You need to be ready to capture precious moments whenever they may happen, be it under the noonday sun or after dark, which is why it’s important to master the art of taking great low-light photos with your smartphone.
Many budget cameras can really struggle in poor light, leaving you with dull and grainy photos that fail to capture the moment and aren’t worth sharing. The quality of the Samsung Galaxy S8’s camera really shines through in low light conditions, thanks to an impressive f/1.7lens which is designed to capture plenty of light and large 1.4µm pixels to help reduce unwanted grain, which photographers call “noise”.
The good thing is that you don’t need to understand all this photography jargon to capture great photos in difficult lighting conditions; you just need to remember a few simple tricks to help your shots look their best.
Firstly, watch out for bright lights behind your subjects. Newer Samsung smartphone cameras are designed to cope with this better than their predecessors, but in extreme conditions, bright backlights can still leave subjects as silhouettes lost in the shadows. It’s best to have more light on their faces and less light behind their heads.
These days most Samsung smartphone cameras offer fast automatic focus and exposure, simply tap on the most important object in the frame to help ensure it looks sharp and isn’t lost in the highlights or shadows. It’s worth investigating your manual exposure options along with High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, although keep in mind that HDR mode more sensitive to camera shake and motion blur, plus you can lose some fine detail which affects skin tones.
Many Samsung smartphone cameras offer an optimised for night but if you’re happy to dive into the advanced settings you should experiment with the manual exposure options which adjust the ISO and shutter speed.
Back in the days of analogue cameras, ISO referred to the sensitivity of the film. Standard ISO100 or ISO200 film was fine for shooting outside on a sunny day, but you needed to step up to more sensitive film with a higher ISO rating in low light conditions – or else you’re left with a very dull image. It’s a useful trick in situations where you can’t use the flash, or the flash leaves your image overblown with harsh shadows.
If you don’t adjust the ISO or use the flash in a dull room, your phone’s auto exposure settings might decide to leave the shutter open longer to capture more light. This can lead to blur if your subject moves or your hands shake, which is when a tripod can come in handy. Also avoid using the digital zoom, which can exacerbate focus camera shake issues.
A higher ISO can also help when shooting fast-moving objects. The longer the shutter stays open the more light you capture, which is generally a good thing, but you need to use a fast shutter speed when taking action shots or you’ll be left with a blurry mess. A fast shutter speed means you capture less light, so you need to bump up the ISO to compensate.
Another trade-off for a higher ISO is that it increases grainy noise in the picture, so you don’t want to push it any higher than necessary – shooting in RAW rather than JPG can also help combat noise.
Alternatively, you might experiment with long exposure options when capturing the cityscape at night, although in this situation a camera tripod becomes more important than ever and anything that moves in your shot will look blurred. Sometimes this can work to your advantage, such as capturing car headlights streaking along the roads.
Great low light photography comes with practice, so it’s worth getting out there after dark to master the art of capturing colourful nightlife.