Introduction: Low-Light DSLR Tutorial

Picture of Low-Light DSLR Tutorial

As a low-budget filmmaker, I am constantly faced with having to sacrifice one attribute of footage to accomplish another. In a high budget film all these variables can be met with external corrections, leaving the original desired application of settings or preferences unchanged. However for the most of us we have to sacrifice one aspect to accomplish another. One of the most common sacrifices occurs in low-light scenarios.

In this Instructable I go over some of the best techniques you can do to optimize your DSLR for low-light scenarios. Hope you enjoy.

Step 1: Location

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There is a lot you can do before you even turn the camera on. The first thing you need to ask yourself is do you need to film, where you are about to film? Can you use a better lit scenario, and then darken it in post? Is there a significance for that you location, can you film in a different place? The majority of night-scenes from feature films made today, aren't filmed at night. They are shot in day with even lighting and then darkened when editing. Location is quite possibly the most significant difference you chose when it comes to low light filming and it should be given a lot of thought.

Step 2: Available Lighting

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For a lot of us, we don't have lighting gear. It isn't as simple as using a clip-on light, as this can sometimes add flicker, or unnatural coloring to the subject. Regardless of what you have available; whether there are any practicals or you are just using the sun, a great trick to make the 'dark' part believable is to position the light behind the subject. This is a technique used by many modern films today, and it leaves a visually appealing silhouette or back light rim around the subject. None the less find you light sources, as much as possible use them, and avoid a direct of flat light source (shining it straight at the subject.)

Step 3: Camera Settings

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The settings of your camera is really the crux of the matter. For 90% of the time, you'll want to increase you aperture to the maximum it can go. This will create a shallower depth of field, however this is often quite desired for films of today. The second thing you want to do is set your shutter-speed. If you are including dialog I would highly suggest going 2x the frame rate (1/50th of a second). If don't have too much motion you can pretty much get away with the lowest shutter speed (1/30th of a second), but for the most part 1/40th or 1/50th will work best. Then you want to set you ISO, this is pretty much going to depend you what your exposure is at. Generally speaking you want to get away with the minimum possible, however if the audience feel that there is important motion, you are better increasing the ISO a lot, experience a little distortion, and leaving the image clear, then the other way round. It really does become a feel thing, however in general I would say leave you ISO to last - so that you can gauge what your exposure is like.

Step 4: Completion

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In general I would say that it really becomes a feel thing, I can definitely conclude that getting experience with low light scenarios is really the best thing you can do.

If you liked this instructable perhaps you would like to check out my low-budget film making YouTube channel on the link below, thanks, and have a great day (:


DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2016-09-18

Great tutorial.


About This Instructable




Bio: Max Paterson shares filmmaking, tips, tricks and tutorials to help improve your filmmaking skills. His goal is to create informative and entertaining content that inspires ... More »
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