Shooting video in low light conditions – Are you an independent filmmaker with limited camera kit accessories and frustrated by shooting video in low light conditions? If you are, don’t worry because you are not alone.
Shooting video in low light conditions with limited lighting equipment sucks the life out of your image. If you are not careful, you may end up with grainy, undersaturated, low-contrast, muddy video footage.
So what can a beginner filmmaker do when shooting in low light conditions with limited lighting gear? Well, you would be surprised at what you can do to bring life into your video footage in low light conditions.
If you are looking for ways to be able to shoot in dimly light locations here are some options for dealing with this problem. Keep reading if you want to know 7 effective ways to shoot video in low light. (If you are a beginner filmmaker, these strategies work!)
Before we begin, I want to let you know that these tips you’re going to read are the most general lighting rules. The mileage may vary for every one of us, depending on the camera, lighting, and so forth.
That’s why it’s important to shoot test footage beforehand with the camera you’ll be using. You need to understand the limits of your camera, and how to get the most out of it.
7 Strategies to Shoot Video in Low Light
The key to shooting in low light settings is to not be afraid to introduce light into your scenes. There is no way around this, you always need light to create an image.
But, when you are shooting a video, there is no such thing as perfect lighting conditions. We all live in a 24-hour day cycle, and when daylight begins to fade, night conditions follow. But with low light, you can capture incredible video footage that can improve the atmosphere of your scenes.
So how do you shoot video in low light? Here are the basics of what you need to know, from choosing camera settings for low light video shooting, right down to thinking about the surroundings you are filming in and the available light you can work with.
Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?
Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, James Cameron, and more.
The first tip to shooting video in low light is to know your ISO limit. This is where testing out your camera beforehand is key when shooting in low light because you need to figure out the real ISO performance of your camera.
The more you adjust the ISO of your camera, the more digital noise pours in the frame and possibly ruins your shot. So, if you are wondering what the rule of thumb is for ISO settings on video cameras, the ISO should be below 6,400 on Full Frame, below 3,200 on APS-C, and below 1,600 on Micro 4/3 system.
Curious as to why these settings? Well, the bigger the sensor, the bigger the single pixel, lower the noise.
The second tip in shooting video in low light is to control your camera’s shutter speed. When you are taking still photographs, adjusting your shutter speed is one shift you can make to help capture a low-light image. You can slow down your shutter speed as much as possible to allow the maximum available light to reach your sensor.
But when you’re shooting a video, you don’t have that flexibility. The shutter speed on the camera is governed by your frame rate. You do not want a speed too high, as that will lower even more the light available. A good rule of thumb is keeping the shutter at double the speed of your framerate.
Whatever the situation, if you’re shooting at 25fps, keep a 1/50 shutter speed. If you’re at 50fps, go at 1/100. This tip is useful not only in low-light but really in all kinds of shooting environments, as this balance allows for the best motion blur in the shot.
NO HIGH FRAME RATES
As a direct result of the previous tip above, if you increase the frame rate, you’ll have to increase the shutter speed too. This means you’ll have to adjust to a higher ISO, and push you out of the suggested maximum ISOs.
In a low light situation, you can change your frame rate to 24 frames per second, instead of using the common rate of 30 frames per second.
If you turn off the shutter (or adjust it accordingly), this allows you to capture the frame for 1/24th of a second instead of 1/30th of a second. The slower speed allows more light into the camera, brightening your image. It’s a tiny increase, but it’s still an increase in light.
Playing around with your camera to achieve the best settings for low-light is key, having a few fast prime lenses in your kit helps as well. By choosing a fast lens–a lens with a wide aperture–you will be able to allow as much of your scene’s available light as possible to reach the sensor.
A nice and bright optics can make all the difference in some situations. A 50mm 1.4, for instance, will be 4 stops faster than an f3.5 lens. What does that mean? That shooting in the same condition, you could lower your ISO from 6400 down to 800 and have almost the same exposure!
Many photographers and filmmakers use primes over zoom lenses because Primes offer wider apertures, produce sharper images, and their fixed focal lengths force you to think more carefully about your composition and story.
Related Article: 7 Important Steps To Low Budget Filmmaking
USE THE AVAILABLE LIGHT AROUND YOU
When you are stuck in a situation where you are shooting video with no available light, look around because there may be a light source around you to take advantage of. If you are shooting on the street, use the traffic lights, street lights, the moonlight, or lights spilling out of shops or houses.
When shooting interior video footage, use light coming in from a window or any practical light available. When you are scouting locations during your pre-planning, make notes on any potential light sources that you could use creatively, how best you can angle your camera to pick it up.
Sometimes you may be stuck in a filming situation where it’s completely dark with no light source at all. That’s where introducing some light into your video with entry-level LED panels will work wonders for your low light filming.
Plus with a few gels, you can guarantee that artificial light falls exactly where and how you want it. You could always introduce more practical lights, particularly into interior scenes. Table or standard lamps, fairy lights, smartphones, and even fish tanks can help you out here.
CHOOSE YOUR SETTINGS CAREFULLY
Here is a big thing when it comes to shooting a night scene, always avoid log recording and color grading in post-production.
What this often does is it introduces noise into the scene, which is what you want to avoid at all costs. Preferably, you should film with a color profile that has higher contrast and shoot for the color that you want.
Another thing to mention is don’t try to bring up the light levels in post-production because this adds more noise to your footage as well.
If you’re ready to take your filmmaking up a notch, try some of these specialty video production equipment items to get those cool Hollywood-looking shots.
These are just some helpful tips for shooting videos in low light, but these were not the only ones.
You will learn to adapt and play around in any situation as you begin to understand the limits of your camera. Another tip involves the use of noise reduction plugins.
Many filmmakers seem to have great results, others prefer to manually grade and set filters to reduce noise.
If you liked this article, please help me share it via a tweet, stumble, pin, or Facebook share would be much appreciated!
About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.