7 Strategies to Shoot Video in Low Light

Izzy holds a light.

Are you frustrated by shooting video in low light? If you are, that’s understandable. It sucks the life out of your image. You end up with grainy, undersaturated, low-contrast, muddy video footage. The lack of light destroys your image.

The good news? You have several options for dealing with this problem. Keep reading if you want to know 7 powerful ways to shoot video in low light. (These strategies work!)

1. Add Light If You Can

Even if you’re in a hurry, you can take a few minutes to add more light.

A convenient solution is to use an on camera video light. This is a light you mount to your camera that shines light on the subject. The video light I use is a Micro Pro LED light from Litepanels (highly recommended, by the way).

You have other possible ways to add light too. You can turn on lamps or overhead lights. You can use a reflector panel or a mirror to bounce light into the area that needs more light. Of course, a smart thing is to have a variety of lights that you bring with you. A portable lighting kit is a great investment.

Nothing adds light to a situation like a light.

2. Use the Biggest Aperture Your Video Camera Allows

Sometimes the aperture is called an iris, or f-stop. People use the terms interchangeably.

If your video camera has an f-stop setting, use the lowest number you can. An f-stop of 2 is good. An f-stop of 1.4 is better. The lower the f-stop number, the bigger the aperture. This wide open aperture lets more light into your camera, so you get a brighter image.

If you’re using a video camera that has a zoom lens, be aware that they frequently don’t have a constant aperture as you zoom. As you telephoto (zoom in), many times the aperture will shrink and reduce the light that enters your camera, darkening your image.

The solution is to keep the zoom lens at a wide angle so your aperture can stay wide open. If you need to get closer to your subject, try “zooming with your feet” and walk closer to the subject.

3. Slow Down Your Shutter Speed to Brighten Your Footage

Many video cameras allow you to control the shutter speed. You can use this feature to slow down the shutter speed, meaning that the shutter is “open” longer, which allows more light into the camera.

Normally when I’m shooting video, I use a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. However, if I’m shooting video in low light, I might change the shutter speed to 1/30th of a second. This means the shutter is open twice as long, which doubles the amount of light that gets into the video camera. This makes a big impact on the brightness of the video image.

The potential downside of reducing the shutter speed is that you get more motion blur. That can be a legitimate problem, but I find that using a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second works okay for normal human motion.

4. Reduce the Frame Rate in Your Video Camera to Let More Light In

Not all video cameras can do this, but now that many are tapeless, they allow you to adjust the frame rate of your video. In fact, many video cameras try to emulate the look of film by including an option to shoot at 24 frames per second.

In a low light situation, you can change your frame rate to 24 frames per second, instead of using the common rate of 30 frames per second. If you turn off the shutter (or adjust it accordingly), this allows you to capture the frame for 1/24th of a second instead of 1/30th of a second. The slower speed allows more light into the camera, brightening your image. It’s a small increase, but it’s still an increase in light.

If your video camera allows you to adjust the frame rate even lower, you might consider shooting at 12 frames per second, or even 6 frames per second, leaving the shutter off. This wouldn’t work if you’re shooting a talking head or normal human motion, but if you’re shooting video of a landscape, a cityscape, or something that stays fairly still (building, statue, tree), you might want to consider a low frame rate with a slow shutter speed. This will significantly brighten your image.

5. Increase Your Video Camera Gain

Sometimes the video camera gain is called “sensitivity” or “ISO”. It depends on the manufacturer and model.

Only do this as a last resort. Increasing the gain has a bad effect on your image. It adds noise — little dancing flecks (frequently magenta, sometimes blue) in the shadows of your image. This noise is distracting.

Most people think that noise looks bad. You should try to avoid it.

Rule of Thumb: Only increase your video camera gain AFTER you’ve tried the other strategies, because this method does the most damage to your image.

And when you do increase it, try making small adjustments first.

6. Reduce the Video Noise in Post with Filters and Plugins

If you end up increasing your gain, then you’ll likely have unwanted video noise in your footage.

