March 30, 2016

Reduce the Noise: Basic Tips for Shooting in Low Light

Shooting in low light situations can leave you with a grainy, muddy image that is probably best left off of your timeline. But even though it can be tricky, there are ways to make your footage look a whole lot better.

Simon Cade of DSLRguide offers some basic solutions when shooting in low light — ones that don't require you to buy a whole new expensive camera that can handle the lack of available light.

If you're a beginner, especially one who doesn't have access to light kits or professional cameras with plenty of latitude, these tips are directed at you.

Use a wide aperture

The standard metaphor to understand how an aperture works is a faucet: the more you open up your faucet (aperture) the more water (light) comes out. Essentially, the wider your aperture the more light hits your sensor. So, if you know you're going to be shooting in low light situations, try to use a lens with the lowest aperture you can get your hands on and then open that baby up.

Shoot with a higher ISO

The ISO measures how sensitive a camera sensor is to light. Cranking it up will make your image more sensitive (lighter), however there are definite drawbacks to using this method. High ISO settings can result in a grainy, muddy image, which, as I said earlier, is best left off of your final project, so it's important to find out the highest ISO you can shoot in your particular low light situation that will not make everything too grainy.

Add more lighting

Okay, duh. Obviously the solution to shooting in low light is to add more light, but hear me out. Cade makes a great point when he says that some people will opt for buying an expensive lens that has a wider aperture, but won't spend the same amount of money on a basic lighting kit. Don't get me wrong, lenses with wide apertures are helpful, even necessary at times, but going to a hardware store and picking up a bunch of clamp lights, gels, and diffusion materials will probably not only give you a better image, but they can be used over and over again in all of your projects.

Shoot somewhere brighter

When all is lost — you don't have a wide aperture lens, your ISO setting is ruining your image, and you don't have access to any lights — move somewhere where there is more light. Yeah, you might have your heart set on that dark alley for a particular scene, but it doesn't matter if you can't even see what's going on. This happens a lot when shooting indoors at night, too. You think that scene in your living room will look just fine until you actually start shooting, but even with all of the house lights on it's still not enough. Try shooting in the day, by a window, or right next to the existing lights in the space.

What are some tips for shooting in low light? Let us know in the comments below!      

Your Comment

24 Comments

It should also be stated that using a lens with a very wide aperture will cause your depth of field to narrow, making keeping focus a difficult task. Certainly adding light will always help, but one more thing to add would be to use a camera that produces better images while in higher ISO's. Some camera sensors/hardware is very bad. Some are much better, like the Sony A7S ii.

March 31, 2016 at 12:40AM

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Paul
81

I'm sorry but in 2016 it's painful to see some amateurs or even video professionals still preaching about this "the higher the ISO is, the more grainy the image will be" thing, always presenting it as a sort of unfailing universal rule for every existent camera, which IT IS NOT. Some of today's non-professional cameras (especially DSLRs, which are the subject of this video) have peculiar behaviors with ISO, and everyone should look up an ISO test or do it by himself/herself. For example the Canon 60D is better at ISO 160, 320 and even 640 than ISO 100! And, surprise, ISO 1250 is better than ISO 125 (!): https://vimeo.com/23082874 The Canon 6D, on the other hand, has an even stranger behavior and its ISO 800 is virtually on par with ISO 100. And I've tested this myself with two different 6D bodies: https://vimeo.com/146119789
So, I'm sorry to be that guy, but saying "the higher the ISO is, the more grainy the image will be" is kinda of a superficial and heedless "safe assumption", even quite uninformative.

March 31, 2016 at 4:30AM, Edited March 31, 4:49AM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1289

Although your points are correct, i think you are overreacting a little, especially when this is obviously a beginner's guide. Fact is, as you get to know your gear better, you will finally come across these device-specific characteristics that are unique to your camera.

As a rule of thump, the higher the iso, the higher the sensor's sensitivity and the higher the possibility of grain to appear. And, from the scope of an absolutely beginner, this is precious information to build upon.

March 31, 2016 at 6:54AM

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Panos Economou
Director / Editor
335

Yes it's for beginners, so it's even more important to give accurate and precise information. It takes 20 seconds to say the things I said (check the best ISO values for you camera), and no one does it. I usually love Simon Cade, I only took the chance to address this issue, that is more and more common. NOT ALWAYS lower ISO = lower noise. In many, MANY DSLRs it's not like that.

March 31, 2016 at 7:48AM, Edited March 31, 7:52AM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1289

Panos is right. This lad speaks a lot of sense and in my experience watching his videos he has a lot of wisdom that many so called professional people seem to get very upset about, I susspect more to do with him being so young than him not knowing what he's talking about. I'm a professional and can see absolutly where he's coming from. Higher ISO is a cause of noise generally speaking. Had he been reviewing a specific camera then your comments might have held water.

March 31, 2016 at 7:29AM

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John Stockton
Film maker, Editor, Photographer.
373

Simon Cade is a priceless resource for beginners and he's incredibly wise for his age. But that doesn't mean you can't address something imprecise when he says it, or take the chance to discuss the matter :)

March 31, 2016 at 7:51AM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1289

You are absolutely right to call me out on this - and I appreciate your constructive attitude. I didn't want to spend too long on ISO, so I just said in the most concise way I could think of, forgetting that many cameras these days have a native ISO that is not the lowest possible setting.

