How to Take Great Low Light Photos

For over 20 years Seattle-based photographer Rick Takagi has been taking amazing shots in one of the harshest environments photographers face – low light.  Whether he’s on assignment for a wedding, a party, or taking photos of Snoqualmie Falls or wildlife, Rick has found a few tricks for taking great low light photos using his DSLR and HTC One X alike.

Snoqualmie Falls at sunset

Horses grazing at sunset.

Which of the above photos do you think was taken with an HTC One X?

Whether using a professional camera or the one on your phone, here are some tips from Rick for taking great photos in low light.


Use the Low Light Setting

In my opinion, most pro photographers would rather not rely on a flash.  Instead, we’d prefer to use natural light. With my HTC One X, the built-in Low Light setting, accessible under the camera scenes, makes it easy to take a great photo without getting the unbalanced look that often occurs when using the flash.

For example, the picture on the left was taken using the Auto (default) setting.  While this isn’t a bad shot, look at the same picture on the right.  It’s easy to see how much better the photo turns out when taken using the Low Light setting.

Lake Washington at sunset using Auto setting.

Same shot using “Low Light” setting.

To get to the Low Light setting, go to the camera and you’ll see an “A” (for “Automatic”) in the lower left hand corner of the screen. Touch the A and it’ll open up a whole menu of options, the last one is Low Light. You can touch the words or the little radio button to activate the setting.  Once selected, you’ll see the setting activated on the screen where the “A” used to be.

Take Wide Shots Without Zoom

Many people have a tendency to zoom-in tight on a person.  To take great photos when lighting is poor, the best trick is to keep the lens wider, allowing more light to enter the frame.  You can always crop the photo in the camera’s editing tools.  I use the crop feature in the One X often and it works like a charm.  So, don’t zoom in.

Selective Focusing for Exposure

This sounds more complicated than it is (and is by far my favorite camera feature on the One X). Do you ever notice how some great photos have a slightly blurry background while the subject is sharp and crisp in the foreground?  This is because of selective focusing.  On your HTC One X, you can tap anywhere on screen to shift the focus to that section.  The exposure will also be corrected for the selected part of the screen.

What does this have to do with low light photography you ask?  When lighting is low, selective focus allows you to determine the main subject and the camera directs light to the selected area, making your subject look best.

Tapping the character on the right shifts focus to the subject.

Always Use a Tripod

A good tip for all low light situations is to make sure your camera is stabilized on something, whether it’s a chair, a table, or a tripod. I use a tripod for all of my low light shots, whether I’m using my DSLR or my One X.

You think your hand is stable when holding your camera, but it’s probably not stable enough to give a clean, crisp shot. Using a tripod removes the risk of unsteady hands and makes it much easier to come away with a great shot.

Handheld shot of a local store.

Less “noise” when taken with a tripod.

About Rick Takagi:

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Rick Takagi has been living and working in Seattle for over 20 years.  His work has been published in National Geographic, CNN, 425 Magazine, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Weekly, Parade and many others.  He lives with his wife, three children, and their two dogs in Kirkland, WA.  Rick’s work can be seen at his website and his blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696112190 Ahmad Abdel-Aziz

    Great article Rick!
    Thank you

    • Rick Takagi

      Thanks Ahmad!

  • http://www.facebook.com/oneseries Peter Vernelen

    Brillant and very useful article, Thanks a ton

    • Rick Takagi

      Thanks for the kind words Peter!

    • Rick Takagi

      Thanks for the kind words Peter.

  • TJ Wall

    Which of the two photos at the top was the One X? I’d guess the right–the left looks too detailed for a phone photo.

    • Rick Takagi

      Your right TJ, the photo on the right was taken with the One X. The phone was stabilized on a guardrail over a small bridge and then taken.

  • Mimo Dakdouk

    Oh, very nice post, thanks, Rick. I’m hoping the HTC WP 8X also has this low light feature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rdjakhangirov Rustam Djakhangirov

    Very useful advices for all kinds of cameras.
    Another advice for those who use macro shooting. Get a cheap lens and use it to focus

  • http://www.facebook.com/darren.peck1 Darren Peck

    Thanks for the advice and insight Rick! You just made up my mind on purchasing the HTC One X !

  • http://twitter.com/anton_magnin Ant on a Mission

    I have a Wildfire S. Can I do the something on it as this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/molnar.patrikantal Molnár Patrik Antal

    Useful post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/norms.v Norman Vyi

    is there a tripod I can use for my
    HTC Sensation?

