Low-light photo tips: 8 ways to improve your live photography

Learn how to get the best results when shooting in low-light

Shooting in dimly-lit venues with artificial or unpredictable lighting can make photography extremely challenging – but as you can see here from the work of leading stage and burlesque photographer Tigz Rice, it’s more than possible to take exceptional shots.

“Live entertainment is such an exciting industry to work in,” says Tigz. “Whether it’s music, theatre or dancing, there’s a positive buzz in the atmosphere that offers the potential for great photography.

What you need to succeed are the right techniques, patience and a decent camera. Here are Tigz’s top tips for how to get the best results when shooting subjects on stage – or in any other low-light, non-studio situation.

It may take up more space on your memory card, but shooting in RAW format rather than JPEG offers significantly better chances of recovering an under/overexposed image.

You can find this option in your image settings menu on the back of the camera (where this is differs depending on your camera).

Photo: Coco Deville at the London Burlesque Festival

Want to mix things up a bit? Shooting directly into a light source – such as a follow spot here – can make for some incredible artistic photographs. Use the light to create stunning silhouettes of dancers, as well as experimenting with light flares.

Photo: Missy Fatale at Proud City

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Another photo shot directly into a follow spot.

Photo: Leah Debrincat at Proud City

Prevent camera shake by cupping your non-trigger hand – usually the left hand – underneath your lens for extra support and even distribution of weight. For even more stability, tuck your elbows into the side of your body.

Photo: Shirley Windmill at Finger In The Pie Cabaret

When shooting people who are singing or speaking, think about the shape of their mouth when you take the shot. The snap the mouth makes when singing vowel sounds – such as an “aaah" – is far more flattering than catching them mid-consonant.

Photo: Bunny Galore at Wam Bam Club.

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An ‘oooh’ also produces a nice mouth shape.

Photo: Rayguns Look Real Enough at Aeronaut.

When shooting movement, try setting your camera to AI Servo (Canon) Continuous Servo AF (Nikon) or similar. This mode continually tracks focus, which is particularly handy if you're shooting moving people or objects.

Photo: Melitta Honeycup at El Molino.

Another example of shooting using AI Servo/Continuous Servo AF.

Photo: Up And Over It at Wam Bam Club.

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Events aren’t just about whats happening on stage.  Think about capturing the atmosphere of the event, such as audience reactions to the show. Even better, try and get some of the cast interacting with the front row.

Photo: Cabaret Rouge at Aeronaut.

Another great example of capturing audience ‘participation’.

Photo: Joe Black at Aeronaut.

When working with dancers, shoot to the rhythm of the music. Often the most dynamic moves and poses will fall on the beat of the track, giving you an even better chance of getting ‘the shot’.

Photo: Flashdance promo shot. Learn how it was created in our Photoshop tutorial: Enhance live event photography

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If you're working in a theatre or other dark venues where flash is strictly off the cards, you'll want to invest in a 1.8 lens, or even better a 1.4 or 1.2.

These lenses will help you to maximise the light available to you, without having to rely on your camera’s maximum ISO setting.

Photo: Kitty Bang Bang at Prospero’s Tavern.