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I took my new Nikon D7500 out yesterday and its my first DSLR. I would like to get some thoughts on shooting sharp photos in low light conditions with it.

I was shooting after sunset but before nightfall in a park. Since the lighting was changing rapidly, I set the camera to Aperture mode and tried setting the aperture high since I was shooting landscape. But unless I brought it down to around 3.5-4 I couldn't get anything. When I did so, the shutter speed was coming down to 1/8 of a second or 1/3 of a second and at times even 1 second. When I tried manual again the shutter speed had to be this low to have the metering display be at 0. I didn't have a tripod. So I believe that was one reason why I couldn't get sharp photos. I had the ISO around 3200 and sometimes even 6400. Still I couldn't increase the shutter speed more than 1/8.

In such conditions, how can I shoot sharper pics? Most of the pics I took were blurry or shaken. I was using a Nikkor 18-140mm kit lens. Is this a restriction of the lens or can I do better with my settings? Any advice would be much appreciated.

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  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Lack of sharpness / focus in low light
    – scottbb
    Jan 6 '20 at 23:39
  • Unfortunately it doesn't. In my situation I have a zoom lens that has to go upto the highest f point for landscape and there's minimal light in my situation as I'm outdoors. I'd like to know if its at all possible to get sharp pics in low light with my kit lens
    – AnOldSoul
    Jan 7 '20 at 0:50
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    Without a faster lens or tripod, you're unlikely to get better pictures. You have camera shake from hand-holding with long shutter speeds. See What is the relationship between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed?
    – xiota
    Jan 7 '20 at 3:27
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Find some way to stabilize the camera, if no tripod place it on top of something like a table or your backpack.

Set iso to 100 and set a 2s timer, press the shutter and release the camera. Wait for a couple of seconds of exposure and hope your subject is not moved by wind or similar.

An example of this technique, camera (panasonic lx3) was leaning against the lens cap placed on a handrail. enter image description here

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  • Thanks for the reply and wow that image looks great! This means that I won't be able to do street photography with this lens right? I'm not fond of tripods because unless its landscapes, I'd have missed the action by the time I setup everything
    – AnOldSoul
    Jan 6 '20 at 23:07
  • Depends on the light I guess, it it is just a little bit dark you might be able to scrape by on f3.5 at 18mm at around iso 800, or you could use the flash if subjects are close enought, an of camera flash might work better but I have experimented with using my hand to bounce the built in flash to avoid the head on flash look. On the other hand a 50mm 1.8 is not that expensive.
    – lijat
    Jan 6 '20 at 23:10
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    @mayooran Monopod can help too. Even the selfie-stick can help you stabilize the camera. And regarding the missing the action - do not expect catching everything and learn to think ahead.
    – Crowley
    Jan 6 '20 at 23:10
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    +1 for the implied suggestion to use low ISO if you have the camera stabilized anyway - extreme-contrast night scenes like that need all the dynamic range and clipping resistance you can get! Jan 7 '20 at 9:22
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In low-light conditions you are struggling for any photon useful...

  • The apperture wide open lets all possible light to pass, but the depth-of-field is shallower.
  • Since kit lenses usually change their speed while "zooming", set the lens to the lowest focal distance. Then crop but you will reduce the rsolution of the result.
  • Slower shutter speed allows you to gather more light but there is higher risk of motion blur.
  • Higher ISO allows to get more information from poorly-lit chip. Too high ISO leads to high noise.
  • Use a flash unit(s). Not the built-in one. The one you can point somewhere so it looks more natural. The motion blur is almost impossible, though.

If you ran out of options above, there is another one. Shoot in bursts. Shoot many slightly underexposed pictures with the DOF and motion blur you actually want. Then stack them in postprocessing.

For long shutters use tripod. Remote control helps a lot as well. Sometimes even the mirror moving is disturbing, but even this can be anticipated sometimes.

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With a kit lens, you're definitely limited by max. aperture. It's why lenses with smaller than f/2.8 max. aperture are typically dubbed as "slow" lenses: you need slower shutter speeds to get good exposures with them.

If you're shooting something that's not moving, then using a tripod or other form of stabilization (monopod, bean bag, IBIS, or lens stabilization) can keep handheld camera shake from blurring your image at slower shutter speeds. If you cannot use additional gear, then at least learning how to hold your camera properly might help. But that only works so far. A tripod is the least convenient, but most effective way to do long-exposure photography.

You can also increase your ISO, but again, at a certain point, noise is going to become an issue.

The only way to get more max. aperture would be to get a "faster" lens. But this may be required for moving subjects, but will make accurate autofocusing more challenging, since a bigger aperture will reduce the depth of field.

The other alternative with moving subjects would be to add light to the scene, such as an LED panel, video light, turning on more lights, or using a flash. A hotshoe flash, or speedlight, with a head that tilts and swivels, can be a great alternative for indoor portrait shooting, with bounce flash.

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Is VR (Vibration Reduction) turned on (switch on the side of the lens)? Amazingly, VR works at 1/8 sec. shutter speeds as the following hand-held while standing photos attest to. This was taken using a Nikon 200-500mm lens, weighing in at 5 pounds. Settings: 200mm focal length, 1/8 sec. shutter speed, f/13, ISO 400, APS-C body (similar to your camera). Proper camera/lens holding techniques are also important.

VR test

Otherwise, the other responses about benching your camera on something works well as long as your subjects aren't moving. I've taken 18 second exposures while my camera was benched on a barrel with a jacket stuffed under the camera to orient the camera. At times, photography requires a MacGyver instinct to get around issues.

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The lens will focus just as well in low light as it does in normal lighting. However, the camera’s autofocus system won’t work as well (if it works at all) if there’s not enough light. As well, if you’re using an auto exposure mode, the camera will likely pick a large aperture, so the lens won’t be as sharp as it might be at, say, f/8. Or, if you pick a smaller aperture, motion blur can be a problem. Motion blur isn’t a focus problem, but it’s sometimes mistaken for one. Likewise, you or the camera might choose a high ISO setting to reduce the exposure time, introducing noise that’s also not a focus problem but which still makes your images look less sharp. And if you go with a low ISO in very low light, you could again run into sensor noise, this time from accumulated heat during a very long exposure. So...

  • Mount the camera on something that’s rock solid.
  • Turn off AF and use manual focus instead. Make some test shots to check focus if you need to.
  • Use manual or aperture priority modes to keep the aperture in the lens’s sweet spot.
  • Find a compromise between ISO and exposure time to limit sensor noise.
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If you want sharp pictures use a tripod.

If a tripod is bothersome, you don’t want sharp pictures very much.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Sharp pictures are overrated.

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