March 31, 2016 at 6:33PM

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Simon Cade
Filmmaker
244

In my experience with most cameras noise increases above ISO 1600.
While indeed, below ISO 1600 it can vary a lot.

March 31, 2016 at 8:59AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8973

Honestly, you're right BUT it's really hard to teach the basics without overwhelming a beginner if you're trying to blurt out every piece of information at the same time. It is isn't conducive to good learning.

Maybe NFS could post a rating on each post to inform the reader of the level of information in the post. Like "BEGINNER" moving to "PROFESSIONAL" or something like that. A mention to the beginners that the information in the article is mostly accurate but there are always exceptions and more things to learn along with links to articles available for further learning may be helpful.

March 31, 2016 at 1:13PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
479

David R. Falzarano,

You know more than most of the people involved in contributing to this web site. You should think about having your own web site. Honestly, I've had about enough of nofilmschool. Many commenters here that know more than the contributors. And you were right, this post is uninformative (I think you meant bad information). For example,cheap twisty straw light bulbs are a good light source---sheesh!

April 1, 2016 at 1:03AM, Edited April 1, 1:05AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
561

I've got an Epic as well as an PXW FS-7. The Red is rated at 800 native ISO and the Sony is rated at 2000 native ISO. They've got about the same noise at each.

April 1, 2016 at 2:21PM

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Most digital camera's have a sweet spot which produces the best signal to noise ratios. This is typically 400 or 800 ISO. This means if you up the ISO, you may think your image is getting better in terms of brightness, but your signal-to-noise is getting worse. Even lower ISO's in that case produce more noise. See this article: https://www.cinema5d.com/exposing-with-native-iso/.

Another trick to get good shots, resulting in a rather noise free low light scene indoors, is to increase the available lights (use higher wattage lightbulbs for the lamps in the room) and then decrease the brightness in post. Same for outside scenes. Some scenes are shot during the early evening (while it is pretty light) and then make to look like night-shots, by darkening things in post, adding blue hues etc. After all, we don't have to shoot in actual low-light (or darkness), to suggest a low-light scene.

cheers,
Erwin

March 31, 2016 at 10:09AM

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Erwin Hartsuiker
CineVideo-NL videographer
562

On cinema cameras, lower iso's will always lead to less noise, a beefier negative, and better more vivid color. If you look at how color bits are distributed for stops of light you will see that bits increase exponentially for increases in stops of light so for a 10 bit camera the top 4 stops of a camera have over half of the color information the camera can capture. Higher Isos push the midtones into the lower stops of the camera and don't access the majority of the available color depth. 320 will always look better that 800 on a digital cinema camera as long as your highlights are within range. Native ISO's are not the sweet spot, they are just really for people that don't exactly know whats going on in their camera and what to be told how to shoot.

March 31, 2016 at 10:00PM

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Indie Guy
551

ETTR?

April 1, 2016 at 3:51PM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
197

We seem to be fussing about how his comment "high ISO equals more noise" is antiquated with modern cameras. Even if this were true, he barely mentioned the concept of noise. His main point was about executing good artistic and aesthetic set design and lighting techniques, and how incredibly important they are.

His main theme is always "don't invest in gear, but instead, invest in knowledge and skills and artistry". And that again is his theme here.

March 31, 2016 at 10:11AM

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It was worth. Thanks a lot

March 31, 2016 at 10:53AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
735

nice information

March 31, 2016 at 2:08PM, Edited March 31, 2:08PM

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interaktfilms
D.P.
111

Those twisty straw light bulbs have strange color temperature. Even with gels you can still see it's cheap lighting.

April 1, 2016 at 12:55AM, Edited April 1, 12:55AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
561

Useful but very basic. I suggest nofilmschool tags their article to various difficulty levels like Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced etc for every article. Thus the target audience would be more definite.

April 1, 2016 at 1:31AM

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Ayan Banerjee
Film Maker
118

This would be SO HELPFUL.

April 1, 2016 at 1:59AM

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James Gowdey
Editor
74

Very clear tutorial. Handy if doing a Lowbudget production, because you've spent all your money on a insane camera! ;-)

April 1, 2016 at 8:39AM

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Michiel Eskens
Director & Editor
253

I think that this guy gives very good advice for beginners. To note, I feel that there is some merit in "speaking over people's heads" as it forces them to research and learn their craft. For example, I had no idea what the difference was between chroma and luminance noise when I was initially researching ISO, and with further reading, I found that one (luma) is more aesthetically pleasing and desired whereas the other (chroma) gives you product a "digital" look. Resolve to the rescue to fix that one!

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/image-noise-2.htm

April 1, 2016 at 3:59PM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
197

Very nice article Joseph! Thx for sharing!

April 1, 2016 at 4:43PM

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Michiel Eskens
Director & Editor
253

I'm not sure if this question was brought up if so, I'm sorry about that today is my first day on here. But what did you use for your voice? It sounded so clear. What kind of mic if you don't mind me asking. Can you recommend any on a budget and how to position it like how you did on this commentary? Thanks again

April 3, 2016 at 12:34AM

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joēl cris
Cinematographer
1