Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Photos at Night

I love low light and night time photography. The photos have an atmosphere that you just can't get during the day.

To get the best from your low light shots, there are a few "rules" to follow that you would not typically follow during a daytime shot.

So how (and when) should you take a night time photo?

I follow some guidelines.

1) TRIPOD - ALWAYS use a tripod or some kind of support. No hand holding. No excuses, full stop. End of story. Close the book and go to sleep.

If you must take that shot and you don't have a fully extensible tripod in your back pocket then use some kind of support. No, don't go and call the Samaritans because you don't have your tripod. Rest your camera on something. A bin, a wall, a railing. Even prop it against something like a lamp post or a tree. Watch out for those grey squirrels and pigeons, nasty critters!

2) ISO - Keep your ISO at 100 (or the lowest setting on your camera).

Due to the amount of low signal light (shadows and black areas) the image will start to show colour noise. And, due to the long shutter speed, it will get worse. That's enough of that.

3) APERTURE/SHARPNESS - Stop down the aperture.

Even slightly. You want decent sharpness especially at night and if you understand how sharpness is interpreted in a digital image, then you want the best next neighbour contrast at the pixel level that you can get. A wide aperture is blurry and has a shallow DOF.

I aim for a range between F/8 and F/11 for the best performance of the lens and decent DOF.

Most of the light from objects at night is low level reflective due to lack of large/strong incident light so get the best from your lens.

4) TIME OF DAY - Never shoot at night!

What!? Yeah, you read it right. DO NOT shoot at night time! ;-)

Shoot at "low light". This should be your "bingo moment" coming up :-)

When the sun just sinks below the horizon, there is about a 30 - 45 minute timeline where the light in the sky is changing quite quickly (getting darker). You may be lucky and get some colour as the light rays from the sun bounces around in the atmosphere and hits warmed gases and dust particles that scatter the light and create that sunset colour.

But there will be that moment when the sky starts to turn a very deep blue going to black. This always happens, guaranteed. It's nature, or is that physics? The street lights have just come on and they haven't had enough time to warm up to their sickly orange glow! That is it! That is the moment you are waiting for. Shoot like crazy because it won't last for long.

5) EXPOSURE - Have a "go to" exposure memorised.

This is a personal taste and is down to your experience.

What I have is a number of aperture and shutter speed settings, for a specific sunset period. My ISO is always at 100. These two numbers are what I know will get very close when the sun has set, the sky is getting dark blue but not black. From there, I can adjust quickly if it is a little brighter or darker.

Try to have your own set from your own experience. To get you started, try F/8 for 10 seconds and then adjust the shutter speed for the correct exposure.

6) Shoot at night.

There are times when you do want to, or need to, shoot at full night. When? Well, shooting stars, the moon, star trails. When people aren't on the street. Although you could shoot very early in the morning when the sun is just about to come over the horizon.

This post is worthless without pictures...

Transition Set One - Tower Bridge (Single shot, OCF - Off Camera Flash).

Any easy one to start off with. The camera is tripod mounted with my 580EX off camera (in my hand). No remote trigger for the flash, I am doing some light painting. No, I'm not flashing the bridge!

The sun has just hit the horizon to the right of the frame and is setting.
A few minutes later, the lights on the bridge are turned on.
The sky is now turning darker and this I think is the best time and my favourite shot. See the moon in the background?
It is that dark blue to black I was talking about. I think this one is a little too late. See how much detail you can see in the previous image compared to this one.

Transition Set Two - London City Panorama (multiple stitched shots)

A little more complex, doing a multi shot pano at the same time as low light. It is possible for the light to change slightly from the first to last shot, especially with moving clouds, so be very FAST!
The sun has set and the sky is turning black. There is still some interest left in the sky so you can still get away with taking the shot. A few minutes later, that shot was gone. Time to go home.
A rule breaker. Does this one work? No? why not? Yes, why so?
Don't forget to try some creativity and have fun.
The most difficult exposure I have attempted so far.

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