Low-Light Photography: Settings & Tips to Capture the Dark | Maria Jose Govea | Skillshare

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Low-Light Photography: Settings & Tips to Capture the Dark

teacher avatar Maria Jose Govea, Photographer (THESUPERMANIAK)

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Tricky Spots to Avoid


    • 3.

      Camera Settings for Concert Photos


    • 4.

      Camera Settings for Low-Light Portraits


    • 5.

      Editing in Camera RAW


    • 6.

      Closing Thoughts


    • 7.

      Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare


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About This Class

Ever been to a dark concert and wanted to capture the moment, but struggled to capture a clear image? What's the secret to shooting a sharp picture in low-light conditions?

Join photographer Maria Jose Govea (a.k.a. THESUPERMANIAK) as she reviews favorite images from her portfolio, sharing tips and tricks for shooting a great picture in low light! Bite-sized lessons cover:

  • Tricky spots to avoid
  • Camera settings for specific images, both concert photography & portraits
  • Editing dark photos in Camera RAW

Whether you want to get into concert photography or just want to go behind-the-scenes with a pro, you'll leave this class with clear insights on capturing a moment in the dark.


Note: This class is intended for late beginners and those already familiar with basic settings — the lessons frequently talk about aperture, ISO, and shutter speed settings. Those unfamiliar with that vocabulary are advised to browse photo classes on Skillshare as well as links in the class resources.

Meet Your Teacher

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Maria Jose Govea



Maria Jose Govea (Also known as THESUPERMANIAK)  is a Venezuelan photographer focusing on capturing energetic, organic and powerful images in the world of music and entertainment. Maria Jose has worked very closely with the likes of Skrillex, Arcade Fire, Diplo, A-Trak, Bomba Estéreo and many more. Her on going collaborations with brands like Red Bull and Apple can be recently found in publications like Billboard, Paper Mag, W Mag, and Dazed, just to name a few. She is currently based in Los Angeles. 

You can find her online as @thesupermaniak. 

