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There are two key techniques for shooting in low light, and both run the risk of causing ‘noise' in your images. Noise shows itself as random dots of colour and, if too prominent, can overpower the real information in the image.

You can shoot handheld, with a suitably fast shutter speed to avoid the risk of camera shake in combination with a high ISO setting. Alternatively you can shoot on a tripod, with a low ISO and use a slow shutter speed instead.

Problem is, both high ISOs and long exposures create noise.

Thankfully, Canon has developed in-camera processing features to deal with both problems which can be found on all recent and current EOS models. Called High ISO noise reduction and Long exposure noise reduction, they really do what they say… reduce noise. You'll usually find both features in the SHOOT menu of your EOS camera.

High ISO noise reduction is set to Standard on your camera by default. This only comes into play when you're using higher ISO settings, so can be left alone. There are also options for Low and High, plus some EOS models offer a Multi-shot option, which takes four JPEG images and combines them in-camera to produce a virtually noise-free image. Given that the camera has to align these images, it works best with static subjects.

Long exposure noise reduction is off by default, but you can choose for the camera to apply to images shot with a 1-second shutter speed or longer. The Auto option means that the camera will process the image automatically if it detects noise that's typical of long exposures in the image.
If you shoot JPEG, all that noise is taken care of in-camera; if you shoot RAW, then make sure you use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional* (DPP) to exploit the full benefit of these features.

(*Why DPP? Because other software programs can only mimic the Canon algorithms, second-guessing how they work. For the real deal, use Canon DPP to convert your RAW files.)

So, why make all this noise?

Well, with the clocks last weekend, the Low Light season has finally arrived! Hurrah!

Now, we’ve had queries before about why we don’t run our Low Light courses throughout the year. "It would be much nicer and warmer as a summer course", say our fairweather photographers.

The answer is simple – as soon as the blue hour happens at a reasonable hour (so around 5.30pm in November and February, and around 4.30pm in December and January), our tutors can come out in the dark, knowing that everyone can make their way home safely without fearing what lurks in the shadows of the dead of night.

 
 

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Practical Training Day: Low Light and Night Photography

Locations: Central London, Liverpool, Bath

From £129, including pre-course tutorial

Find out more about Low Light and Night Practical course >