snipping-toolThere are several ways to improve your digital camera’s exposure in low light (without using flash).  You can increase the camera’s sensitivity to light by raising the ISO level.  Or, you can let more light in through the iris by using a wider aperture (set with lower F-stop numbers), or by opening the shutter for a longer time (set with larger fractions of a second.)  Your camera may have an EV button, which allows you very quickly to increase the light coming in by certain increments (usually whole F-stops).  But, if these measures seem too complicated, there is another way to improve your low light photos, namely, by grabbing a frame from an HD video clip.

Digital cameras that take HD video have an automatic gain feature.  In low light situations they automatically make adjustments to let in enough light for good exposure.  With my little Leica point-and-shoot camera I noticed that in bright situations the video tended to overexpose a little.  I also noticed that in low light situations the HD video turned out better than still photos, which were slightly underexposed, unless I made EV adjustments.  Apparently there is more gain (adjustment toward a brighter exposure) in video mode than in photo mode.  If your camera works similarly, you can get better exposed still shots in low light by shooting video and then grabbing a frame from the video.  This technique will not work well with SD video because the stills you grab from SD will not have enough pixels to make clear pictures, unless you use small versions of those photos.

So, here’s how to grab still photos from HD video, using Windows Media Player and the Snipping Tool:

  1. Download your HD video clip from your camera to your computer.
    Right click on the icon of that video and select “open with” and then choose “Windows Media Player”.
  2. The video clip will begin playing. Stop it at the point where you see the image you wish to save as a still picture.
  3. Start the Snipping Tool.  You will find the icon for this small app inside the Accessories Folder, which you will find by opening the Start menu at the lower left corner of your screen, and then selecting “All Programs,” and then opening the “Accessories” folder.  When you find the Snipping Tool icon right click on it and select “Pin to taskbar.”  This will put the icon at the bottom of your screen where it will be easily accessible.
  4. After starting the Snipping Tool by double clicking on its icon, left click the cross-hair cursor at the top left corner of the picture you want to grab, and hold the mouse button down until you reach the bottom right corner of the picture.  Then release the mouse button.  Immediately you will see a window containing your still photo.  Go to the File menu in this window and select “Save as.”  Name the photo as you wish and indicate where you wish to save it.  You have an option of saving the photo as a jpeg or a gif.  It’s usually better to save it as a jpeg.  Gifs are used mostly with images with just a few colors.

Frames taken from HD videos will be in the 16:9 aspect ratio.  If you want a different aspect ratio you will need to open the photo with a photo editor and crop it to a less long and narrow shape.

A final comment:  If you’re not good at anticipating just the right moment to your baby’s smile, you’ll increase your chances by using video instead of photo mode.  One of those frames is bound to be good!

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