Night-time photography can produce some of the most dramatic images that you can create, and it can also be one of the more difficult types of photography to learn and master.
Most photographers have a file of poor quality night photographs hidden away on their hard drive. These photos may be out of focus, the exposure is incorrect, the wrong part of the photo is highlighted and it doesn't look anything like the scene you saw before you when you clicked the shutter.
This post will give you some tips on taking photographs at night (tips based largely on my own personal experiences of taking really bad night-time photographs). Even if you not a die hard photographer, these tips can help ensure that you're ready to grab that photographic opportunity when you see it.
Tips for night-time photography:
1.Know in advance where you plan on doing your night-time photography session. Spend a little time planning your parking, driving routes, etc in advance. And remember, you'll be going in at least one direction in the dark. But most of all, be safety conscious. More than once I have taken a tumble in the dark while trying to get to a location that I knew I wanted to photograph from.
2.Be aware of when and where the sun will be setting or the moon will be rising if you what to include them in your photographs. Some of the best photography makes use of these two heavenly bodies. A fantastic site to use for this is http://stephentrainor.com/tools/
It is an Adobe AIR application, so you might have to install Adobe AIR if you haven’t before. And it will work on MAC, Windows, Linux, etc….
3.Check the weather forecast for the area where you'll be doing your night-time photography. Then you'll know how to dress appropriately as well as how much cloud cover to expect. It's very easy to get cold when you're just standing around waiting for the right photographicopportunity when it is dark.
4.Use bug spray during the warmer months. If you're going to be anywhere near the woods or water, even in an urban city like Paris, apply itliberally. You'll most likely to be sitting or standing in the same place for an extended period so there's no point in making yourself an attractive meal for the local bugs. Photography should be enjoyable. Fighting off insects makes it less so.
5.Always bring and use your tripod. It's quite common to have exposures of an entire second or more during night-time photography. With exposures longer than 1/40 of a second, a tripod is essential in order to ensure that camera shake doesn't affect the quality of your photographs.
6.If your camera does not have it built in, bring and use a bubble level. A level lets you make sure your camera is level so you can prevent the annoying problem of images running down hill in your pictures. If this is not an option, use the horizon straighten tool in your editing program in post processing.
7.Since you'll be using a tripod, also use a cable release for your camera. If your camera is equipped to use a cable release for remote operation of the shutter button, be sure to use it. On lengthy exposures, the camera shake caused by depressing the shutter button on your camera will often be seen in your pictures. If your camera isn't equipped for use with a cable release, a self-timer is a good alternative.
8.Have your cell phone with you. You're going to be out in the dark after all, and things happen. A cell phone will come in handy if there is an emergency. If you're going to team up with another photographer, both of you should take along your phones. That way, if you get separated it's much easier to find one another in the dark.
9.This one is overlooked alot... Bring along a flashlight. A pocket flashlight or a head lamp is essential when you're doingphotography at night. Not only can it light up your camera dials so you can adjust your camera settings, but it can also help you find your way back to your car at the end of your photography session.
10.Preset your camera settings. The more control you exercise over the camera settings, the greater your chances of taking some great night-time photographs.
If your camera has automatic settings only, you may face some real challenges in your attempts at photography in the dark. Whether photography is a hobby or just a casual interest, you'll be well-served if you invest in a quality camera that allows for adjusting the basic settings.
11.Don't use the flash. Most on-camera flashes without a beemer aren't effective past five or six feet in front of the camera. Soat night, it may overexpose anything that happens to be in the foreground while underexposing the primary subject of the picture.
12.Don't be afraid to play with your ISO setting. Higher ISO settings on your digital camera will allow you to use of a faster shutter speed. The higher the ISO, the shorter the exposures you can use... the more creative control you will have
For example, if you plan to use an exposure of ISO 100 for 2 seconds at F8.0, you can alternatively use ISO 400 for a 1/2 second exposure at the same F8.0. Some digital cameras show higher than usual noise levels for long exposures. See if your digital camera features long exposure noise reduction and suggested ISO limitations.
13.Understand your camera's light metering system, or meter separately while using manual settings on your camera. Most modern consumer-class cameras, especially the higher level ones, tend to have very sophisticated metering systems. But night-time photography involves some pretty tricky lighting situations. There will be very bright and very dark areas in the same photograph.
If automatic metering doesn't produce the quality of photos that you want, take control by using manual camera settings or using exposure compensation. If your digital camera has a histogram function, use it to help determine how well your metering is working.
14.When you first start taking night photos... try bracketing your photos. If your camera can bracket shots automatically, be sure to use this feature any time you do night-time photography. I usually shoot the exposure I've set, then bracket the shot with a full shutter speed step-up followed by a full shutter speed step-down.
15.You may be able to save time by using manual focus. Most likely, you're going to shoot multiple exposures of the same shot (a fundamental principle of photography), so set the first shot using auto-focus, then without changing the focus, switch to manual focus. That way, if your camera has difficulty focusing in the dark, it won't repeatedly search for a focus lock.
The nice thing about photography involving monuments and buildings is they don't move. Once the lens is focused, the camera is mounted on the tripod and everything else is set, you don't have to refocus with every shot. But you should still check every now and then, just to make sure that you haven't bumped the lens and altered the focus.
16.Use the "mirror lockup" function. If your camera allows you to lock the mirror in place, do so. On some long exposures, the internal workings of the camera can actually cause enough vibration to make camera shake visible in the photo! Mirror locking reduces the chances of this source of camera shake.
17.Take a lot of pictures, especially when you're doing night-time photography. And try using different exposures. If you take lots of photos, your chances of ending up with a few gems are pretty high. Always remember that film is cheap (and digital cameras have a "trash can"). It is not uncommon for me to shoot 200 photos when i am shooting at night.
18.Try taking some pictures before it gets completely dark. Sometimes having a little color left in the sky can add an extra dimension to the photo. Some of the best photography takes place just after twilight. You will commonly hear this referred to as "The Golden Hour"
19.Review your shots. If you're using a digital camera, you should take advantage of the instant feedback available to you to see if you're getting the results that you want. And if your camera features a histogram function, be sure to check it often to make sure you aren't underexposing or overexposing parts of your images.
20. LCD screens make your images look brighter than they will show on your computer... You may look at an image on the back of your camera and think, "nailed it", then get home to realize you under exposed... so be aware of this... practice will perfect your art and help you understand your camera.
21. Have fun, be creative and try new things. I have found that when shooting night scenes some of my favorite ones that I have processed were ones that when I saw in the LCD monitor I figured they were "toss-aways" when I got them into my computer. I always tell people that shooting photos at night is like buying a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna to get... awhhh yes, a good ole Forest Gump pearl of wisdom.
Why don't you consider coming with me on the ultimate night photography workshop... every year we head to the Yukon to photograph some of the best northern light shows in the world.
See our Yukon trips here, http://northof49photography.com/yukon-photography-workshops