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1. Introduction: Hey guys. My name is Maria Jose Govea. Some people know me as the Supermaniac, and I'm a photographer. I'm based out of Toronto currently, but I travel a lot. I do a lot of music photography. I shoot a lot of concerts, I do a lot of music portraits, and I'm very much involved with the electronic music scene. Today, we're going to talk about shooting in low light conditions mainly. Because yeah, I shoot in a lot of concerts and I find myself shooting with extremely difficult situations and low light, just focus in on energy instead of just purely technical aspects. Even though the class might be a little technical because to shoot in low light, you need to know a little what you are doing. As a photographer shooting in big shows, it's really fun because you're working with a lot of production. There's a lot of production values in big shows. So, there's great lighting, there's great props, there's light energy that's a lot, there is a huge crowd. Sometimes there's amazing visuals. But I also like to shoot smaller shows and just captures how raw they are, even if there's only one crappy light, but the energy and the venue is grimy. Sometimes that's what I'm looking forward too. It's all about me liking the music. Those are my favorite shows to shoot. Like if I like the music, if I like the DJ, if I like the band, I don't care. I'll make it work. So, I will say that even though I do have a bit of formal education, what made me was the experiencing, practicing and shooting so much. I've never stopped since I dropped out of school. That's all I do. I shoot, I shoot, I shoot, and that would be the first and best advice for anybody who wants to do this. Just shoot as much as you can. You will learn, for sure. 2. Tricky Spots to Avoid: So, there's a lot of challenges when you're shooting concerts in low-light conditions in general. Let's start by saying that focusing can be a problem when it's too dark, so you sort of like waste a lot of time trying to focus. So, I would advise for everybody to learn how to use your camera, and learn how to use the focus settings, because that's something that not too many people tell you and depending on what you're shooting, you should definitely make sure that you're on the right focus setting. The main issue is that you have to photograph people who are moving in very low light conditions, so we both know that that's a very tricky formula to beat because shooting people in motion with little light, that's just tough. So, I guess that that would be the main challenge. It would be ideal to be able to have a prime lens, something with a 1.4 or a 1.8. A prime lens is a lens that has fixed focal length so those are the lenses that have the biggest apertures. So you can do 1.4, or 1.8, or 1.2. So that's definitely what you want when you're facing low-light conditions. But don't get caught up on that. You have to shoot with whatever you have and you have to make it work. I didn't start shooting with a prime lens. I'm sure that a lot of photographers didn't start shooting with a 1.4. So, having limitations will make you work harder and get better images or sometimes, having limitations will make you start producing really original work because, I don't know, let's say you're shooting with film cameras and it's super grainy, but that's really cool, too, or other stuff that I couldn't even imagine. But sometimes, those limitations actually work in your favor even though it might be harder to get good stuff. But as soon as you know how to use it, you will definitely get good results. There's a challenge that not too many people talk about when shooting concerts and it's about being respectful to other photographers that are shooting with you. A lot of the times, the photo pit gets really crazy, and it's just sort of like a fight. So, it's learning how to still be respectful but don't let them just crush you and stop you from doing your job. Also, while you're on stage shooting, a lot of the DJ shows are onstage with other photographers and just be respectful not to be in their way. You just sort of have to be a ninja. You have to be invisible because you're onstage, so you need to make sure that you're not being a distraction. You need to make sure that people in the crowd are not just looking at you. So, you need to act really quick and you need to make sure that you're not fixing your settings onstage, in the middle of the stage. Just pullback, hide, makes sure that you know what you're going to do, and then go in and take a quick shot, go back behind the DJ, or go back to the side of the stage. Just remember that the party comes first. I think, we photographers are so passionate about what we do that we forget that the party comes first and then the shots come after. The party is more important. The concert is more important than us getting a good shot. So, don't forget that and yes, just be respectful and, just be a ninja. 