Have you ever been shooting a photo in a dark environment or even in broad daylight, and get an error message on your camera saying “Subject is too Dark.” This annoying message can appear on just about any camera and I’ll be explaining the cause and solution.
The “subject is too dark” message occurs when your camera does not have enough light and cannot focus on the subject. This is usually caused by incorrect exposure settings relative to the current environment. You can solve this by switching to manual focus mode and correcting your exposure.
Here is more detailed explanation of why this error occurs.
Why your camera refuses to shoot
In many instances of the “subject is too dark” error message, your camera will beep and refuse to shoot. If you’re using autofocus mode, your camera will not shoot until the subject focused. If your camera does not have enough light, it’s impossible to focus. The refusing to shoot is completely independent of the “subject is too dark” message. However, these two errors often occur at the same time.
Metering vs Autofocus
The subject is too dark message (metering problem) happens when your camera’s light metering detects your exposure settings are too dark for the current amount of light.
Your camera refusing to shoot (autofocus problem) happens when your autofocus system doesn’t have enough light to properly focus.
The difference between metering and autofocus is that metering determines whether the photo is too dark based on your camera settings, while autofocus determines if it should shoot based on whether it can focus or not using the amount of light currently present.
So it’s entirely possible to get the “subject is too dark” message and still be able to shoot a photo. You can also NOT get the “subject is too dark” message but your camera refuses to shoot. But more often than not, these happen at the same time. You really have two different problems and you need solutions to both of them.
But my subject isn’t dark
Your subject may not even look dark to the naked eye, but your camera exposure metering factors in shutter speed and ISO. Your subject may look bright to you or bright through the viewfinder, but it could still look dark to your camera. To solve this you’ll need to correct your exposure settings.
As we’ve discussed, the subject is too dark and your camera refusing to shoot is two separate problems. Here are solutions to both of them.
Using manual focus mode
A solid solution to your camera failing to focus and therefore refusing to shoot is to completely bypass autofocus and focus manually. You can switch to manual focus mode by clicking the i button on your camera, then selecting “focus mode”, and selecting manual focus. This may vary for your camera, consult your user manual.
Now that you’re in manual focus mode, adjust the focus ring while looking through the viewfinder until the frame looks sharp and clear. Sometimes your viewfinder is out of sync with your camera and you may need to focus through trial and error while taking photos.
Note: This is a solution to your camera refusing to shoot but it will not eliminate the “subject is too dark message.” The solution to that is next.
Correcting your exposure settings
A fix to the “subject is too dark” is to change your exposure settings to make your photo brighter. The easiest way to make your photo brighter is to bump up the ISO. Of course, this will considerably increase the noise in your photo. You can also increase the shutter speed but the blur which comes with a long shutter speed may become problematic. Your best bet is to increase your aperture as this will solve both issues with light metering as well as autofocus without increasing any noise or blur.
Changing your subject
If your subject is too dark you can also simply change the subject. Your camera will refuse to shoot if it cannot autofocus. Another solution you can try is focusing on a brighter object at a similar distance to your original subject, or simply reframing your center of focus to the brightest part of your scene. You can do this by half clicking the shutter release button while pointing your camera at a similar object, then moving your camera back to the original object, and fully pressing on the shutter release button. It’s complicated and tedious, but it works.
Using a light
The focus assist light provides crucial light in dark situations which helps your camera focus. Make sure the focus assist light is enabled. This not only will help your camera focus but it will literally make your subject brighter. This is a solution to both the autofocus and metering problem. Sometimes, the focus assist light is not enough, using your camera flash is brighter and more powerful For faraway distances using a flashlight will have a similar effect.
When photographing the night sky
The first time I actually encountered this error was when photographing the night sky. Unfortunately, there is no removing the “subject is too dark” message because the night sky is suppose to be dark. This message isn’t actually a problem. If your not receiving this message, your photo is probably overexposed. What is a problem, is if your camera is refusing to shoot. All the previous solutions mentioned will be difficult to apply to astrophotography.
The solution you need is to focus on infinity. You can do this in manual mode and adjusting your focus ring until the indicator is over the infinity symbol. If you don’t have an infinity indicator, another way you can focus on infinity is by doing what I’ve mentioned previously autofocusing on a bright object at a similar distance to your original subject. But what bright object is at a similar distance to the night sky? The moon, you can autofocus on the moon or a bright object in the far distance and it will focus close enough on infinity that your photo will shoot and look sharp as well.