    • Rick Takagi

      Hi Norman, actually you have a few choices. Look up the “istabilizer” which works pretty well and is super light. The istabilizer stretches out to suit different widths but is maxed out on a One X.


    excellent article…..
    good one rick…

    • Rick Takagi

      Thanks for the kind words, really appreciate it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wessie.pang Wessie Pang

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve always wondered when to use the low light function, and end up using auto (which doesn’t always give a great photo).

    • Rick Takagi

      Hi Wessie, Glad you like the tips.

  • Karlo

    Horses picture has too much red tone. and lake pictures is good but grainy as all pictures with one x camera, I’m not satisfied with it. I think it could be a bad pixel on lake pictures (the yellow one). I thnk this camera should be much better on this phone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/enghussam.mohammed Hussam Aldean Mohammed

    thx sir
    I love to take a photo using my mobile
    but one question
    what do you mean by Tripod
    and thx in advance

    • Rick Takagi

      Hi Hussam, You can use something like a tripod, which has 3 legs and typically has a mount on top for a camera. I often end up using the back of a chair or some other stable and level space to make sure the photo is sharp.

      • http://www.facebook.com/enghussam.mohammed Hussam Aldean Mohammed

        thank you sir

  • Mark Reisch

    Another tip I would suggest to remove motion is to use the timer feature. set it for 2 seconds gives you enough time after you press the button to settle your hand down.

    • Rick Takagi

      This is a great tip Mark, thanks.

      • Mark Reisch

        Thank you for the article! Nice work and great shots!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruben.swing Ruben Swing

    Hey Rick can u pls suggest if I should use 16:9 or 4:3 on the One X

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrunal.munsi Mrunal Tiwari

    From 1 & half month they took my device & didn’t even know when it will repaired LOL..!!IMEI-356871040914834

    So here it goes….

    Well I know you(admin) are among that so you may ignore this But I want to make sure everyone who going to buy HTC Please Think Don’t fool yourself after purchasing HTC product

    I have HTC EVo 3d Costing 34490/-(still in warranty) On Oct 06 After Updating to ICS My Touch Stop Working, so I sent my device to HTC service center In nagpur, After a Week I got call from Service center regarding quotation to get device repaired (yet in warranty) price 16000/- & they return back device without repairing it. I contacted HTC Toll free and explained them it is warranty so no need of quotation. after daily mails & calls on toll free they took 2 weeks to agree on that
    & on 22Oct they again sent my device for Free of Cost repairing.
    After long 3 weeks of wastage of time there Back end team member Ms Geeta assured me that my device will get repaired on 28 of oct. On 28 Oct I called Service center to get my device back but their toll free agent told me, “my device need to repair the part & the part is not available & It will take 1 more week I Said Please contact me with Ms Geeta as she committed on that day But the toll free agent told me Ms Geeta is unavailable We can’t connect with you. I said OK & keep going on till next week

    After a Week Passed I again Contacted Htc For Device But Their Second back end team mem. Mr Asif told me ” today that waiting part is arrived and we will deliver your device by today & It will get in hands By Wednesday I Said its second time you extending it . but Mr Asif Assured me that any how the device will be ready in my hand by said day. I again said okay & keep going on

    On Wednesday I as usual contact them for my device .. But Mr Asif is not available that day as said by their toll free agent so i got third new back end team mem Mr Alpesh He said me that ” the part required for device is still not arrived so it will not possible to repaired device yet. My Mind is just Blown out by hearing that because Mr Asif told the device is getting repaired the part is arrived on Monday. so i told MR alpesh that same story he just said sorry and all there preset dialogues & lastly told me to contact after 48 hours for status- when my device get repaired?

    Today finally the 48 hours passed As usual i called them, may be its 50th time & just shocked,,There is no Mr Alpesh Available. The Fourth one guy Mr Irfan Got the call he said My device is in testing it will take some more time….

    I said I am done with your lies … please keep my mobile with you if it is repaired sold it & share equal cash among your all Member -Ms geeta, Mr Asif, Mr Alpeh & Mr Irfan & All agents.

    I have all evidence so i can proved they lies with us

    This is what htc i experienced today, Really Its Quietly Brilliant !!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharonplatten58 Sharon Platten

    can’t find low light setting, has this changed with th Jelly Bean update?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ricktakagi Rick Takagi

      Hi Sharon, great catch! It appears that the “night” selection has taken the place of the low light setting.

  • sunflowerjane

    A very nice post, thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ricktakagi Rick Takagi

      Thanks sunflowerjane!

