5 Tips for Shooting Low Light Event Photography

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Shooting events in dimly lit venues can sometimes be a challenging task, so here are the top 5 things photographers should think about and implement when put in this situation.

  1. Use an external flash. An external flash is more than 10 times as powerful as the on board flash most DSLR cameras have built in. Shooting in low light venues with an on board flash will not produce enough light to take quality photos, not to mention colours will become distorted – producing an orange/red tinge, in order to compensate for the dim light. Make sure you have the settings set correctly – most of the time the default setting will be perfect already anyway.  This proved tedious on the weekend when i was doing some party Photography in Melbourne, i simply did not have the space to bring an external flash with me.
  1. Bounce the flash. 9 times out of 10 you will produce a better image if you bounce your flash off the roof or walls around the venue. Pointing your flash at your subjects will light them up to a point where you will not be able to see any of the atmosphere around them. Ideally, the flash should be pointed straight up and bounced off the roof. This will still produce enough light so that you can see your subjects, as well as lighting up the room around them to get some of the event atmosphere around them. Using a diffuser will also soften the light, and get rid of any harsh points.
  1. Change up your shutter speed. Depending on the lights around the venue, you should be changing up your shutter speed as you go to produce different types of images. Controlling the amount of exposure time can be used to either take in more light and create motion blur, or take in less light and help freeze your subjects. For portrait photography at events, or brighter situations, I prefer to use a faster shutter speed to avoid any blur. If there are special lighting effects, venue ambience, or situations where people are dancing, a slower shutter speed can be used to essentially ‘drag’ the lights as to create special light effects in your images. This effect is especially popular in party photography where there may be a DJ set up, with laser lights, and people are dancing amongst them.
  1. Shoot in RAW. Shooting in RAW file image format will allow you to adjust for mistakes during the post production editing. If you are finding that your images are too dark, or too bright, RAW files will allow for you to completely edit the photo and fix any mistakes you made. You are limited in doing this if you are shooting in the more popular JPEG format.
  1. Read the room. No one likes appearing or feeling like a pest at an event. Reading the room is essential for capturing the atmosphere and feel of an event. At low key events, where the atmosphere is somewhat stagnant, working your way around the room slowly and subtly will often be the best way to capture the event. Take some time to shoot the finer details of the lighting, décor or food – giving the subjects of the event some time before you get around to them for another photo. If the event is more upbeat, people are moving around, and people are dancing, don’t be scared to become part of the action. Walk right through the dancefloor and capture people mid-dance with some of the motion blur mentioned before. Make sure to get photos of important people, sponsors, the DJ, or other significant elements of the event. Communicate with your employer/host to find out what these may be.

There are many more factors to think about and work into the event that you are capturing, but the above 5 will go a long way in setting the foundation for a successful album.