3. Camera Settings for Concert Photos: Okay, guys. So now I'm going to show you a bunch of my images and I'm going to go through the technical settings to show you more or less I guess the different ways that I can shoot a photo. Yeah, you'll see that some settings make no sense, but the photo's still great and in most cases, they do make sense. So we're going to go through a lot of photos, and I'm going to go through the settings and talk a little bit about each image. So for this image, this is Jack U at Madison Square Garden. I had to go all the way to 2,000 ISO because I wanted to go higher on the aperture than 2.8, which is the highest that my lens has. There's a lot of stuff happening on this photo. There's a wide range of people and lights that I wanted to capture, and I wanted to make them just like crisp enough. The flags are moving here. So you can tell that they are moving but they're not blurry which is great. If I had shot at maybe 1/60th of a second or even lower than that, they would have probably been blurry, but this is just that good enough for you to see the movement but still pretty sharp. Every single one of my photos is manually exposed. If you're still learning, it's totally fine that you go for aperture priority or if you go for one of those settings, but I would definitely advise you to, as you'll learn, you'll learn how to shoot in manual settings because that is the only way you will have total control over your photos. Everything happens so fast. If you're completely manual, you're going to get a lot of images that are pretty terribly exposed, but to me it's completely worth it because, like I said, I have total control over what I want if I go fully manual. The camera doesn't understand what I see. So, that's the only way and I would definitely advise you once you learn that you start shooting manual. Even if you don't, if you still don't know, the only way you're going to learn how to shoot manually is to start doing it. Even if you get terrible stuff at the beginning, you will get the hang of it. So this image, yeah, so there was this really weird guy in the crowd with suspenders and a mask and he just caught my eye. When you get close, you get more of the vibe of the person in the image. So I just walked up to him and I took a shot. So this is our 1/60th of a second, which actually worked really well here because you can see everything's blurred behind him, which I think it looks really cool and you can see that's like the movement of the party and the energy. But he's face is completely sharp. So I focused on his face and everything else is sort of like a blur and I shot that at 3.5 but so that's why you see that. The only thing focused is pretty much like his face. It's important for you to look around and see what's happening around you. Look for interesting people, look for interesting details that will help you tell the story and cover the event way better than just like artists. Sometimes if it's way too dark, don't waste time shooting the artist, go walk around and try to shoot something else where there's light. Just don't get stuck on one thing. Sometimes if you don't want to, just wait for things to happen. Go and look for them, walk around. But if you're really interested in getting one particular shot, then you just got to have patience and sit there or stand there and wait for light to happen. Because at concerts, lighting moves really quick but, yes, sometimes it's just a matter for you to be ready for that magic moment of just two seconds of light, one second of light and boom you get the shot. This is a shot of Glitch Mob. As you can see, they're super dark and edgy. So, this shot is a little bit grainy, but I don't mind that just because I can get away with it. It's a dark image and we're still pretty clean but it's all relative, right? The ISO here was 2,500, 1/60th of a second and the aperture was 2.8. So yeah. I was at my highest aperture for my lens. This is a 16 to 35. So, it was very dark, so I just went down to like 2.8 down to 1/60th of a second which is in theory as low as you can go to get something sharp but I will show you another example where I went pretty low and still got to sharpen image. There's no rules. So, yeah, luckily for this image, even though it's 1/60th of a second, they were pretty still at this point. I got a sharp image. Yes, I took advantage of the fact that I went to the rehearsal and I knew that at the moment where they come on, they were going to be standing still and I'm like, "Okay, cool." I know that at that point they're going to be standing still so it's easier for me to get a sharp image if they're not moving. So that's that. Okay. So for this Die Antwoord image, my main concern was that Yolandi was moving really, really fast, and I wanted to follow her and get a sharp shot of her while she was moving. So I went all the way out to 1/400th of a second, and then I base all my settings on that. What I ended up with was a ISO of 1,250, which is not bad and the lighting was pretty decent in there. So my ISO was 1,250, and my aperture was 2.8. The three lenses that I use the most for shooting concerts are my 50, my Canon 50, 1.4, my Canon 16 to 35, 2.8, and my Canon 70 to 200, 2.8. So throughout the night, I'm switching back and forth and I'm switching between all three lenses. I also, for DJ stuff, I have a fisheye 50-millimeter 2.8. If I need to get something else, I rent stuff, which I highly recommend for people who have a basic setup or not a great camera. If you go and rent a lens for a show that's really important to you, you will see the difference in results. You don't have to own a lot of stuff. You can rent. Getting a 50-millimeter lens is usually pretty cheap. So, I think it's a great investment and a great thing to buy if you want to do concert photography. Okay. So for this, this is a very I guess an artistic shot that I just want to I wanted to do for myself. I was actually standing on stage inside the DJ booth looking up. So this person was really close to the stage and with his hands coming up and down. Every time the hand will come up, I would think it looked really pretty, so I pretty much stood there and it was really, really dark. So I stood there and waited for the hand to come up and I caught it. This is shot at 1.4 with my 50-millimeter lens and the ISO is 2,000. It was really dark. Yeah, but that's 1.4. I couldn't have gotten that sharp hand in such low lighting conditions without my 1.4, 50-millimeter lens. This is an image of Grimes. She's an amazing