Five Tips for Shooting in the Dark ⋆ Muse Portraits

Five Tips for Shooting in the Dark


With Halloween around the corner, capturing great memories can be tricky in dark spooky settings. Harsh flash lighting – which doesn’t do anybody any favours – tends to the be the go-to solution for when your subject is in a dark setting. But there are much better options for achieving great photos in these kinds of surroundings. Instead of turning on a bright flash, which FYI instantly neutralises the natural qualities of your setting, follow these five great tips for taking great photos in the dark.

1. Bump up the ISO
ISO can sound intimidating – it stands for International Standards Organisation – but it is basically a scale for measuring the sensitivity of film or an image sensor to light. So, think of ISO as the sensitivity of your camera. The higher the ISO, the more light the camera can capture. When it’s dark, there’s less light available to expose your image, so you need to up that ISO.

By setting your ISO higher, it means you can use faster shutter speeds, so you won’t end up with photos that are either really bright but shaky (because of a long shutter speed to try and get more light), or really dark but sharp (because the shutter speed is too quick to let enough light in to expose properly). You’ll get more grain (otherwise known as “noise”) in the photographs because of the higher ISO, but that just adds a bit of atmosphere.

2. Be creative with the light
In the studio, I have total control over all the light in my photographs. When it starts getting dark, you can start to play around with light yourself. Try shooting in the lounge with just one table lamp. See what happens when you place the light behind the subject, to their left, or to their right.
If you want to get a bit of Hollywood spooky-ness going on, place it under them for that dramatic ‘monster’ look (that placement is actually called “monster lighting” in photography circles!).

3. Avoid top down lights
A big problem I often see with dark-setting photography on social channels is people standing under ceiling downlighters to be photographed. That just makes people look awful As with monster lighting, top down lighting does people no favours. Try to find somewhere where there isn’t a really harsh light falling directly on the subject. Or, if you have a ‘fill-in’ flash mode on your camera, try and use that to soften up the shadows from harsh lighting.

4. HDR
If you’re shooting a still subject, you could try HDR (High Dynamic Range). Most cameras and phones these days have an HDR setting. This basically shoots a few frames of the same subject at different exposures and then combines them into one. It’s a fancy technique that photographers have been using in interiors for years.

You can use this too for your holiday photos in dark places. It is a versatile setting, and even works well when it’s super sunny outside – not that we get much of that in the UK :D!

5. Watch your exposure
Modern cameras and phones all have built-in exposure meters. These are basically like a little device that measures the amount of light coming into the camera and then decides on the correct exposure automatically. If you’re not sure how they work, they can give you a hard time, especially when it’s dark. We’ve all shot against a large window, only for the subject to be pitch black, and the view outside perfectly exposed. That’s because the meter was exposing for the outside. Watch out for bright objects behind the subject that might throw off your exposure. Of course, if you wanted to create a silhouette, then put something bright behind them!

Using these tips, you can vastly improve your home photography. Be sure to experiment with a few of these tips together in order to maximise the moody lighting, getting the most out of your personal camera or phone. Despite having a dark setting to work with, you can still achieve beautiful shots of you and your friends and family – get creative with your camera and avoid missing out on precious moments.

And send us your best “Monster Lighting” shots!