Smartphone cameras have come a long way. While it’s now possible to capture professional-looking shots with any of the most popular models, they have one flaw: low light. Most smartphones simply aren’t big enough to hold camera sensors large enough to help with low lighting, or night photography.
Some of the best phones for taking low-light pictures include the newest, largest models, such as Apple’s XS Max, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9. Their bigger size means they can squeeze in slightly larger sensors than previous versions.
No matter what smartphone you have, there are some photography tricks and features you can use to get better images in those hard-to-shoot, low-light situations, such as concert photography and firework displays. Try these tips to learn how to take good pictures in low light situations on your phone.
Turn off the flash
Unless the subject is directly in front of you, your camera’s flash isn’t going to do any good. If you’re photographing fireworks or a concert, a flash will illuminate only what’s in its limited field — such as the person’s head in front of you — instead of what you’re aiming for.
Use a tripod
If you have time to set one up, a tripod is great for photographing fireworks or anything in low light. Because smartphone cameras lack large sensors to allow in more light, they rely on a long exposure (or low ISO) to let in enough light to capture the image. This means that any movement, even breathing, can result in blurriness. To avoid this, set your phone up on a tripod and set the timer button (or use a remote control) so you don’t have to physically press the button on the device (thus, moving it slightly).
Move closer instead of zooming in
Smartphone cameras don’t have great zoom capabilities — their limited resolution and set field of view can result in a pixelated look, especially in low light. Instead of using your phone’s zoom feature, move closer to your subject.
Download an app
Most phones are optimized to automatically adjust the ISO, but it’s best to manually set the ISO in some low-light situations. Android phones let you manually adjust the camera settings, but it can be hard to know what settings to use if you aren’t familiar with them. iPhones don’t offer access to your camera’s settings at all.
The easiest way to get the best low-light photos is to download an app that lets you manage the ISO, shutter speed, and other features the way you can on a DSLR camera. Consider downloading an app such as Moment Pro Camera, Slow Shutter Cam, LongExpo, Camera FV-5, or Pro Camera.
Utilize built-in iPhone features for low light
If you don’t want to use a separate app on your iPhone, the camera app offers some built-in tricks to help photograph in low light:
- The AE/AF Lock lets you lock the focus and exposure values when taking photos. As you are photographing, tap and hold your screen until “AE/AF LOCK” appears at the top in yellow. Slide your finger up and down the screen to adjust to the brightness (exposure) and focus you want.
- The iPhone’s camera doesn’t have long exposure, but you can recreate the same effect using Live Photos (available on iPhone 6s and later). The Live Photos option captures a few seconds of video on either side of your photo, creating a mini movie. Turn on Live Photos by tapping the yellow circle in the top middle of the camera screen. After you take your pictures, choose the image you want the long exposure on. Swipe up and choose the Long Exposure effect. This effect will give you those light trails you often see in fireworks photos or create a cool blur effect when a band is jamming out on stage.
- The Live Photos option also lets you select the perfect picture from the mini movie it created. Go to your Live Photo in the Photos app, tap Edit, scroll through the different images at the bottom to find the best one, and tap "Make Key Photo."
Use Burst Mode
A great option for low-light and action photos is Burst Mode, which has the ability to take multiple pictures in one shot. After you take your picture, simply go back and choose the best image.
Photographing low-light events can be tricky. These tips and tricks can help you get the best pictures possible from your smartphone camera.