Foundations of Mobile Photography – Low-light Exposure Tutorial
Using a smartphone to take photos is great and reasonably simple during the day, but in low-light, it can certainly be a challenge.
In this tutorial we will go over an interesting trick to force the tiny sensor and lens to close down it’s settings, which enable a much smoother toned photo while in difficult conditions. We will also look at enhancing the images for a better end result.
Top & Bottom Left: Here you see a sunset (top) and sunrise, in very low light conditions. Even though I used an app like KitCam or ProCamera to measure the light from the brightest areas in the scene, it still wasn’t enough to close down the ISO, shutter, and Exposure Value to a suitable amount. In this situation your phone can only really take harsh, inaccurate, badly exposed images that have way too much contrast in them and can’t easily be edited later either. You can see in these images, that the yellow is all burnt and meets the red tones very suddenly, and you can see this problem even more-so in the bottom left shot. I used to try to fix this by finding a street-light or something bright that I could measure the light off to try to smooth off the harshness, but this wasn’t very practical, and street-lights were not always bright enough or available.
Eventually I figured out how to use another iPhone’s torch feature, or carry a headlamp in my pack for these occasions. See the resulting images on the on the right. That’s a huge difference! All I did was point the torch at the lens and use the camera app’s exposure locking tool to lock onto the bright light source. I do it a few times and change it a little untill I get it right, but basically it closes down the shutter, and ISO because you trick the phone into thinking it’s facing a much brighter scene. This also reduces noise. (grainy images)
Image 1: After pointing another iPhone at my lens, I used KitCam to lock the exposure.
Image 2: The resulting photo had lovely tones and nothing was burnt or over-exposed, but it was too dark.
Tip: A little too dark is always better than too bright.
Image 3: In KitCam, I went to Edit/Pro/Levels and moved the mid-tone levels to a suitable position where I could start to see all the detail.
Image 4: I adjusted the Colour Balance a little to make the photo look more like I remember it.
Image 5: I boosted the Saturation, and Brightness, while I reduced the Contrast a little.
Image 6: The final result.
Tip: I highly recommend taking well exposed, dark, low-noise shots, over brighter, badly exposed, noisy ones—mainly because you just can’t edit the detail and enhance it later, but with under-exposed shots you can.
Hope you enjoyed this neat trick. I use it all the time in my sunset and sunrise shots. I’d love to hear about your tips and tricks. So, feel free to comment below to share with friends, or ask questions.