Working in low light situations


We've all been there, you arrive and setup your photo booth getting everything setup to perfection and then bam someone kills all the lights in the place leaving you to scramble to attempt to get your settings dialed in. If you are new to the photo booth industry this can leave feeling like your stomach is in your throat. Well at least that is how it left me feeling early on.

If your photo booth uses a D-SLR camera such as the Canon Rebel series you have plenty to work with.

While each photo booth will vary in design and the components in them, they do tend to have the following components. A D-SLR camera such as the Canon Rebel or the EOS X0D series (mine use EOS 50D's) and a flash unit with some sort of diffuser. Even if your booth doesn't have these exact components making the adjustments I am going to give should help you.

This is not a bullet proof method just one that I use, so please do not expect your results to be the same.

Let me start off by describing my booth's setup. My booths all have a Canon EOS 50D D-SLR camera and an AlienBees B400 by Paul C Buff (a product I completely recommend) . The booth's top cabinet is lined with white and a large 36" x 20" frosted acrylic window is at the front. The light is faced to the rear of the cabinet. This combination has given me great flexibility in many different lighting conditions over the years.

I run my cameras in manual (M) mode with the lens set to manual focus. Auto-focus can give inconsistent results in low lit venues.

The following settings are where I start and actually make no adjustments I would say 50% of the time.

Camera Settings:

  • Shutter speed 1/250
  • ISO 400
  • Aperature F/7.1

Flash Settings:

  • 1/2 power

When I run into a venue where lighting is poor I try to adjust for it first through the camera and lastly by increasing the flash power.

1) The first place I start is by bumping my ISO setting until I reach ISO 1600. Depending on your camera you may or may not be able to use an ISO this high without having grainy pictures.

2) If increasing my ISO doesn't produce properly exposed images I next move my shutter speed to 1/200.

3) If the images are still under exposed I will open the aperture up to F/6.3. If I open the aperture more then manual focus get less reliable within the booth.

4) As I mentioned earlier as a last resort I bump the flash until proper exposure is achieved.


Do you have a method you use to achieve proper exposure in your photo booth? Join in the conversation below and share your experience.


  • The AlienBee flashes are great! I went with the 1400 and am glad I did so that I've got the extra power to work with when needed. I've got enough power that I don't have to rely on the venue's lighting and I can shoot at whatever ISO I want. For those looking to buy a flash, consider the extra flexibility you get with a more powerful flash. It's a little more money but it's nice knowing you'll have that extra power when you need it.

    • Thanks for the input Jason. The AlienBees are great flashes indeed.

      • John Appleton

        I just purchased A single AB400 Unit, should i use a Softbox or Shoot through umbrella setup for my Photobooth?

        • Depends on the setup and size of groups. My booth tower is basically a large soft box with the AB400 facing the rear, the inside is white to maximize reflection witha semi opaque front

  • Alien Bees makes great flashes, but I use a Studio Systems model that cost under $100. My booths take great pics at outdoor events that begin in daylight and end in total darkness, and ISO 400 works great (even without external lighting). The only reason I'd even try ISO 1600 is if my flash failed.

    The other aspect of lighting that a photo booth operator needs to think about is studio lighting. You need to make the booth area bright enough for people to see themselves in the view screen. I use a dimmable LED light strip for this, but it's the flash that makes for great pictures.

    -John Boston
    T-Town Photo Booth

    • Excellent input John, thanks. I agree fully on the ISO comment and typically run my booths at ISO 400 as mentioned above in the starting settings.

    • Oh, I do have the LED lighting strips. I used them for video with my dslr. I will pack those in the bags going forward. I do believe they are the CN 160 dimmable lights over on Amazon. Thanks for that John!

  • ozpall

    do you use the modeling light with the alienbees?

    • I do not use the modeling light unless the venue is very dark.

  • ozpall

    when using strobes shutter speeds controls ambient, from 1/250 to 1/200 you wont fix much, i would say 1/60 to let more ambient light in and about f8 to make sure everybody is in focus.

    • Thanks for the comments. You can definitely get away with 1/160 though I prefer a higher shutter speed and have great results with the settings mentioned above. Using 1/60 will result is a large percentage of photos with extreme motion blur.

  • Thanks for sharing this Mike. I am a photographer first and I was always hired to take pictures at events (birthday parties, bridal showers, baby showers...etc). Yes, I started in event photography.
    I am came across so many issues with the low light events. Why? Each time I stand or move into a different area of the event, the lighting was either to low and I had to adjust my camera. Or the lighting was too bright and the images would overexposed.
    You have to be quick and ready so you can set the camera to expose correctly. This is why I decided to build and offer a photo booth to my clients. I find it a bit challengint at times but I prefer and suggest a photo booth in a heartbeat.
    What I learned to do is setup custom white balance in my camera because of different clothing in the booth (well, in front of the camera). I set my camera to manual and the lens to manual focus. I am using the Nikon D7000, dslrbooth software, and my ABR800 Alien Bees ringflash. I usually put on the Moon Unit and scare the mess out of little kids (LOL!!!).
    The setting on the back of the ABR800 varies since it depends on what type of flash you like (halo, burn edge,or normal). I do recommend the ringflash and many others lights from Alien Bees.

  • Leo

    What if the flash is too bright with the setting you have provided even I already put the flash setting to its minimum? Any suggestions?

    • You can begin to close down the aperture. You'll be fine going to F/8.1 or F/9 if you need.

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