You might be able to repair the footage a little (sometimes a lot) using a filter or a plugin. You can purchase a noise reduction plugin for common editing software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier Pro. When you run this plugin on your footage, you’ll likely see some improvements.

That said, the results won’t be as good as if you had captured noise-free video footage originally.

7. Use a Digital SLR Camera to Shoot Video in Low Light

Currently, a digital SLR camera is a great option for shooting video in low light. In fact, I think they’re amazing in low light. Why do they perform so well?

  • You can use different lenses with wide open apertures.
  • You can control the shutter speed.
  • You can control the frame rate.
  • You can increase the sensitivity a lot more without adding as much noise as regular video cameras.

The enormous chip inside of digital SLR cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II means that the camera can capture more light for each frame. The big chip allows you to increase the gain with lower video noise.

As of right now, this camera is one of the best tools for shooting video in low light.

You might not be able to use all of these strategies every time you shoot video in low light, but give them a try, and I think you’ll be happy with the improvements.

About the Author: I'm Izzy Hyman, and I specialize in making video simple and easy to understand. Check out my free video tutorials or become an Izzy Video Member.

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Comments

    • says

      I’m really glad to hear that! Thanks for the feedback. :-)

      In the future, I’ll be testing this type of post: video + short article. It takes a lot more time to create (because I’m not accustomed to writing this type of stuff), but I think it might appeal to a larger number of viewers because people take in information differently.

  1. Deirdre says

    I love being able to read the info —much faster for me, and I can visual skip the ones I’m already aware of and jump to new info. Great!

  2. Alexjbarnett says

    Extremely helpful seeing you demonstrate your suggestions and to be able to read a clear concise description of the steps. Excellent Izzy many thanks. Alex

  3. Manuela Garcia Perea says

    Really helpful your video as always. Clear, simple, and exhaustive. This transcript is very useful for non native english speakers (as me). Thank you very much.

  4. Greg says

    Great review of the earlier video. I like the written component. I can scan quickly. btw, any leads on a good noise reduction plugin?

  5. Stefano says

    Hey Izzy, great article, definitely adds to the videos. Did you write the article first and then shoot the video or vice-versa? The reason why I ask is if you’re more comfortable just shooting video and narrating, you could always just write the transcription of your narration. Just my $0.02 worth, thanks – Stefano

    • says

      It’s kind of strange, but I write a rough article-type-thing first, then shoot the video. Then for this, I wrote the actual article afterwards. The video is from a few weeks ago, but the article I just wrote a few days ago.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  6. matt says

    Thanks for the excellent tips. In a low-light, high-noise scenario I have shot as black and white. Depending on the subject matter and intended audience, the grain can help set a mood and be very stylish.

  7. says

    Great tips. I’ll add one more to squeeze every last drop of exposure goodness from a Canon 5D Mark II. For the best results use ISO settings that are “native” to the 5D: 160, 320, 640, 1250, 1600. The math done behind the scenes by the Digic processor to raise the gain or sensitivity of the sensor produces less noise at these settings. So, if you’re shooting low-light and need to up the ISO, use one of the settings to minimize noise.

  8. Rrrav says

    Hello Izzy,I find the addition of the written comments very useful indeed.I can refer back to see a particular point and mull over it slowly or scribble a note to remind me.Your videos are excellent alone and the written stuff adds to the package.Thanks.

  9. says

    Hey Izzy. Great post. Did you post the video earlier? I’m sure I watched it last week. It really helped on a shoot I did at an evening gala dinner that I filmed at the end of last week. The advice really helped me!

    PS, the written articles don’t work as well for me, I’d rather the video. Personally I find it hard to take in articles I read on screen. But as you say, everyone’s different and you have to appeal to as wider audience you can within your niche.

    • says

      Yes, the video is a few weeks old. Originally I released it to members only, but I wanted to put it out there as a free sample now for everyone too. That’s when I decided to write the article too. :-)

      I’m glad the advice helped!

  10. Carsten says

    Hi Izzy,
    Amazing the way you keep improving your concept and the value to us – the members. I also appreciate very much that you seem so close to us by responding quickly and individually.
    This is how a good membership website should be run … in a way nothing magic about it, but not many does it as well as you.