  • http://twitter.com/ambde A. M. Blake

    Wow – these are some amazing shots, can’t believe they were taken with an HTC!

    • http://www.facebook.com/ricktakagi Rick Takagi

      Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • erwin cahyadi

    Thank You, very useful information

  • http://www.facebook.com/cheekeat.lim.5 Chee Keat Lim

    Hello, Rick, in your opinion, do u think HTC one camera is better than HTC one x camera?

    • ricktakagi

      Hi Chee, thanks for writing. The camera and software used in the new HTC One isn’t in the same league as the prior cameras. The biggest difference right off the bat is the clarity and depth that can be achieved by the new sensor, which I feel put’s the One in the same category as a good point and shoot. I love the camera on the One X and X+, they take great shots to be viewed on a smaller screens, like a phone or tablet. The noticeable difference with the One camera is the ability to pinch and zoom into a photo, while maintaining the original clarity and sharpness. I think you’ll see what I mean once you get your hands on one. I haven’t been this excited about shooting with a mobile device in years.

      Another quick difference is that HTC decided to focus on the quality of the sensor and not simply megapixel count. People love to see high numbers as an upgrade but it’s just not true when it comes to camera sensors. My primary camera for work is a Nikon d3s, which takes amazing pictures in the lowest light. My D3s is a 12.1 megapixel but I wouldn’t trade it for a 24 or 36 megapixel just because the quality of the sensor is that good….HTC took the same approach and knocked this one out of the park.

      Thanks for the question Chee and feel free to ask any more you might have.


      • http://www.facebook.com/cheekeat.lim.5 Chee Keat Lim

        Hi, Rick , Thx for ur reply….. appreciate it..^^

  • Jo Burg

    How do I access files on my phone using the new HTC sync Manager? Thanks, Jo

  • Heu3BecTHbIu

    HTC thanks for awesome divices

  • patrik69

    I wish I had a tripod for my One X. I have a tripod but no way to mount it. I’ve looked at various mounts on Amazon but wondering if anyone on here has a suggestion for a good one.

    • Rick Takagi

      Hey there, this is a great question and I hope to do a small writeup on the mounts that I like to use. I try to always support the device with a tripod or whatever is available in order to lend some solid support.

    • http://twitter.com/dorchdude phil gordon

      You could try buying a sat nav mount as used in a car, that would allow you to clamp the htc by its sides, then either use the suction cap of the mount onto a smooth surface like a table or a small mirror etc?

      • patrik69

        I actually just placed an order for a Joby Grip Tight mount. I looked and looked and Joby seemed to have the best reviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DaemonChylde Iqbal ‘Daemonchylde’ Mohamed

    Actually, I don’t see the ‘A’ on my screen anywhere. I’m using the Butterfly, so wondering if this feature applies on my phone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=701436540 Robsa Walker

    Rick, HTC have just updated the OS to improve image quality under daylight conditions – would love to know if you have this update and what you think now?

    • ricktakagi

      I don’t think that I have it yet Robsa but I’ll let you know if something happens.

  • Matthew Yee-Fong

    I’ll try this out, especially the low light. I never really messed with the camera settings because I don’t know much about photography, so I just left it on automatic. This all about to change on my One, thanks for the tips!

  • http://www.facebook.com/pangeyi RenJie Yi

    I am as a consumer in us and I never see any of the abs for HTC one AT ALL. I really love the phone but HTC really need a new marketing team in US, they are really sucks. I don’t how HTC going to win Samsung in marketing. Samsung have abs at youtube and TV and everywhere. No wonder galaxy is the best sell phone in US. I know the camera for HTC is awesome but they really need to work on the marketing and let everyone know that awesome camera!!! sorry been post some not really about photo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anis-Ben-Brahim/1318129782 Anis Ben Brahim

    HTC realy needs to something about this PROBLEM! In Dubai, I have been waiting to get the HTC ONE phone for the last 3 weeks but there is no stock! while the Samsung S4 is availble, so HTC is not even giving us the choice, I need a new phone as mine is broken, I want the htc one but I am not sure If I am ready to wait longer… I will end up going for BEST/AVAILABLE in the market…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anis-Ben-Brahim/1318129782 Anis Ben Brahim

      one week later, and still no stocks in Dubai, shame what a waste and what a loss while the S4 dropped to 630USD already…

  • Stephen Freeman

    Verizon version?

    • http://blog.htc.com/ Larry Meadows

      Did you see the tweet from Verizon earlier this week?