For every one of us, who is into photography, we chase the light. We do pack our bags and set out at 5 in the morning or 4 in the afternoon just to get the best sunrise-sunset hues. The golden hour is always a sweet spot we seek. Now comes the question - one day you go out at 5 in the morning, waiting for an hour or more for the perfect light to come out but, it's still too much foggy or overcast. No proper sun in sight and yet activities are going around you. What will you do? This article will guide you with the best approach when the light conditions are challenging - be it low light or an overcast or a typical foggy morning. Let's dive in!
Low Contrast Shots - Flat light conditions are equivalent to low contrast pictures. They give you the independence to create an artistic shot where the entire image's exposure and highlight-shadows can be explored in post processing. You can never get a clear sharp image in these conditions specially if the subject is a bit far. So try to take high key images or take the minimal photograph approach. The ISO of your camera will be somewhere in between 800 to 2000 in these low light conditions and that will generate a bit of grain (ideally). So in the post processing instead of trying huge noise reduction, try going for a high exposed fine art picture or go by the color rules where you can bring out your subject even with light presence of grain.
Using the shade to advantage - You can take the overcast climate to your advantage while going for a more ground level shot and taking some foreground items for a composition where POV looks like you are peeking from within a hide. In the post processing you can opt for a low exposed shot along with tweaking the temperature for better depiction of warmth or cold climate.
Global exposure refinements - If your camera has a good amount of HDR capability, shots taken in lowlight conditions can be post processed and exposure settings can be adjusted to give an unidirectional light path.
Habitat showcasing - If even after adjusting your exposure triangle elements, you are unable to get a proper eye catch of your subject, switch to the wider focal length of your lens and try getting habitat shots. These shots don't demand high level of eye catch. You can easily freeze the moment with higher shutter speed and by using a good amount of aperture you get the right depth of field. Habitat shots are the ones which get more love around the globe these days. So try to incorporate the cloud, dull weather and your subject minimally placed at any intersection points of the composition guides.
Metering mode - If your metering mode is set to SPOT METERING, definitely change it to Evaluative/Matrix Metering mode while shooting in low light. SPOT metering is only applicable when your subject has ample light on it.
Fine Art - Wildlife and fine arts go hand in hand. If you are in extremely low light / foggy conditions, take your shutter speed high and keep a high ISO too so that the image will be well under-exposed. In post-processing, you can bring up shadows a bit, and with increasing contrast and providing a correct balance of grain and details, you can achieve a fine art shot. Remember not to lift the shadows too high! it should be a play of lights.
Now here are some key factors which you need to keep in mind -
You need to know the sweet spot of your lens. Some lenses have an aperture value of 6.3 as a sweet spot while most of the lenses have it at 8. So, while going for long-distance shots, if you are opting for a f6 or f5.6, you may get a bit more light to cope with overcast conditions but you lose the clarity of your subject and it gets smoothed out. Once again, typically for NIKON users, if the Active D-Lightning is set to OFF, probably your shots are not going to get many details in shadows and highlights while shooting in dull conditions. Keep it in AUTO.