performer, and she also moves a lot. So she's tricky to photograph. The stage looked really cool so I had that work in my favor and she has a lot of back lighting which is also really cool. It was a bit of a challenge to focus because when there's not too much light in front of her but just in the back, it's a challenge so I think I had to stand there for a bit. I wanted this image to look very sharp because Grimes is an artist that's I guess a combination of being a bit of a pop star but at the same time being really underground. So I wanted this image. The stage really looked ran underground but I wanted to compensate and have a bit of a commercial look to it. I don't want to go all the way to 1.4 or 2.8, so I actually went up to 5.6 to get something really sharp. Yeah, so that was my aperture, and then this is at 125th of a second. So 640 ISO which is also that's why the image is really clean because there's not much grain at all. Yes, the image of Flosstradamus. I actually got that water pretty sharp at 1/60th of a second. The reason why the water looks pretty sharp it's because the aperture is 6.3. Even though it's a 1/60th of a second which is actually a pretty low shutter speed, it's still gave it that sharp look. You need to also learn how to have a steady hand. That's one of my main tricks. Throughout the years, I know how to keep a steady hand and that saves me a lot of times because I can go pretty low on my shutter speed. Even when it's not that low, it's important when people are moving really fast to just be still. Okay, cool. So we have this Disclosure image and because it was a bit of a spread-out set, I wanted to get it all sharp and there is two of them and a lot of light so my aperture here was 7.1. My ISO was 1,600 and I shot with my 16 to 35. I went down to make them look like a little more epic if you shot it from below especially with the lights going up too. So that's why it gives it that feel of light then being bigger than life. For this photo, I wanted to just get a clean portrait of her face. I shot it at 2.8, 1/60th of a second. It was really, really dark. My values are 2,000 ISO which is high is that I like to go but sometimes, you need to go higher than that. This was a little tough because she was back-lit, and I know that I spend a little bit of time waiting for the light to hit her face so I could focus on her face and I could get a sharp image of her. All right. So what I wanted to show you guys with this is there's no magic formula to shoot concerts. Every situation is very different, so you have to make sure that you keep moving those values to achieve what you want, and this is something that will come with time. But one thing that all the shots have in common is a lower aperture, I could say, and a bit of a high ISO that makes total sense. But there's no magic trick, there's just really you analyzing every situation and trying to make the best out of it. 4. Camera Settings for Low-Light Portraits: So, I've shown you guys a lot of my concert stuff in low-light but, I actually really love to shoot portraits in low-light too. That's actually what I like the most. I love to just hang out with my friends or go for walks and even for press photos that I do for some artists, I suggest that we do it at night. Especially with DJs and stuff and, they are night people. So it makes sense that you should them in that environment. I apply all of the stuff that I learn shooting concerts in low-light to my portraiture and that's now like it's become my signature style in portraiture too, just shooting people at night. Yes, I'm going to show you a little bit of that too. This is my friend Trey. I love to just go for photo walks with my friends, just walk around, bring my camera, just talk to them and try to find cool spots where to shoot. We were literally walking and talking and I am like, "Hey okay, let's stop here for a second," because there was this street light that was hitting his face really nicely and I noticed there were a lot of buildings in the background that we're going to make for a really nice boca are bokeh, whatever you want to call it. It's funny that the picture actually looks pretty well lit but this was really dark and my settings for this are 2000 ISO, 1.4 and one fortieth of a second. So yes. I'm pretty sure I told him to stop there for a sec or sometimes, even when he while he's walking I will take his photo so it looks like way more candid and natural. This is my friend Trey again and I just noticed there was these crazy lighting on the fence and I told him to just stand there. I positioned his face where the light is. I didn't want his whole face to be lit. So, the attention is in his eyes. We have a lot of detail here, even though it's dark, we still kept a lot of the detail on his jacket, on his shirt like his jewelry. This picture is a little bit faded so, sometimes when you fade the photo, it just brings out the luminance of it and brings out the details. Yes, so this is 1.4, one sixtieth of a second and 1600 ISO. But yes, my 1.4 lens at night, it works like magic. So I shot this picture of my two friends at a carnival in Toronto and we knew there were going to be fireworks so we're waiting for it and there we got props for them to be doing something while the fireworks were doing because I wanted to add something to the whole equation of them being at a carnival. So yes, I got them ice-cream and the fireworks went off and I wanted them to be backlit by the fireworks so, that's why I place in there and there's all sorts of lights here like, they're backlit, those lights on their faces, those lights on the [inaudible]. There's so many lights in this place that, you have a lot to play around with and that's what I got. This is another one of my