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How to shoot video in low light


Written by Becky T

Published Oct 09, 2023

If you’re looking to take your videography skills to the next level, low light video shooting is one aspect that you simply can’t ignore. Whether you’re filming a wedding or capturing footage in a dimly lit film studio, shooting in low light can push your skills and creativity to the limits.

However, low light videography comes with its own set of challenges and requires a different approach to traditional filming. In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to shoot video in low light successfully.


  1. Understanding low light videography
  2. Choosing the right video camera and lens
  3. Camera settings for low light videography
  4. Lighting techniques for low light video
  5. Wrapping up

Understanding low light videography

The first step to mastering low light shooting is to understand the unique challenges it poses. When you shoot in low light, your camera’s exposure settings must be adjusted to allow enough light into the lens for a well-exposed image. However, this can lead to issues such as noise, grain, and blurriness.

Challenges of low light shooting

The biggest challenge when shooting in low light is that there simply isn’t enough light for the camera to capture a well-exposed image. This can result in a noisy image with poor colour accuracy. Additionally, the lack of light can make autofocus and image stabilisation more difficult, leading to shaky and blurry footage. If you want to read up on film and video lighting more generally, we've got you covered.

One way to combat the lack of light is to use a faster lens, such as a prime lens with a low F-stop. This allows more light into the lens, resulting in a brighter image with less noise. However, faster lenses can be expensive and may not be suitable for all shooting situations.

image of a woman posing in front of a strip of red LED lights
Image by Yuris Alhumaydy

Another option is to use artificial lighting, such as a portable LED light or a studio light. This can help to create a more evenly lit scene, reducing the contrast between bright and dark areas. However, it’s important to be careful when using artificial lighting, as it can create harsh shadows and affect the natural look of the scene.

Importance of proper exposure

Proper exposure is key when shooting in low light. It’s important to adjust your camera’s settings to let in enough light for a well-exposed image, while still maintaining accurate colours and minimal noise. Finding the right balance can take practice and experimentation, but it’s crucial for successful low light videography.

One technique for achieving proper exposure in low light is to use manual mode. This allows you to control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, giving you complete control over the exposure. However, it can be challenging to find the right settings, especially if the lighting conditions are constantly changing.

Another option is to use automatic mode, which can adjust the exposure settings for you. However, this can result in inconsistent results, as the camera may not always make the best decisions for the scene.

Ultimately, the key to successful low light videography is to practice and experiment with different techniques and settings. With time and experience, you’ll be able to capture stunning footage in even the darkest of environments.

Choosing the right video camera and lens

The gear you use can have a significant impact on the quality of your low light footage. When choosing a camera for low light shooting, there are several key factors to consider. Typically, cinematic and cine lenses will offer you the greatest range of settings and abilities.

Camera sensor size and low light performance

The size of your camera’s sensor plays a significant role in its low light performance. Generally, larger sensors can capture more light and produce better low light images. Full-frame sensors are often used for professional videography, but crop sensors can still deliver great results in the right lighting conditions.

It's important to note that the size of the sensor isn't the only factor that affects low light performance. The quality of the sensor and the camera's image processing capabilities also play a significant role. Some cameras with smaller sensors can still produce great low light footage thanks to advanced image processing algorithms.

photo of a woman utilising low light videography on a large camera
Image by by Szabo Viktor

Lens aperture and low light shooting

The aperture of your lens also plays a crucial role in low light videography. A wider aperture (lower F-stop number) allows more light to enter the lens, making it easier to capture well-exposed images in low light conditions. Prime lenses with fixed apertures are often used for low light videography due to their wider apertures.

It's worth noting that the aperture isn't the only factor that affects the amount of light that enters the lens. The distance between the lens and the subject also plays a role, as well as the amount of ambient light in the scene. In some cases, adding additional lighting can help improve the quality of your low light footage.

Image stabilisation features

Image stabilisation is an important feature to consider for low light shooting, as it can help reduce camera shake and ensure sharper footage. Look for cameras and lenses with built-in stabilisation features, or consider using a tripod or stabiliser to keep your shots steady.

It's important to note that image stabilisation can sometimes come at the cost of image quality. Some cameras and lenses use digital stabilisation techniques that can introduce artefacts or reduce image sharpness. In some cases, it may be better to use a physical stabilisation device like a gimbal or steadicam to ensure the best possible footage.

Choosing the right camera and lens for low light videography requires careful consideration of several key factors. By selecting a camera with a large sensor, a lens with a wide aperture, and built-in image stabilisation features, you can capture stunning low light footage that will impress your audience.

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Camera settings for low light videography

Once you have the right gear, it’s important to understand how to adjust your camera settings for low light shooting. Shooting in low light conditions can be challenging, but it can also create some of the most stunning and dramatic footage.

When shooting in low light conditions, it’s important to remember that the camera’s sensor needs to be able to capture as much light as possible. This means that you’ll need to adjust your camera settings to allow more light into the sensor.

