Low Ambient – Camp Fire Shots

I was recently asked for some advice on how to shoot images around a camp fire at night. This can be a great way to capture memories with beautiful ambience and full of atmosphere. With the advancements in low light technology in camera bodies, it is more possible than ever to capture ambient images in low light conditions. 

ISO 5000 ; f 5.0 ; 1/6 sec ; 28 mm

So first things first… put the flash away. I assume you are not going for the light effect of a flash but rather trying to capture the ambience of the setting with the glow of the fire etc. So if we are on the same page about that then I would try the following: 
  • Maximise your stability – Use a tripod and a shutter release control.. the more stable the better as your shutter speed is invariably going to be low.
  • Metering – Select the metering option to assess light from the whole scene rather than spot metering. 
  • White Balance – Leave your White balance on Auto. You can play around with this if you like.. but by default go with Auto for White Balance. 
  • ISO – Bump your ISO right up… 
    • you will get some noise if you go above ISO 2000 but you can drop the noise in Lightroom afterwards. The later the camera model the higher you will be able to take your ISO without much noise. 
    • It depends on how light the scene is.. but start with an ISO around  1200 – 1400 +/_  and see how that goes. Be prepared to take this element up as necessary depending on the light and the effects you are getting. 
  • Aperture – Open your aperture as wide as possible letting in the maximum amount of light in a single shutter release. .
  • Shutter Speed – With the two other elements chosen and in place, your ISO and your aperture, now you can choose a shutter speed based on what will give you a neutral exposure according to your exposure meter. 
    • You may find this is a very slow value which will give you a shutter speed slower than a second or possibly even several seconds long. If you need it to be faster than that, try immediately increasing your ISO and it should shave some time off of the chosen shutter speed. 
  • Take the shot  – and Review on your LCD.  Look predominantly at:
    • 1 –  the overall lighting effect. Do you need to increase or decrease your exposure based on what you are seeing?  Remember you will be able to make some effective changes in light room afterwards eg. by increasing your exposure. Keep this in your mind so that you strike a balance between effecting the necessary change on the camera combined with the changes you will make in your editing process. 
    • 2 – Focus – Chances are if there was any movement from you or your subjects there will be things out of focus. Look mostly importantly at your focal point and how sharp it is. You may need to ask people to stay still for a moment as you take your shot. 

ISO 5000 ; f 4.5 ; 1/10 sec ; 24mm

This will be a good start to taking decent images around the fire and in low light or ambient environments in general. Shooting in RAW and processing the images in Lightroom afterwards will allow you to maximise the effect. 

About the Author

Brad Leontsinis

Through his guiding career, Brad developed a passion for wildlife photography and believes strongly in the idea of conservation through photography. “I believe through the power of imagery, we are able to tell compelling stories about the moments which matter most.” Brad is fantastic at helping people with their own photography and ensures the only things more vivid than the memories you leave with, are the images that tell your stories.