  11. Marpo says

    From the comments so far, it seems that some people find the text useful. I suppose it makes for a nice addition, but it seems like unnecessary extra work to me. Your videos are done really nicely. If I were you, I wouldn’t feel as if they need something else to make them whole, especially if it slows you from making your next video.

    • says

      Hi Marpo. Thanks for the kind words. It’s definitely extra work. I’m hoping that 1) It will make things easier to understand for viewers who want the text, and 2) Adding text will make my site more easily searchable. Recently I’ve started thinking that everyone who creates videos should try to accompany the videos with text to make them easier to find.

  12. Mrwavecrave says

    I must say it is mush better the article along with video. It helped to understand more quickly and it is almost like the way I learned things back in the day at school with a sort of written summary or questionare

  13. David Brahinsky says

    Izzy,
    You do have the knack for adding the right idea at the right time the Digital SLR which I ahve has the able to rcord video is the prefect idea, I bought my harddrive Video early on and it has limited fuctions the manual is useless and very limited so I hyave had limited sucess with finding out more about the Video Camera I come from video and you had to have tons of light so that’s my solution to many problems with video, this is again a very useful Video, Thanks Izzy

  14. A Videoanalyst says

    This was very good advice… Have a question though, would this be the same if you were shooting sports in a low light setting like a cloudy or rainy day? I have found my videos on a good day very crisp and high quality but in January when it’s darker it has not got the quality I am looking for… So in fact the coaches I supply my video to may not get as sharp a picture when they pause the video.

    Would these tips work for that kind of setting?

  15. rmpeete says

    That was the ABSOLUTE BEST!!! I struggled with that issue for a while. But, now I used your advice and it’s no longer an issue. I feel so much more confident in shooting video. I’m planning to shoot a short this weekend. THANK YOU!!

  16. TongVG says

    Great tips. I don’t have the money for lights but the shutter speed and aperture adjustments were a great help. Thanks a lot.

  17. says

    I know this is quite an old article, but it was very helpful for me in reducing the noise on my vids. Since I only have the one lens (so far) and its best aperture f-stop is 3.5, the solution that works best seems to be capturing dimmer video and brightening post-capture. It’s much easier to brighten after the fact than it is to eliminate the noise.

  18. David Walton says

    Awesome review on shooting in low light. You’ve shed a great deal of light, (pardon the pun), on the subject. I’ve tried them all except shooting at 24FPS. I’ll shoot my next wedding reception at 24FPS.

  19. says

    Hi! I’m looking for a camera which can capture low light scenes (in fact, no light or night ambient light). I got a SONY HXR-MC2000E (+1500 Euro on March 2014). It said it worked fine using SONY’s “low lux” feature. But the image is really noisy. I’m looking for a video camera that can record blacks with no noise. If you got any idea how can I fix this or which lens can I use for this (this is not a SLR camera). Great! Or if you know any camera recording digital (SDHD card or internal memory) in full HD format… please, let me know. Thank you so much!

    • says

      Johnny, I’m not aware of any camera that can record blacks in low light with no noise. I’m not sure this is technically possible.

      You might want to consider a noise reduction plugin you can use in post. It won’t work miracles, but it might help some.

  20. darknfuzzy says

    Hey Izzy, thanks for the helpful video! all though it’s probably too late for me…
    I know there is no magic solution, but is there any way that you know of to fix a blurry clip caused by using small aperture (f 10) in post? the clip turned out all blurry and it seems like it has a bad resolution. any new plug in? something? or is it a lost cause?

Trackbacks

  1. […] Izzy also offers a comprehensive membership regarding video shooting in general. He offers this information in the form of blogs posts and videos. I’m impressed with all of many written materials and videos that I’ve viewed. Warning: Izzy strives for excellent video, which sometimes requires pricey equipment or a lot of extra work, though many of his tips involve no expense (above and beyond having a video camera and a rudimentary editing program).  Izzy makes much of his training available to the general public without charge.   For instance, here’s a highly useful set of suggestions (text and video) for getting good video in low light. […]

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