Shooting Low Light Travel Photography

by | Sep 4, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

It doesn’t matter what you call it—available light, unavailable light, available darkness, or low light photography—often the most rewarding images are produced when shooting under challenging lighting conditions. Why is that?

  • There’s the thrill of overcoming the ever-present technical obstacles that prevent you from producing a well-exposed image under less-than-idea lighting.
  • Photographs made under lighting conditions different from the classic instruction sheet admonition of “f/16 and the sun over your right shoulder” have a more eye-catching look.
  • Since many travel photographs are made during the middle of the day, taking the time to search out other times to shoot will let you produce photographs that are different from the rest of the pack’s.

When I’m home on Daisy Hill I like to take a walk around a nearby lake and usually take a camera with me because I never know what I’ll encounter. When traveling, I take a similar walk at night because scenes, like the one above at a mall near my hotel in Albuquerque looks completely different at night than it does during the day. I captured this image handheld, assisted by  Olympus in-body image stabilization. To make it look even more different, I used Oly’s Pop Art mode to punch up the color adding a touch of unreality. Exposure was 1/50 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 2500.

To make successful low light images you’ll want to start with a combination of fast lenses and higher-than-normal ISO settings often combined with a slow shutter speed. Unlike film, there’s no problem with color shifts caused by reciprocity failure as there is with film. While you can always shoot available light photography at ISO 200 when using a tripod, you’ll probably want to bump up your camera’s ISO settings when the light is low. How much will be determined by how much digital noise, exacerbated by slow shutter speeds and high ISO settings, you can tolerate.

While its long since a cliché that you should always have a camera with you, sometimes you just don’t feel like lugging a DSLR and a tripod around all day, no matter how lightweight they may be. That’s why I only took my Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four-thirds cameras with me on my trip to Key West, Florida. The above shot was made while enjoying a sunset cruise around the keys using a Panasonic Lumix G2 with Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN lens. Exposure was 1/60 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 160.

Look for Part II of Shooting Low Light Travel Photography, next Wednesday.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, many thanks.


Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.88 or used copies for giveaway prices—less than two bucks—from Amazon, as I write this. Kindle version, for some reason, is really expensive