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How to Shoot Video in Low Light?

Matic BrozUpdated December 23, 2021

Low-light videography is on-trend these days, but to master it, you need to have good experience and know the different filming techniques that professionals use.

If it’s the expensive video camera you’re using, if you don’t know how to play with the different camera settings, you will not get the expected results. That’s because low-light videography is a little trickier than shooting videos in daylight!

For dimly-lit situations, camcorders are preferred over DSLRs for many reasons. One of which is the auto-filter. Also, camcorders have built-in neutral density filters that can produce sufficient exposure even in dimly lit conditions, whereas, in the case of DSLRs, such settings are not available. The videographer will have to manually adjust the focus or exposure based on the light conditions. But the results you get with both are equally stunning.

I hope now you’re getting the answer to why people spend so much money on getting a wide-aperture lens, a higher ISO camera, or a camcorder with night vision.

Coming back to our topic, so what is this article up to? Well, I will share a list of some tried and tested tricks that will help you get better shots and videos in low-light situations.

6 Tips for shooting video in low light

1. Use slower shutter speed

Long shutter speed

Reducing shutter speed is a great way to shoot videos in low light. There is a simple rule if you carry a camcorder or a DSLR. You need to set the shutter speed reciprocal to the lens’s focal length. For example, if you are shooting at 50mm, the shutter speed must be around 1/50s, not more than that.

However, if the subject you are trying to focus on is moving, the shutter speed must be set high. If you set it low, it might give you a blurry clip, meaning the longer you set the shutter speed, the more light goes into the camera, the more blurry and shaky the videos become.

No matter what subject you are shooting, whether it’s still or moving, ensure that the shutter speed does not go lower than 1/125s. The shutter speed should be 1/50s for 24 FPS and 1/60s for 30 FPS. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to shoot with a fast shutter speed when using handheld cameras or camcorders. Even if you do, the images or clips you shoot might come out blurry. Thus, to avoid this problem, use a tripod to set your camera to shoot with a reduced shutter speed as much as you want without compromising the focus or sharpness.

2. Increase ISO

ISO

This is an important factor while filming any cinematic scene or simply capturing an image. ISO is nothing but your camera’s light-handling capacity. The lower the ISO value, the less sensitive it is towards the light, while a higher ISO value means more sensitivity. When filming a video, a higher ISO is recommended to make the subject look more bright and visible, even in the dark.

But, this comes with a disadvantage as well. With more ISO values, you will see more noise in your images. Thus, you have to set it to its native ISO.

Every camcorder has a native ISO point, and if you go above the limit, you will notice more video noise. There are certain standard limits for various camera modes, such as for a full-frame camera, the ISO unit must be 6,400; for APS-C, it must be 3,200; for Micro Four Thirds, it must be 1,600.

Well, you can always play around with the limits as per your choice. To sum up, always check the ISO specs of the camera or camcorder if you wish to use it in low light.

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3. Use a LED light

LED lights

Another great trick you can use to film in low light is to use an additional light on your shooting camera. Sometimes, your camera settings do not help produce enough light on the subject, making the filming difficult in low light. To avoid this, you can place your subject in an environment with more light. But if that’s not possible, an additional LED light will be a great backup.

This LED light has to be mounted on the camera, which will draw light on the subject you are trying to film. Besides, it will also help enhance the video quality.

Multiple camera video lights are available on the market; you can pick good quality and reliable LEDs that fit your budget. If you mount the light on your camera, your videos will be less grainy and filled with more saturated colours. You can always increase your ISO limit to impose more exposure or light on the subject, but increasing the ISO also increases the noise. Thus, it is best to have an LED light to avoid grainy footage.

Another option you have is to buy an overhead lamp. Using a mirror, you can move and bounce the light back on the subject. This is the cheapest way to go along, or even if you have a good budget, you can also buy an entire portable lighting kit.

4. Use wider aperture

Wide aperture

Depending upon the area or size of the subject, you can change the camera’s aperture. If your filming camera has an f-stop setting, I recommend you set it to the lowest number, possibly an f-stop of 1.4. Lowering the f-stop increases the aperture, allowing more light into your camera, enabling you to shoot with more brightness even in low light conditions.

Make sure you constantly change the aperture as there will be times when you will have to zoom in or zoom out as per the filming needs. So, if you zoom in deep enough, the aperture will automatically lower itself and leave you with dark video footage.

The aperture varies based on the lens. Thus, many filmmakers believe prime lenses with a wide aperture are much more reliable than zoom lenses. An aperture isn’t simply a parameter that tells how much light reaches the camera’s image sensor. It also helps you create a depth of field on your shooting object.

Having a depth of field means half the subject will be focused, and the rest of the portion you want to keep unnoticeable will be blurred out. Therefore, a wider aperture improves video shooting in low-light surroundings.

