with different shutter speeds to see how they affect the image and choose the one that best suits your desired outcome. It can also be helpful to use a camera with a built-in image stabilization system, which can help to reduce blur caused by camera shake.



Looking for the best Canon lens to shoot sports photography with?



Using a Flash in Low Light Conditions

If your camera has a flash, using it can help to add some light to the scene and improve the overall exposure of the photo. However, using flash can also create harsh, unflattering light and can cause subjects to look washed out or overly bright.


This typically pertains to portrait or wedding photographer, as you're not typically going to be using a flash at a sporting event or a concert.


For anyone trying to become a concert photographer: Flashes are usually prohibited at concert venues. This is usually at the discretion of the band and/or venue. Be sure to check first!


Why it is Not Alright to Use Flash Photography at a Concert


Flash Photography is a Distraction

A flash going off can be distracting for both the performers on stage and the other concertgoers around you. This is especially true if the flash goes off repeatedly or if it's particularly bright.


You Need Permission to Use a Flash at a Concert

Many concert venues have rules in place that prohibit the use of flash photography. This is often done to protect the performers and to ensure that the lighting and visual effects of the show are not disrupted.


Technical issues Flash Photography Presents

Using a flash at a concert can also be difficult due to the distance between the camera and the performers. A flash may not reach far enough to properly illuminate the subjects, resulting in poorly lit or even completely black images.


In general, it's a good idea to experiment with different combinations of these settings to find the best balance for the specific low light conditions you're dealing with. It can also be helpful to use a tripod to keep the camera steady if you're using a longer shutter speed.



Jeff Palicki Concert Photography | Bad Religion Pittsburgh | Low Light Photography
Once you master your low light settings, you're ready to ROCK! | Jeff Palicki Photography

Overall, shooting in low light conditions can be a rewarding and enjoyable way to challenge your creativity and technical abilities as a photographer. And remember, anything is possible!


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