Adjusting ISO for low light conditions

ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light, and it can be a powerful tool for low light videography. A higher ISO means that your camera will be more sensitive to light, allowing you to shoot in darker conditions. However, increasing the ISO too much can result in a noisy image. It’s important to experiment with different ISO levels to find the balance between a well-exposed image and minimal noise.

photo of a DSLR camera's ISO settings, used for low light videography
Image by ShareGrid

Another option is to use a camera that has a larger sensor, as this will allow more light to enter the camera and result in a better image quality.

Balancing shutter speed and frame rate

Shutter speed and frame rate are two key camera settings that affect the look and feel of your footage, particularly in low light conditions. A slower shutter speed (e.g. 1/50) paired with a lower frame rate (e.g. 24fps) can help let in more light, but can also result in motion blur. On the other hand, a faster shutter speed (e.g. 1/125) paired with a higher frame rate (e.g. 60fps) can result in a sharper image, but may not let in enough light.

Experimenting with different combinations of shutter speed and frame rate can help you find the right balance for your project. It’s important to keep in mind the type of footage you’re shooting and the look you want to achieve.

Utilising white balance for accurate colours

White balance is another setting that’s crucial for accurate colours in low light shooting. When there isn’t enough light, colours can appear distorted or off-balance, making it important to adjust your camera’s white balance settings to ensure accurate colour representation. It’s important to remember that different light sources have different colour temperatures, which can affect the colours in your footage.

low light photograph of a train station
Image by Craig Adderley

Some cameras have an automatic white balance setting, which can be useful in low light conditions. However, it’s always best to manually adjust the white balance to ensure accurate colours.

Overall, shooting in low light conditions requires a bit of experimentation and practice to get the settings right. With the right gear and camera settings, you can create stunning and dramatic footage that will captivate your audience.

Lighting techniques for low light video

When it comes to low light videography, lighting plays a crucial role in capturing well-exposed footage. However, there are many other factors that can affect the quality of your video in low light conditions. These include the type of camera you are using, the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor, and the type of lens you are using. 

It is important to keep in mind that low light videography can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. With the right techniques and filming equipment, you can create stunning footage that captures the mood and atmosphere of your environment.

Using available light sources

The simplest lighting technique for low light videography is to use available light sources. This could be natural light or ambient lighting in your environment. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all available light sources are created equal. 

low light photograph of a pier
Image by Nick Fewings

For example, natural light can be a great option for low light videography, but it can also be unpredictable. Cloud cover, time of day, and weather conditions can all affect the quality and quantity of natural light available. 

Ambient lighting, on the other hand, can be more consistent and controllable. Look for light sources that are bright and evenly distributed to minimise harsh shadows and uneven lighting (unless your aim is to create an effect through hard lighting techniques).

Portable lighting solutions

If available light isn’t sufficient, portable lighting solutions can be used to add additional illumination. LED lights and softboxes are popular options that can be easily transported and adjusted to provide the right amount of light for your scene. 

When using portable lighting solutions, it is important to keep in mind the colour temperature of your lights. Different types of lighting can have different colour temperatures, which can affect the overall look and feel of your footage. 

photograph of a lighting operator using a large warm orange light for low light videography
Image by Kerem Kaplan

For example, tungsten lights have a warm, orange hue, while daylight-balanced lights have a cooler, blue hue. By choosing the right colour temperature for your scene, you can create a more natural and pleasing look for your footage. 

You can also use the lack of light to your advantage, creating dramatic shots through the use of artificial lights with low-key lighting.

Creative lighting techniques

Finally, creative lighting techniques can be used to add interest and depth to your footage. This could be as simple as adding a coloured gel to your lighting equipment or using practical lights (e.g. lamps) to create a unique look. 

When using creative lighting techniques, it is important to keep in mind the mood and atmosphere you are trying to create. Different colours and types of lighting can evoke different emotions and feelings in your audience. 

For example, blue lighting can create a cool and calming atmosphere, while red lighting can create a sense of urgency or danger. By experimenting with different lighting techniques, you can create a unique and memorable look for your footage. 

low light photograph of a man standing in front of a gate
Image by Maksim Romashkin

Brand highlight: GVM

There are a number of great companies on the market dedicated to bringing innovative lighting solutions to content creators and professional videographers across the globe, and GVM is certainly one of them.

From full-colour RGB wand lights to on-camera LED bulb lights, GVM provide affordable yet professional cinema equipment with the quality and functions needed to fully realise any creative vision. Whether you're trying to bring a dark room to life with natural studio lighting, or you want to craft vibrant accents for a dramatic, edgy effect, GVM has a range of adjustable solutions.

So, if you're looking to experiment with different creative atmospheres, check out how GVM's products can help you take hold of low-light environments and create cinema-level videos for your audience.

Wrapping up

By understanding the challenges of low light shooting, choosing the right gear, adjusting your camera settings, and utilising effective lighting techniques, you can create stunning footage even in the dimmest environments.

With practice and experimentation, low light videography can become a powerful tool in your videography toolkit. So, go ahead and experiment with different lighting techniques and create some amazing footage. Happy shooting!

Find film and video studios with Tutti

Choose from 1000+ spaces and locations on Tutti and deal directly with space hosts for a quick, hassle-free booking process.

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