photo walks. I wanted to get a really cool shot of them play with their phones. In this case I brought a video light and with me. A lot of times when I go out to shoot at night I have a video light with me and that was the case here. So the main light here it's a video light which is pretty bright and then, also, we got to play with the flashlight on the iPhone just to give that cool effect there. Actually the flashlight on your iPhone is a pretty, pretty cool tool for you to use. It saves me some times because the light is actually pretty powerful and you can help yourself by using it to focus and like point it at something and focus that way. It's just something to have in mind if you have nothing else. One more example, I find are really big light on the street here. I wanted to do a cool silhouette shot but I wanted to have,you know just, you still see a little of lighter definition there on her profile on the left there. Just using it as, you know, creatively to make this image and then I, what I did is I made it really yellow on post because I wanted to give it that sort of sunset feel to it, that sunny feel to it even though it's at night. So this makes for a sort of like an interesting image. You'd be surprised where you can find a source of lighting, but that's what you have to do. You just have to look around and try to find something that you can work with, even if it's going to the bar and using the lights at the bar, going to the stage and using that, you just have to find the light or way for it, you know, you can't really create it. Every once in a while I do use flash, if it's allowed and if it makes sense for this specific situation, I can use flash. That's cool too. But, for the most part, you just need to find the light and or just, yes, wait for it and work with what you have around you. 5. Editing in Camera RAW: We're going to talk about editing now and I'm going to show you a little bit of my process. I'm editing on a laptop right now because I'm traveling but I usually have my desktop which I definitely prefer. I want to have a big screen in front of me. But, you have to work with what you have. So, I'm working with my laptop today and there is this crazy image I shot of Flying Lotus and a lot of people ask me how do you get that, is that like a blur, do you add that. So, I'm going to show you. I'm stuck in the past. I don't use Lightroom. I only use Camera Raw in Photoshop. So, I'm going to open up my raw file. Let me make sure what this is. So yeah, we're here at Camera Raw Defaults, one sixth of a second which is actually, I'm impressed at myself right now because I got that really sharp one sixth of a second, I have no idea why I did that. These values are weird because it's 6.3, that's my aperture in 1600. I think that I probably didn't really have time to think about my sun is too much. So, the way I got this image to look the way it looks was, I guess I started playing with it. I don't exactly remember how I got it to look that way. But I would just make it really contrasty. So, I just saturated it, and now I'm going to make it really contrasty and I'm going to close up the shadows here because I want all the black and white to pop. I'm going to make the blacks a little more intense, I didn't want to go that intense, I still want the shot to be, just like when the black start too rich it might just look crappy. I'm going to make sure that my highlights are pretty bright here because that's what's going to give it that effect of the trippy lines. There's this thing I do sometimes when the shots are grainy. This shot is not too grainy but I'm still going to up my luminance just a little bit here, and I'm going to up my sharpening just a tad. I don't think it needs too much sharpening. That's fine. I'm going to crop the bottom a little bit because they're like a hat they're that's bugging me. I don't tend to crop my images so much but sometimes just a little bit goes a long way. So, I just played around with my values nothing too crazy and just made it black and white. Sometimes I would open up my image in Photoshop but for this one, I just did it with Camera Raw. That's it. Throughout the years, because I shoot so much, I've been creating my own set of custom presets that I can apply to my stuff now. For me, it's really important to have those because it really gives my work a certain look. When I shoot something different that's something another shoot but when I shoot something that I think it's similar, that I think I could use that filter for, I applied to this new shoot and then I move things around. I rarely just badge a whole photo shoot with the same filter. Some people do that too and I mean, that's fine as long as you know that the final look of your image is at some point and that it really talks about your style. 6. Closing Thoughts: Thank you guys for joining me and listening to me. One thing that's really important for me to tell you is that please don't get caught up in what I said or might say in my settings or the way that I shoot. The most important thing is for you to listen and learn. But just go out and shoot. That's the most important thing. Practice, is the key to becoming a better photographer. That's the one thing that I can really tell you to do. Just go out and shoot. It's great that you are getting information. It's good that you watch workshops. It's good that you listen to what I have to say, what other people have to say. But yes, just don't forget. Go out and shoot and find your way to do things. So, your project for this class is going to be for you to just show me your low-life photos. Okay, it can be a concert, it can be a portrait, whatever you want. Just show me, I want to see those images. 7. Explore Photo Classes on Skillshare: