Taking pictures in low light with your phone: 13 tips for shooting like a pro

Though phones vary in quality and features significantly, there are still some general tricks – both technical and common sense – you can pick up on to maximize image quality in low light.

Technical primer: Understanding exposure

Before we begin, you should understand the two main variables affect exposure (how bright the image appears) on your phone: shutter speed and ISO.

The shutter controls how long light hits the sensor. The longer the shutter is open, the brighter an image will be. However, you run the risk of blurring the image due to movement.

The ISO value, on the other hand, determines the sensor’s electronic sensitivity to light. Higher ISOs allow you to brighten an image without changing the shutter speed, but always at the expense of a noisier image.

Got that? Lets get started.

1) Expose correctly from the start

Make sure you actually tap on the subject on your phone’s screen so the camera sets the proper exposure (and focus).

If you need to, use the exposure compensation tools on your phone to get things just right; low light photos are less malleable for edits later, so make sure your subject is properly illuminated from the get-go.

2) Go manual

If you really want to get the most of your images, learn to manually adjust settings such as the aforementioned shutter speed and ISO.

3) Keep your shutter open as long as reasonable

Since the ISO value directly determines how noisy an image is and apertures are fixed on smartphones, leaving the shutter open longer is your only option for getting cleaner images at a given exposure.

The longer the shutter speed, however, the more movement will be blurred, so this technique is best for static subjects – unless you want motion blur for artistic effect.

Theoretically, a long enough shutter shutter speed could result in nighttime photos as noise-free as those taken during the day. In fact, extending the shutter period is exactly how optical image stabilization works, which brings us to the next point…

4) Stabilize your shot

Lean on a stable surface to stabilize your shot whenever possible. Even if your phone already has optical image stabilization, this allows it to use an even longer shutter speed and/or lower ISO settings without your hand’s shakiness interfering.

 

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