Tips for Shooting Night Photography
Every now and then you need to shoot in low or no light settings, such as with night photography. How do you get the right shot? Search the Internet and you will find that there are lots of different opinions that all really boil down to your subject. However, you can start off with some solid settings and tweak as you gain experience. With digital cameras giving you the ability to immediately review your photos, you can snap a shot and check your work.
If you want to start experimenting with various styles of night photography, however, it can be frustrating knowing where to start. So with this article we give you a foundation for setting up your camera for night photography. Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of ways to do it right; this is just one way to get started.
To begin, you need to get your camera settings in place. This gives you a good base to start from so you can adjust as you go. Almost any digital camera has auto and manual mode. Put it in manual so you can choose the baseline settings.
Start with your ISO around 800 to 1600. Some will argue 200 is fine and others say jack up the ISO to 3200+ for low-light. Despite these varying opinions, 800-1600 is a great starting point for night photography. As you find your own personal style, you can adjust as needed.
White balance can cause you problems, so start with auto white balance (AWB) at first. If you start getting odd blue shades or orange coloration, then you can switch to setting this manually.
With your basics now in place, we can move on to the more technical side of things!
Tripod is Tantamount
For night photography, you are almost always going to have to use a tripod. The nature of the beast is that your camera needs to absorb more than normal amounts of light information. We do this by either decreasing the shutter speed or increasing the sensitivity (or both). In either scenario, your camera is going to be much more sensitive to movement. If your hands are shaking at all, you risk blurring your photos. So keep a tripod on hand at all times.
Worst case, set your camera on something stable, like a tree limb, ledge, or even kneel down and rest it on your knee. This will get you by in a pinch. The worst thing that can happen is that you think you have a clear shot and realize later you didn’t.
So this is where the less-informed on night photography tend to get lost, but there are a few rules-of-thumb you can rely on without having to read an entire manual. The aperature is what affects your depth of field (DOF), or what is in focus. If you want everything to appear in focus — usually a good idea for night photography — then start with settings of f/8 to f/11. If you have a subject or object less than 12 inches away, you will probably need to move above f/11 to avoid diffraction, which can affect how sharp your images turn out.
Aperature is an area you will want to experiment with, but the key is to understand that it primarily affects focus. If you feel like your images are not appearing in focus in spite of having properly tuned your lenses, tweak your aperature and see if this corrects the problem.
How aperature affects objects close to the lens.
Shutter Speed Selection
Here’s where a handy light meter will be very useful. Most digital cameras have them built in, so you can trust the auto shutter speed. Look for a multizonal or matrix setting, depending upon what brand you have. Light meters (built-in or handheld) measure the average of the entire image area and come up with a shutter speed that gets you a solid balance of light.
Don’t have a light meter on your camera? You’re going to have to experiment a bit because your particular scene may be moonlight, at dusk, nearly completely dark, or something else. A good place to start is one full second. Typically low-light photography will require faster than 1/4 second sheet speed anyway, so a full second is a good place to start. Some photos don’t turn out until you are in the 10-30 second range, so don’t be afraid to keep tweaking until it works.
Shutter speed will affect the brightness of your photo. So if your photos are coming in too dark, make the shutter speed longer. Too bright? Slow the shutter speed down a bit.
Need More Tips?
For more tips on night photography, you may want to check out a few of the tutorials below. Most of all, just remember that your best method for success with night photography is to practice and experiment…a lot. Eventually, you are sure to learn your camera and style well enough to start putting your photos on the market!