Once the sun has gone down, everything becomes dark and gives our scene a different look than during the day. If we got used to take photos in daylight only, it can be quite difficult to go ahead with night photography, but not as difficult as we might think. Basically it’s just a different technique nothing else.
After my first photography night shoot, I was so disappointed and felt quite sad, as things didn’t turn out the way I expected. But for the bad experience, I can only blame myself, as I didn’t prepare for it. Therefore, when I got home I made a list of the most important things about night photography.
1. Buy a good quality tripod
First and foremost, it’s essential to have a good quality tripod for night photography. Cheap tripods are often unsteady and because of this, the smallest wind can lead to camera shake and blurry pictures. So it’s crucial that our tripod has to be steady at all times! In my opinion, tripods made from aluminium or carbon fibre are the best choice.
For certain situations when regular tripods are too big or can’t fit, a mini tripod or a bean bag, etc. can be an alternative solution.
2. Shoot in Manual Mode
In manual mode, we have full control over the settings. (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) which is very useful at night time, when it can be a bit tricky to find the correct exposure. To make sure that our subject is properly exposed we might need to adjust our settings after a few test shots.
3. Turn image stabilization off
Image stabilization or vibration reduction is a method that helps prevent image blur. We can find this feature in lenses and camera bodies too. If we switch it on we can use much slower shutter speeds (2-5 times slower) than without vibration reduction. However, when the camera is mounted on a tripod it should be switched off, as the camera is searching for vibration and if doesn’t find one, will keep looking for it by moving around which can result blurry images.
4. Use Manual Focus
Most of the cameras have autofocus and manual focus too. However, autofocus is reliable most of the time, but when the scene gets too dark and autofocus is unable to find focus I prefer to switch to manual focus. To make sure that the subject is sharp, I switch on the Live view mode and zoom in the picture to see better when the subject becomes crisp by adjusting the focus point manually. Then I switch Live view mode off and take the shot. If I am not happy with the results I repeat the whole process from the beginning until it gets fine.
5. Consider a low ISO setting if possible
As we know it makes sense to use high ISO when it’s dark, but it has a significant disadvantage as well, it creates unwanted digital noise. For this reason, it’s better to choose a lower ISO setting if possible. Every camera has a different light sensitivity range, so try to find the best ISO level which suits the camera. For the test shot, set up the camera to get the composition right at ISO 100 first, and give it a go. Then examine the captured image and increase the ISO level to 200, 400, 800, 1600 etc. and adjust other settings accordingly. We will notice, as we raise the ISO level, the noise is getting more visible. But who wants digital noise? Nobody! That’s why I prefer to keep my ISO setting as low as possible, around level 100-200.
When I have to be quick to capture the subject and don’t have enough time for long shutter speeds, then I have no choice, I have to increase the ISO value. For example, when the plane just being pushed back from her stand, usually there’s approximately 1-2 minutes left to take a picture before it starts to move again. If I don’t want to miss the shot, I have to consider to increase the ISO level, for faster shutter speeds.
6. Shoot in RAW
As I said, I prefer RAW format most of the time, because I like to do some post-processing on my images. In most cases, I need to correct white balance, because the light sources on the photo have different colour temperatures, and because of that, some parts of the picture are overexposed even other are too dark.
7. Take test shots
When taking pictures during the night, we have to be well-organized. We can’t just press the shutter release. Our aim is to find the correct exposure, and for achieving it, we should take some test shots.
8. Bulb mode
The maximum shutter speed is 30 sec. in most of the cameras. However, 30 seconds are not always enough to capture the image, especially if there’s not enough light. That’s where bulb mode becomes handy. This mode keeps the shutter open until the remote is triggered and mainly used for long exposure photography.
9. Remote shutter release
A remote shutter release is a photography accessory and often called remote trigger too. There are several types of the remote shutter release on the market, and the main benefit of this device, that it reduces camera shake when the shutter release button is pressed down. Basically, when physically pressing the shutter we are putting pressure on the camera which can result camera shake and blurry images. This tiny tool helps us to decrease camera shake.
10. Mirror lock-up
The other option to reduce camera shake is called ‘’mirror lock-up’’. Principally, the mirror in the camera flips up for a moment, before we activate the shutter. This feature is very useful for long exposures. Moreover, most of the time I wrap my camera’s strap around the tripod, as the tiniest breeze can move it, which results blurry images too.
That’s it in a nutshell! Consider these simple ideas next time to improve your photography portfolio. Just take your time and keep experimenting!