As filmmakers we have a problem. We never have enough money, we never have enough time and we rarely have enough light. So how do we go about utilizing what we already have and actively looking for a solution rather than passively accepting the problem?

If you don’t have the Sony A7S and can’t rent it for the day, you might find some helpful basic tips with whatever camera you have at your disposal.

First some basics:

  1. Crank up the ISO. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light reaching it.
  2. Use a larger aperture. The larger the aperture, the more light is entering the lens. Shooting at f/5.6 lets in more light than shooting at f/18 (remember, the lower the number, the larger the aperture).
  3. Slow down the shutter speed. More light is captured the longer the shutter remains open. Keep in mind a good rule of thumb for clear hand-held shots is no slower than 1/60 a second. I would recommend shooting on a tripod if you’re shooting on anything under that.
  4. Using backlight on your subjects will provide a dark and cinematic look for your film which is simple to achieve.

Know your location and utilize existing lights (street lanterns, car lights, shop lights, apartment windows, traffic lights, moon & star light) can make you go a long way and give your film an authentic and real feel. This way you may not seem to be in complete control of your frame but you are intentional about it.

What we often forget when thinking about shooting in low light is it’s a much cheaper option buying fluorescent lighting than buying additional lenses which will let in slightly more light. Having a 4-Socket Fluorescent Fixture, for example, can be practical and achieve the look you’re going for – for 10 times less than buying a new lens.

“I like to say that lighting is about taking the light away. I often like to use the shadow more than the light. – Vilmos Zsigmond

I hope this gave you some practical advice on thinking creatively about shooting in low light. If you have any advice let us know in the comments.

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