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Start Smart: Shoot Low-Light Photos

Master dawn and dusk photographs with these pro tips.

WAKE UP EARLY OR SCOUT A LOCATION before dark if you want to take memorable shots, says pro photographer Seth Resnick. "At sunrise and sunset, rays of soft, low-angle light paint the sky and the ground with brilliant colors." But that’s also when most consumer cameras struggle to produce a good shot. Fog and heavy foliage can also scramble your camera’s light sensor, even if your eyes don’t perceive the darkness. Here’s how to overcome three photo pitfalls when the light is only half there. 


Problem: Background vanishes
Solution: Turn off the flash to force the camera to gather all the ambient light. Set up a tripod and self-timer–a slower shutter speed means any movement (even pressing the shutter button) could blur the image. We like the lightweight (1.6 oz) Gorillapod tripod ($25, joby.com). For digital cameras with manual settings, experiment with ISOs of 400 or higher for increased light sensitivity. Warning: High ISOs can add more noise (discontinuous colored dots) to digital images.

Problem: Subject doesn’t pop
Solution: Shoot from an angle where the available natural light or reflection illuminates your subject. Or, use your headlamp to highlight the people or objects you want to be brighter than the background. During long exposures, deploy a headlamp like a manual flash by shining it on places you want to illuminate more.

Problem: Background is too dark and close
Solution: Point the flash away from your subject and diffuse it by bouncing it off a light-colored jacket or natural feature like birch bark. Alternatively, turn off the flash and change your angle to shoot a silhouette against a lighter background like a campfire or a glowing horizon at sunrise or sunset.

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