Photographing at Night

When you can’t sleep at night. Have you thought about shooting at night? Photographing at night is a whole new world of shooting. So, grab your patience & camera and lets go shooting!! Oh wait, first thing you will need to do is get out of bed!!!!

Here’s a few tips to get you started:

Use a Tripod and set your cameras ISO low.

A tripod is one of the most important tools for anyone shooting at night. While it is possible to capture certain night shots handheld. You will need to use a wide aperture and high ISO, in most cases (and to save yourself “a lot” time and frustration) you’re going to want to use a tripod.

Using the lowest ISO setting ensures the highest results for your images. Your exposure will be longer, but since you’re using a tripod, you will be happy with the results. Plus, with a low ISO it will keep the noise/image grain to a minimum. Nothing spoils an image like grain!

If you are having trouble setting a long exposure you could switch your camera to “Bulb mode”. Bulb mode combined with the self-timer and a remote shutter release ( you will need to buy a remote shutter release for your camera model.) On most DSLRs, the slowest shutter speed you can set is 30 seconds. If you have “bulb mode” you can bypass this shutter speed to allow the shutter to remain open as long as you’d like. Bulb mode is very useful outside the city, where you’ll often need multi-minute exposures with low ISO even under the full-moon.

When using longer exposures at night, you may want to use the self-timer on your camera this will help avoid the camera shake you may get from pressing the shutter. You will also need to pay attention to any surface that may create a vibration during your exposure. Some examples of these surfaces are wet sand, traffic passing, a bridge and even tall buildings can move slightly causing your exposure to end up on the blurry side. You might think you can hand hold your camera. Save yourself and use a tripod. I personally don’t attempt hand holding if my shutter gets below 1/60.

I created this trailing light image with my Canon 5DMarkII 24-70mm lens. (Tripod) Camera settings: JPEG/RAW, Aperture f16, Shutter 30 seconds. I post processed it in Photoshop.

railing Lights Photography

Have you tried shooting the moon at night to have it look completely orange? This is due to the color cast of sodium vapor bulbs, which are the most prevalent street light. You can reduce this effect by setting your WB. This also works very well with nature & landscapes to ensure the photo still looks like “night”, not daytime with stars. By shooting RAW, you’ll be able to experiment with different WB settings in post processing without deciding one (one) whit balance. You can also regain a lot of shadow detail from RAW files, which is another reason to shoot in this mode. (you will need software to convert your file). Like almost everything else about night photography, color balance and exposure take time and patience to get right.

RAW–If you shoot in Camera RAW + JPEG. This gives you a raw file that can be manipulated plus it gives you a JPEG file that I can viewed and used immediately. If you shoot in JPEG only. Set your cameras long Exposure Noise Reduction. (It is a setting in your menu)

Use your fastest lens possible, I prefer prime lenses, and don’t use a filter. Most dedicated night shooters use a lens with a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. Even if you are shooting night landscapes and will be using a much smaller aperture for your exposure, a fast lens will be that much brighter through the viewfinder and make it easier for you to compose your shot.

Moon Photography

Capturing motion at night:

Long exposures are a great way to capture the motion of the earth, water, stars, clouds, vehicles and more, and the effect can be even more interesting at night. If the sky is in your shot, cloud movement adds a dramatic effect, as does the apparent circular motion of stars caused by the rotation of the Earth. Coastlines and rivers can take on a foggy, smoky appearance, and vehicles leave trails of light without actually showing up in the photo.

Use your aperture creatively and “stop down/under expose” (ie – compensation) to get a longer light trail, or for fast moving clouds, use a wider aperture if they blend together too much and lose definition. You can even create light trails yourself by walking through the frame with a light source, create your own image by “light painting” try- flashlights, strobes, sparklers, fire, glow sticks and more. Your possibilities are endless–Get creative!

Settings to try-Use a small aperture of f/16 or smaller for a greater depth of field. This aperture will help keep most of the image in focus. The longer the exposure, the more lines will appear and the longer they will look. The exposure of your night image will vary depending on certain factors. If there is a lot of ambient light then the shutter speed will be shorter. If you are shooting somewhere very dark, the shutter speed will need to be longer. (Longer shutter-more light comes in) The more you practice the more you will become tuned to the exposure you need for the effect you want.

You will follow the same tips for taking Portraits at night.

Night Photography

You might be able to use automatic focus (AF) if there is enough light. You will know if you have to switch by the sound of your camera searching to lock focus. (We have all heard the sound, Urrrr urrrr, urrrr, urrrrr). If your camera fails to lock focus you will probably have to use “manual focus”. (This can be set on the side of your lens.) If your camera doesn’t have manual focus, find a light in the scene to focus on. Auto focus will require light. If you have no light available, use a flashlight. You will shine the light where you want the focus or you can use the flash to illuminate your focal point.

Wedding Night Photography

Try to use an Aperture of f/11 or f/16. By using the larger aperture you will have a greater depth of field and more of your subject will be in focus. If you want to warm your image set your white Balance to daylight. (Remember if you shoot in RAW you can experiment in post processing to see which white balance you like best).

A few more tips– Lower your LCD Brightness and check your histogram! (Located in your menu). Setting your camera’s LCD screen to it’s lowest brightness setting ensures you don’t underexpose your image based on the LCD preview. LCD screens are calibrated for use in the daytime, so they can cause an underexposed image to look ok under night light. While not strictly a tip for night photography, it’s also a great idea to view your histogram and make sure it does not shift too far to the left, (ie underexpose) try different exposure times. It’s normal for a night photo’s histogram to be more to the left than usual but not excessive.

Now get a tripod, a remote shutter release wait for the sun to go down, and get out there and take some night photos!

As always, I would love to see the Shutterfly products you make with your beautiful image. Share the link in the comment section or post to your Shutterfly Share Site.

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