Taking low light photos with a phone is a big challenge for mobile photographers. When the sun sets it is easy to call it a day and stop taking pictures. You stay inside or embrace the challenge of going outside and testing your low light photography skills. Phones have improved, but low light photography on a phone can be discouraging.
Luckily there are some tips to help you to find creative solutions to the limitations to your phone. Don’t worry if your pictures don’t turn out great the first time. You will have fun and learn new ideas and ways to take better low light photos with your phone. The lower light photos you take the better pictures you will take.
10 Low Light Tips for Taking Photos With Your Phone
1. Manual Mode or Pro Mode
Do you want to up your mobile photography game? Using manual or pro mode is one of the best ways to take better low light photos with your phone? You may have heard of manual mode before in photography. It can be challenging in the beginning to gain the skills that you need to take a great shot. So here are some tips for your phone.
What is Manual or Pro Mode?
On a cell phone manual mode allows you access to change more features than the natural camera app. You have more control using manual mode. Quickly choose the color, shutter speed, ISO and focus. If you don’t know what these terms mean it’s ok we will go over them in this post.
Manual Mode App
The first step to shooting low light photos with your phone is to get a manual mode app. If you have a Samsung or Android phone pro mode is already on your camera app. You will need to look at the extra features and tap on pro mode.
With an iPhone you will need to download a manual mode app. Most of these cost between $3-6 USD. Here are a few manual mode apps that I recommend for Android and Apple. This is usually shown when you go to take a picture on your native camera app or download a manual mode app.
Manual Mode App Recommendations For Android
Open Camera is a manual mode app which is one of the best Android camera apps. The pictures are sharp and have a clear focus. With this app, you are able to adjust the ISO incrementally. This makes it easy for learning mobile photography. Also, this app has these features. Auto, infinity macro, locked, fixed and continuous picture focus. Price: Free
Footej is the most simple and powerful manual mode app for Android. This app includes manual ISO and shutter speed control, burst mode and animated GIFs. Change settings by sliding from focus to exposure. Then to white balance, grid lines, and timer. This app helps you compose great shots with six options for composition grids. Price:Free
Camera FV-5 may be one of the most advanced manual mode apps for Android. In this app, you can adjust the exposure compensation, ISO, Light metering and focus mode. The manual shutter speed can capture images from a range 1/800000 to 60”. This app comes with exposure bracketing for more advanced photography. Try this app today to learn how to improve your photography. Price: $3.95
Manual Camera Apps for iPhone
Camera+2 allows photographers complete control over their picture. Try the manual controls to select the precise settings for each shot. Shoot in manual mode to adjust shutter speed, ISO and white balance. For image editing flexibility edit and capture in Raw. Camera+2 is one of the camera apps for iPhone. Which provides an excellent option for taking pictures with manual mode. Price:$2.99
ProCam 6 Up your photography game with the manual iPhone app ProCam 5. This feature provides quality features that can help you take pictures like a SLR Camera. You can adjust the manual mode features: white balance, ISO, and shutter speed. Choose different features for night mode video and portrait. Price: $5.99
Raw+ is a great app for beginner iPhone photographers or for professionals. It’s easy to access the always on manual mode features. It’s always on manual exposure and supports RAW format. You can turn on advanced features on the menu mode. Price: Free
2. Understand Exposure
For this tutorial, we will focus on how exposure will help you take good low light photos. Taking pictures with your phone in low light can be challenging if the image is not properly exposed. In photography, exposure is explained as a triangle with shutter speed, ISO Apperature. These three elements form what is necessary to get a good looking photo. We will discuss shutter speed and ISO. Apperature is fixed on most phones.
3. Keep the Shutter Open
What is Shutter Speed?
The camera shutter is a piece of plastic that is in front of the camera. Which stays closed until the camera fires. When the shutter opens light passes through the camera collecting the light. Shutter speed is also known as “exposure time” and can change the quality of the image.
The longer the shutter stays open the slower the shutter speed and more light. Slow shutter speed can create an effect called “motion blur.” This is where moving objects appear blurred. Slow shutter speeds The shorter the shutter speed the less light let in. Longer shutter speeds are often used at night in low light situations. They bring in more light and to produce better images.
How is shutter Speed Measured?
It is important to understand the measurements of shutter speed. The settings on your smartphone or app will be by fractions of a second which can be somewhat confusing. So when measuring shutter speed 1/4 means a quarter of a second. While 1/250 means that is that fraction of a second so four milliseconds.
With Low Light What Shutter Speed Should I Use?
To get good night photos to start taking pictures between 1/120th to 1/60th for handheld shots. These are fast speeds so you will need plenty of light to take the photo.
4. Adjust the ISO
What is ISO?
ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO the less sensitive it is to light. The higher ISO the greater sensitivity to light. On your cell phone, the lowest ISO is usually 100 and is your base ISO. The highest ISO is 800. By using ISO you can improve your photography in low light situations. Instead of using a flash you can increase your ISO. By setting it to a higher number which lets more light into the image. Auto ISO can sometimes work well in low light situations to improve your image.
