Have you ever tried to take a photo at night, outside, and it came out terrible? Perhaps you were on vacation and saw a postcard of cars whizzing by the Eiffel Tower, streams of light from the headlights in the foreground and the beautiful monument in the background. When you tried to replicate the image, it was a far cry from what you envisioned.
There’s a reason for this. Night photography follows the same rules as any other photograph. That is, when an image is not taken using the general principles of photography, errors occur. Photography literally means, writing with light. If you don’t have enough light, or you don’t take the available light that you do have into account, you’re going to end up with rubbish photographs.
Here’s how to take great photos at night. Obviously, like with anything in photography, this is subject to various techniques. My technique for getting the shot may be different than others. But, as you can see from my photography website I have taken some decent night shots.
- Use a Tripod! I cannot stress this enough. In fact, as your photography skills grow, you will find that it is almost impossible to live without a tripod.
- Learn the manual setting on your camera and what shutter speed and aperture have to do with it. I’ve written an article on that also.
- Use a shutter release cable. These can be purchased at almost any good camera store. This will help with the camera vibration. It’s a small cord that can be attached to your camera, which allows you to take your finger off of the shutter release button. Dampening vibration.
- If your camera has it, use the mirror lockup function. All DSLRs have a mirror, which, when you look through the viewfinder, reflects the image from the lens, so you can see what the lens is seeing. This causes vibration in the camera and can lead to blurry photos.
Ok, you have all the ingredients to make a great photo at night. Here’s how to put them all together:
Using your tripod, set up the shot which you think is most pleasing to the eye. Set your camera to manual and if possible, set your mirror lockup function. Use your in-camera light meter to determine what the best exposure will be. For instance, if you’re using an aperture of f11 and an ISO of 100, you might get a reading of 2 seconds, or more. Here is where it gets interesting; the slower your shutter speed, the more action you’re going to record. Meaning, if you have a shutter speed of 10 seconds and within those 10 seconds 35 cars speed by your image, in your foreground, you’re going to capture a lot of streaming lights. This is quite a nice effect in night photography. The shutter speed and aperture will work together to give you the sort of image you’re looking for. Maybe you don’t care about streaming lights, then don’t worry about having super long shutter speeds.
One thing to make a note of, the aperture really doesn’t matter here. Anything above say, f5.6 is fine for night photos. You’re not too concerned with capturing depth of field in the foreground and background. This is especially true for cityscapes. I have shot at f2.8 at times and had very similar results as f11. Because everything I’m shooting is so far away. My lens is focused at infinity to be exact.
Also, ISO speeds of 100 or 200 are fine here. In fact, they’re preferable. Remember, we’re not trying to stop the action. We’re trying to capture it in the time frame of our shutter speed.
It’s really no more complicated than that. Think about the effect you want to create; long shutter speeds to capture the foreground and background movement and making sure your camera is steady and that there is no vibrations, which could blur your image.
That’s how I do it anyway.
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