Photography Class with Katrina: Metering in Low Light

Fall is slowly arriving with the weather changing and the days getting shorter. Shorter days mean less light, which means taking pictures can get a bit trickier. Using your flash can be an option, but it doesn’t have to be! With a little work you can master low light photography just in time for Halloween and holiday photos.


How do you go about capturing a photo in low light? Metering, or exposing, for the light can be tricky with the contrast between bright lights and dark subjects messing with your light meter.

There are two key things to keep in mind when shooting in low light – shoot with a high ISO and watch your shutter speed.

When shooting in low light, your shutter typically needs to stay open longer to let enough light in. A too slow shutter speed is what most often creates an unusable photo. You may have perfect exposure, but if your shutter speed is too slow you may capture unwanted movement. In this photo, notice the blur around his fingers and at the edges of his hair. A faster shutter speed would stop that motion, but in this case it adds a bit of energy.


In order to get a shutter speed fast enough to stop motion, you will need to shoot with a higher ISO. Each camera model has a different range of ISOs that can be used without excessive noise (graininess or pixilation) in your photo. It may take a little playing to determine how high you can acceptably push your ISO with your camera.

Let me walk you through the steps.

1. Place your camera on Spot Metering. This will tell your camera to “read” the light from a concentrated area around your focal point.

2. Set your camera to Manual (M). Leave your lens on AF (Auto Focus).

3. Set your White Balance according to the type of light you are shooting in.

4. Set your ISO to 800. The less light you have, the higher you will want your ISO.

5. Choose a wide aperture Depending upon your lens, choose your lowest f/number; remembering the smaller the f/ number, the wider the aperture. The wider the aperture the more light you let in.

6. Aim your camera at your subject, zooming in or walking as close as you can. If you are photographing active children, you can use your own hand or an adult to set your exposure as long as they are in the same light your child will be in.

7. Find the area you want to have most “correctly” exposed. While you are zoomed on your subject you don’t need to be in focus.


8. Check your shutter speed, keep it above 1/50th of a second (displayed as 50) to avoid camera shake if you are not using a tripod. 1/125th of a second is a good rule of thumb to stop most movement, if your subject is a little uncooperative.

9. Move your in-camera light meter until your indicator falls on the midpoint or 1/3 stop over exposed (one small line to the right).

10. Recompose your shot.

11. Ignore your light meter settings as they bounce all around. Your camera is “seeing” light from all around your subject and warning you that your exposure reading is wrong. Ignore it, you are now smarter than your camera!

12. Focus.

13. Shoot.

14. Review your shot on your LCD and in your histogram.

a. If you see a lot of blinking white spots, referred to as “clipping”, you have overexposed and need to bring in a bit less light.


b. If your histogram is “stacked” to the far right, you have also overexposed.

c. If your dark areas are blinking or your histogram is stacked to the left, you have underexposed.

15. Adjust your exposure.

a. If overexposed, adjust your shutter speed or aperture to let less light in. (faster shutter speed or more narrow aperture, larger number)

b. If underexposed, adjust your shutter speed or aperture to let more light in. (slower shutter speed or wider aperture, smaller number)

Don’t be afraid to play with your exposure. Take a shot. Review it. Adjust your exposure up or down in 1/3 stop increments. To do this easily, use your exposure compensation button! Shoot. See what you get.


You could use a semi-automatic mode in low light conditions, but with practice you will find you can get a more accurate exposure in manual.

It is through this trial and error that you will begin to see how ISO, aperture and shutter speed work together. You will also begin to understand how your camera’s ISO sensitivity.

I’d love to know how this works for you!

About Katrina:
I eat, breathe, write and teach Photography! My camera is my most often worn accessory. I am a mom with a camera who feels compelled to capture my son’s life. I was frustrated by my search to learn how to use my camera and knew I had to pass on the knowledge

I gathered to help other moms capture their favorite subjects. I started out with a film SLR years ago, on auto. Moved to a dSLR in 2002 on auto and in 2005 finally decided I needed to know what TV actually stood for!

Katrina teaches photography classes at Get It Scrapped. Writes photography tutorials for DesignerDigitals and blogs about her life through the lens at About A Boy.  You can find Katrina’s posts at The Daily Digi by clicking on the Photography category.


P.S. Congratulations to Christy who was randomly chosen from the comments in yesterday’s post!  She said she is working on owning everything in Kate’s store, the $10 in product she just won should help! 🙂