Nighttime Photography Tips
Taking low light photos of nighttime scenes can be both challenging and fun. We all know that light is important to getting good photographs but that does not mean we should put away our cameras after the sun goes down. Instead we should embrace the challenge that nighttime photography presents and after learning a few simple techniques set out to capture some breathtaking nighttime photos.
In this issue of Capturing Life’s Memories I will cover a few of the basic requirements and techniques needed for successful nighttime photography. I hope you will find this informative and inspirational enough to venture out into the night and see what kinds of photos you can capture.
Equipment for Nighttime Photography
Your Camera…a DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera is the best type of camera for nighttime photography. The more compact point-and-shoot cameras often do not have the manual controls needed for nighttime photography. The advantage of a DSLR or Four Thirds format camera is you have the ability to use a full manual mode allowing you control over all your camera controls. This along with a longer shutter speed and less digital noise gives you more flexibility over controlling the exposure of the photo. For example many DSLR’s have a “blub” mode which simply means the shutter will stay open for as long as the shutter button is depressed. This allows you to have full control over your shutter speed. Smaller point and shoot and super zoom cameras typically do not have this feature.
However that does not mean that if you do not have a DSLR you cannot take good nighttime photos. Many point-and-shoot cameras have special modes, such as twilight or nighttime mode. Some even have manual modes, which allow you even more control. My super zoom Sony DSC-HX1 has a full manual mode but the shutter speed is limited to 30 seconds instead of the longer “bulb” mode on my DSLR. While it is able to capture some great nighttime photos overall the DSLR is better suited for nighttime photography.
Your Tripod…No matter what type of camera you have you need a good, solid tripod for nighttime photography. The tripod needs to be heavy duty enough to easily support your camera and lens. For smaller cameras you can get by with a lighter weight tripod, but if you have a DSLR you will need a more expensive heavy duty model. When considering tripods you want to make sure it is rated to support the weight of your camera. A good ball head is also needed to allow you to shoot in both vertical and horizontal modes and to allow you to easily adjust the tripod. While fluid head tripods are great for video use or when panning, for most types of photography a fluid head is less preferred than a good, high-quality ball head.
A Remote Cable Release…when shooting at slow shutter speeds that can be several seconds long any camera movement can induce motion blur in the image or decrease the sharpness of the image. Using either a remote control or a remote cable release allows you to start and stop the shutter without inducing any camera shake that might happen by simply pushing on the shutter button. Many if not most DSLR’s accept a remote cable release that can allow you to “lock” the shutter open for extremely long nighttime exposures.
A Small Flashlight…while not a requirement, having a flashlight can be invaluable when making camera adjustments for nighttime photography. This is especially important if you will be taking photos where there is little if any ambient light available.
Camera Settings for Nighttime Photography
Generally speaking you will want to keep your ISO speed as low as possible when shooting longer exposure nighttime scenes. Of course it really depends on your subject because if there are people or you want to try and freeze the action you will need a faster shutter speed and therefore a larger ISO speed to ensure enough light falls on the image sensor to properly expose it.
Full manual control is normally best as it allows you more control over the key camera settings. Since low light situations can prevent the camera’s autofocus from “locking in” on a subject it is best to use manual focus when shooting fireworks or similar subjects. Using manual focus allows you to lock in the focus to help avoid the camera’s autofocus circuits from “hunting” or searching for a good focal point.
In order to help create special “star effects” on the bright points of light in the photo, such as street lights, etc., you should use a longer shutter speed and smaller aperture setting. An aperture setting of between F/22 and F/32 can help produce a “star effect” on street lights as the lights are being “shaped” by the camera’s aperture blades. Of course if you use a smaller aperture setting you will need to adjust the shutter speed to allow enough light to properly expose the image.
Using Flash for Nighttime Photography
Most of what we have been discussing so far has to do with natural light nighttime photography. However there are some cases such as nighttime portraits where you will need to use a flash to light your subject. The problem with using flash it that normal flash modes can “ruin” the nighttime atmosphere that you want in your photo. This happens when the flash properly lights the subject but the background is too dark to show any detail. This is where the “slow-sync” flash setting can save the day. This special flash setting that most DSLR’s have allows the flash to be used to properly expose the subject while still allowing the camera to use a slower shutter speed to make sure the background retains that pleasing nighttime atmosphere.
Creating Special “Hollywood Style” Bokeh in Your Nighttime Photography Pictures.
The Bokeh Masters Kit is an inexpensive accessory designed to allow you to create special “bokeh” effects in your nighttime photography. Using the Bokeh Master kit allows you to create different shaped patterns in the lights of your nighttime scene. From circles to stars and everything in between this handy accessory is fun to play with and can help you produce some great nighttime special effects.
I trust these nighttime photography tips have been helpful to you. Until next time keep “capturing life’s memories one picture at a time.”
Until Next Month,