Night Photography–Tips, Tricks & Having Fun
Written by: steve
By Steve Russell
As photographers, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about light; the golden light of the first hour or two after sunrise and before sunset, placing the lights just right in a studio and adjusting the light intensity until it’s just right, where and how to bounce a flash, etc. One aspect most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking and talking about is very low light situations found at night. I would be one of those. Usually, when the sun sets, I pack up my gear and go home.
Recently, however, I decided to try taking photos after dark mostly just to see how they’d turn out and thought I would share that experience. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about rules in photography and indicated that you should know and understand the rules but it was okay to break them from time to time. However, I’m going to give you a couple of rules and a procedure in this article that if you break them you do so at your own peril.
Always, always use a tripod or some other form of absolutely solid support. That doesn’t mean holding the camera in your hand and leaning against a tree or a building unless you can keep from breathing and keep your heart from beating for as much as 30 seconds or more.
Use a remote release of some sort. With the old, mostly manual, film cameras we used a cable release that was roughly 12 to 18 inches long. Today, I have an infra-red remote, a wireless remote and a remote switch with a 2.5 foot cable that attaches directly to the camera.
I’m sure the reason for these two “rules” are obvious, but just in case they aren’t, night photography requires long exposure times and tripods and remotes make it possible to capture clear images with the long exposure time.
The procedure I mentioned is bracket, bracket, bracket. It’s only a small memory space on a memory chip. In night photograhpy unless you’re far out in the country, you’ll find that bright light and low or no light are all around you. Colors render differently at night. Bracketing helps you find the best exposure to capture the image you want. In other words, there isn’t a Sunny 16 rule for nighttime photography.
This was one of the first photos I took and there was still some ambient light in the sky. However, look at how almost purple the sky is. Probably not what the eye sees at the same time, but I don’t think it’s a bad effect. I took this photo at ISO 100, f/11.0 for 30 seconds. That’s not 1/30 of a second but half a minute.
This is a sculpture in the downtown park in Winter Park, FL. Shortly after I took the photo of the Christmas Tree, I saw the sculpture and had to give it a try. This was taken at ISO 100, f/11.0 for 30 seconds. I wish I had moved a little more to my left so I was more in front of the sculpture but I was trying to include the tree in the background.
After I left the sculpture I set up at an intersection to capture the lights of the cars moving by. I timed the initial shutter release so that I could get the traffic light green in both directions and capture the crossing effect of the lights moving through the intersection. Again I used ISO 100 but this time I used f/22.0 at 20 seconds. While the shutter was open I thought the shot had been ruined when a large bus type RV lumbered down the street. If you look closely, there is a redline going through the image just below the center traffic light. That red line was made by the RV. That, if nothing else, should indicate how much fun night photography with long exposures can be.
This was taken at ISO 100, f/22.0 at 3.2 seconds. What amazed me about this shot is the amount of detail and clarity of the items inside the store. I’m standing across the street shooting a 24-105 mm lens zoomed to 67 mm. Not a lot of magnification, but it’s almost like I was inside the store. I think this is one of the interesting results of night photography.
I was on my way to a Barnie’s coffee shop to end the evening when I passed this alleyway off the main sidewalk. Now ask yourself, can you actually walk past this scene without at least attempting a photo? I took this photo, again at ISO 100, f/11.0 for 4 seconds. I should point out that i was using Av mode almost for every shot so I could control depth of field. Because I was on tripod and using a remote shutter release, I didn’t really care what the shutter speed was. However, in this one, I wanted the shutter speed to be slow enough to soften the water flowing from the fountain. As a result, even though I took shots at f/22 and f/16, over all I liked the result of the f/11 the best.
I liked the fountain so much that I zoomed to 95mm focal length and used the same setting for this shot. Some day I want to go back and play around with it some more to get more detail in the the background through the archway.
All the images in this article were captured in Winter Park, FL. This is the Amtrack station which is only a block from the main street in town. I was intrigued by the station and towards the end of my evening I went back to the shoot the station. I’ll talk more about this image next week.
All Photos by Steve Russell
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