Low light photography is a hot topic in photography enthusiasts. Suppose you are planning a trip to an ancient city in a foreign country. You want to take pictures inside old buildings using available low light only. You may have some unsuccessful experience of low light photography. If you rise a question in a photo forum, it is very often that you will be suggested to purchase a prime lens with large aperture. Generally the solution works. But a prime lens is not so convenient for image composition as what you can do with a zoom lens. You may also consider a zoom lens with large aperture but find such a zoom lens can be very expensive. Is there any alternative way for low light shooting with the photo gears you already have? The answer is simple: shoot raw files.

Raw files are the image files produced from digital image sensors directly without image processing. Therefore raw files can keep original data of light captured by image sensors. The image format of a raw file is regarded as raw format. There is no industry standard of raw format yet. Each digital camera maker defines its own raw format. Raw format keeps changing as the technology of image sensor improved. Fortunately we do not need to care much about raw format. Many popular image tools support variety of raw files from major camera makers. You may wonder why shoot raw files and how. Let me explain it with my own story.

The Venetian Las Vegas hotel is well known for its indoor Grand Canal Gondola Riding. It was on my list when I had a trip to Las Vegas. My photo gears were Nikon D80, Nikon 18-135mm travel lens, Nikon 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens and Nikon 50mm f1.4D prime lens. The Nikon 50mm f1.4D is equivalent to 75mm lens on Nikon D80. Obviously it was not wide enough to shoot indoor Venetian scenes. The only lens I could use was Nikon 18-135mm. Its focal length range was perfect, but the aperture was not big enough for shooting low light. So I decided to shoot raw files only.

Actually Nikon D80 is not a right camera for low light photography. Even though Nikon claims the ISO of D80 can raise up to 3200, the sensor will produce significant noise when ISO is above 400. I used manual mode and set ISO below 350. I also manually adjusted shutter speed to make sure it was not too slow for handheld shooting in low light. All result raw files were absolutely dark gray. When I was home, I processed the raw files with Aperture 2 and brought light back in the images. Many other image tools can do the same job. Some result images are presented in the slideshow below. You can see, to shoot raw files in low light can be a perfect optional trick for low light photography.