5. Adjust the frame rate

Frame rate determines the quality and viewing experience of your video footage. The higher the frame rate, the better the quality of the video. Thus, it matters a lot when you consider shooting in low light. Some cameras have a standard frame rate, such as for many, it is 30 frames per second, and for some, it is 24 frames per second.

A 24 FPS frame rate is enough to get you crisp, high-quality videos even in low light. A higher frame rate also helps with brightening video footage. If you lower the frame rate, more light will pass into the camera sensor, making your subject more focused and brighter than usual.

Even though your camera offers 30 FPS, it’s suggested you turn off the shutter and change the frame rate to 1/24s. By doing this, you will enable more light in your video footage.

Some cameras also allow you to adjust the frame rate lower than 1/24s, such as 1/12s or 1/6s. But, this does not help when you are shooting an object in motion, which would result in motion blur. This feature only works when the subject is in a still position.

6. Reduce lux

Lux is a rating that measures a camcorder’s low light capacity. The lower the Lux rating, the better the low-light conditions for your filming. To be more precise, if you set the Lux at 0.12, it won’t do well in low-light surroundings. But if you set it to 0.5, it will handle more low-light surroundings.

Most of the modern camcorders on the market have built-in low light capacity. A camcorder with a lux rating of 0.2 will shoot in nearly dark conditions, but a lux rating of 0.7 will not shoot in extremely low light conditions. Thus, whenever you go shopping for a reliable camcorder, you better check the Lux ratings for a better low-light filming experience.

Camcorders are best for indoor shoots because if you take the camcorder for outdoor shoots in bright daylight, you will get a Lux rating of over 100,000, which is very high for a daylight shoot and will not be useful for dim light shoots. Thus, if you wish to shoot in the dark using a camcorder, make sure its sensitivity is around 1 lux, equal to full moonlight.

How to fix low light video?

There are numerous methods for repairing low-light videos, which you should be familiar with as a video editor. Installing a noise reduction plugin is one of them. Noise reduction plugins such as Neat Video and Dfine2 will effectively reduce noise. You can also use the Chroma key to enhance the video. You can colourise the video to make it appear to have been shot in better lighting. This is possible with the help of Magic Bullet Looks, which is intended to blend different shots to create a seamless look.

For example, you can take a low-light shot and a daylight shot. After that, you run the daylight footage through Magic Bullet Looks and overlay it on top of the low-light video. Your low-light video will now appear to have been shot in natural light.

You can also use Magic Bullet Looks to add colour, grain, and various other effects to the video to make it look more professional. Magic Bullet Looks is a set of plugins that you can use to give your videos a more cinematic appearance. It comes with various pre-set Looks and allows you to customise your Look to fit your style.

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Additional information

What setting is recommended if you are shooting in low light?

It depends on the camera. If you have an entry-level camera, then use ISO 100 and the largest aperture (smallest number). If you have a more advanced camera, you can try ISO 1600 or 3200 without introducing more digital noise and the largest aperture. If you want to get the most detail and the highest image quality, use a tripod (because the shutter speed will be slow with a large aperture or at a high ISO). Take multiple exposures at different exposures with different apertures. Then you can use a program like Photoshop or Lightroom to combine the exposures for the best detail.

Which ISO speed is good for extra low light settings?

Choose the highest possible ISO value without compromising the image quality. Full-frame and newer cameras can handle higher ISO settings without introducing too much digital noise. For example, Canon EOS 5D Mark II can handle up to ISO 6400. However, some older models cannot handle these high ISOs.

How do I shoot a video on my iPhone with low light?

Make sure you have a good source of light. You could use a 60 Watt Halogen soft light on a boom stand. You could also shoot a product commercial with this type of lighting. A video light will also suffice. Both of these will provide adequate lighting in a windowed room. A window with white blinds provides sufficient lighting. You could also use two table lamps, one on each side of the object being filmed. Turn on each light and cover the lampshade with a sheet. This will create a white border around your subject.

How to shoot in low light without grain?

There are several methods for reducing grain (noise) in your photographs. The first step is to keep the ISO as low as possible. For example, while ISO 1600 may be tempting in a dimly lit bar scene, ISO 100 is preferable. The difference will be in the level of noise. Another option is to purchase a fast lens. The third thing to remember is to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible. Because a fast lens and shutter speed allow little light in, the camera must use a long exposure time to capture the scene. This will reduce the amount of grain used.

What is the best camera for low light video?

I recommend using the Sony a7S III for any video making. I reviewed it with the best video lens, and people love it.

Summary

By applying the above tricks and tips, you can successfully film any scene in the darkest conditions. All you need is a sturdy camcorder or a DSLR camera with all the necessary settings and the ability to activate your camera for low-light shooting.

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About the author

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MATIC BROZ

Matic Broz is a photographer, graphic designer, and stock photographer. For over ten years he's been helping photographers improve their photos and graphic designers find the best images for their designs. His work has been featured by Lifewire and PetaPixel. In his free time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and petting random dogs. Read more

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