How does ISO Affect Exposure?
ISO is one of the factors in determining the correct exposure of a photo. By changing the image sensitivity to light ISO determines how well exposed a photo will turn out. A low ISO number will give you less ability to access light and a high ISO will give you greater light.
How does ISO Affect the Image Quality on Your Phone?
The higher the ISO the higher the sensitivity. This means the more noise or grain will be in the image. This means that unless you are shooting in low light you don’t want the ISO very high. The lower the number means that you will have a greater quality of photos. Here is a little math equation to help explain it easier. Lower ISO = Lower Sensitivity = Finer Quality Photos.
What ISO Should I use With Low light Mobile Pictures?
To avoid grainy shots it is best to take pictures between 400 and 800. At these settings, you will increase the light in the photo but will not introduce too much noise into the shot. Try not to go too much higher because it will add more grain to your photo.
Adjusting aperture from a wide view to a smaller view not available in most phones. Recently, Samsung has added a smaller aperture lens some phones. This can help with night photography and mid day photography. Still, there needs to be more time to understand the future of aperture for smartphones.
5. Use the Exposure Compensation Tools
To get the correct like and dark balance uses exposure compensation on a mobile phone. When you go to take a picture your camera has a light sensor. This sensor depicts the cell phone camera’s exposure settings. Digital camera’s meters work by the light reflected off subjects in the standard color of gray. Often if the mobile phone camera is set on something dark the exposure will be lighter. On a mobile phone, you can adjust the exposure compensation and lighten or darken much like you can in a normal SLR. Exposure Compensation is a feature of Android phones. It may be available via a manual mode app on the iPhone.
When taking night photos lowering the exposure compensation is very important. Often times when taking pictures in low light street light or other lights can leave a glare. By lowering the exposure compensation you can create a clear image.
To lower the exposure compensation. Tap on the focus button and then on the light bulb or sun and decrease the exposure. It will make the image dark and will bring out the highlights.
6. Use a Bluetooth Remote for Mobile Photography
It can be hard to get a low light photo on your phone if you don’t have a remote. The slightest hand movement on an image with a long exposure can make the image blurry. With Joby Impulse Bluetooth Remote you can take photos from a distance. I find this necessary when shooting night pictures. This remote is small so it fits in a pocket and is easy to set up with bluetooth. Also once it is set up you do not need to pair it again.
7. White Balance
Have you ever taken a shot and the background comes out more orange or blue than it looks in real life? A camera sensor detects sources of light as a different color or temperature. If you look at your light bulb you can choose a tungsten light or a blue light. Have you ever seen a room with two different color temperature lights? It can look rather odd. Florescent lights add a bluish tone to the photo. Whereas tungsten (normal light bulb) or incandescent lights add a yellow hue to the photo.
When taking pictures at night the white balance is often very cool and looks blue. To adjust the white balance on a mobile phone look for the icon. The icon abbreviation is AWB. If you slide it right to left you can see the Kelvin change from 2000K which is very blue and 10000K which is very yellow. Adjusting white balance with manual mode on a mobile phone can make it so your images look like they do in real life.
8.Shoot in Blue Hour
Blue hour is the time of day that is just before sunrise and sunset. It lasts about 30 minutes. The sky will turn a different tone of blue and will reflect yellows, oranges, and pinks well. At this time your phone will do a better job at taking pictures due to more light from the sky. Consider this time as one of the best times to take low light photos. It can be hard to get great photos with a phone if it is too dark.
To find the exact times you can download the app Alpenglow for iPhone and Photo Time for Android. If you are traveling these phone apps are great to discover the best time to take low light photos.
9. Keep it Stable
If you want to take low light photos with your phone you will definitely need a tripod. Here are a few things to look for when buying a tripod. First, is the size. With mobile photography size matters, the smaller the better. Joby makes a small tripod for your smartphone that is 7 inches long and can fit into any bag or purse. The GorillaPod comes with adjustable legs that balance on rocks or can wrap around a tree.
Next look for a sturdy tripod. When taking pictures outside something sturdy is important for balance. A cell phone could tip over and get scratched. The Manfrotto Pixi is one of the best small tripods. It is very sturdy and can even hold a regular digital camera without falling over.
10. Shoot in Raw
Raw smartphone images are not processed. They contain the data captured on the cell phone camera. These images are for taking a picture and then edited in an app. With raw images you get better edits and can edit the image adding more color and detail. After you edit the image you can convert the image as a JPG. If you have an android go to the pro settings to shoot in RAW. To shoot in RAW on an iPhone you must use a manual app. VSCO is a free app that allows you the options to shoot in RAW.
Did you find taking low light photos with your phone a challenge? It can be daunting when starting out begin by learning about manual mode. Take the time to study ISO, and shutter speed. Test how different shutter speed and ISO will alter the image. Changes to the settings can create a different image. Also, remember to use a tripod if you are planning on taking long exposure night photography. Share what pictures you took by tagging #picxtrix on Instagram. Also, to enjoy more mobile photography tips and trick subscribe to our email below.