Long Exposure Tutorial : Tips for Night Photography

Friday, 12 July 2013
Photography is all about understanding light. Night photography is just like any other type of photography with the exception of sun to help you light up the subject to get focused.

Once you’ve mastered the digital camera in the daytime by camera setting, understanding the exposure and most amongst various digital imaging techniques. Night photography does require a slightly different approach than daytime photography, but it all boils down to the same thing--capturing light. Once you begin your love affair with the night, you will discover that night photography is an excellent way to increase you awareness of light for all types of photography. Night photography is fun, challenging and very rewarding but also need to take care when out and about alone with existing camera equipment as the darkness falls, everything that has learned is turned on its head. By reviewing the photos taken at the nighttime will raise questions to most of the beginners:

  • Why are the night photos blurry?
  • Why are the efforts at night photography underexposed?
  • Why are the colors on your night images off color?

Shooting at night is a whole new ball game when it comes to photography. There is a whole new skill set to learn and you will undoubtedly learn a lot more about yourself as well as your camera as this can take a bit of patience and practice. However, master the night with your camera and you will wow your friends again and again. Light is a completely different beast at night and the way you photograph it takes new techniques and requires some additional equipment. Here are some simple ways to improve your night photography.

Step One : Authenticate Your Camera's Capabilities

In any genre of photography, you need to understand what your camera is capable of doing. Whether you have a point-and-shoot or a SLR, be sure to familiarize yourself with your camera. Four considerations to make for night photography:

Flash - is there and on-board flash? Is there the capability for an add-on flash?

Shutter and Aperture Control - does your camera allow you to control the shutter speed and the aperture settings or at least have a "nighttime" preset?

Film Speed - can you set your preference of film speed?

Shutter Release - Is there any option in a camera for a remote release button for the shutter or a self-timer?

Step Two : Determine the Available Amount of Light

Cameras do need a bit more light than our eyes in order to function properly. It doesn’t mean that you require a fancy hand-held photography light meters to determine the subject of available light. The meter in your camera will work perfectly well. Simply point your camera at your intended scene and press the shutter halfway down. However, be sure that you point your camera at the darkest part of the scene you are taking that you want to be visible in your image. If you take a meter reading from a brightly lit fountain, that beautiful oak tree behind it catching the light will be too dark to appreciate. Take your reading from the oak tree instead. Look at the readings it gives you. It may say that you need a flash, or if you have a SLR, you may see the metering bar showing you how much underexposed our image will be at your current settings.

Step Three : Adjust settings according to requirement

In a case your camera does not have any adjustment options other than a nighttime setting, then turn the dial to your camera's nighttime or landscape setting and skip down to step 4 of this tutorial. If you camera has other abilities, use them. There are four things you will set on your camera for nighttime photography:

Film Speed - This is marked by "ISO" on some cameras. Unless you are shooting nighttime sports, use a slower film speed. This will reduce the grain visible in your images and produce a much clearer image.

Aperture - The aperture will be determined in mostly by your subject. Aperture controls how much depth of your image will be in focus and will be marked on your camera as F-Stop. If you are taking an image of your family standing in front of a landmark, you need a larger aperture (smaller F-stop number) than if you are taking an image of a lighted fountain and the lighted museum several yards behind that. Set you aperture based on your subject, in the next two steps we will adjust the exposure.

Shutter Speed - Unless you are shooting nighttime sports or another situation where you need to freeze motion, your shutter speed will be your third step. Set your shutter speed for a proper exposure on your metering bar. Remember to take your meter reading from the darkest part of the scene you want to appear well lit.

Flash - You will use flash to "fill in" areas that need additional light. Remember that flash does not have an unlimited range so this works best for areas relatively close (about 4 to 9 feet) from you. If you use on-board flash of your camera, I would reckon using it only when you must illuminate a person. If you have an add on flash that works with your camera you can use the fill-flash feature to set it to less power and illuminate things like the bases of lighted fountains that may otherwise be lost in shadow.

Step Four : Stability

Now you must have been ready to take a night shot! You are most likely using a shutter speed that is several seconds long. Since you will not be able to hold the camera steady using your hands for that length of time, set the camera down on a platform of some kind. Tripods are the most common choice for a stabilizing platform, but do not extend the tripod to its fullest height. Most low-cost tripods are not stable at their full extensions and will still produce a residual shake from the pressure you use to press the shutter button. If you do not have a tripod or you are not allowed to use one in your location, there are other options -- Beanbags, backpacks, rolled up jackets, or even purses can work very well.

Step Five : Release the Shutter

Once you are about to take a shot. Release the shutter by following the below mentioned 1 of 3 methods:

Finger - The standard way you are used to taking an image. Press the shutter release with your finger. In night photography, you need to be especially careful to press the shutter as gently as possible to reduce camera shake. This is the least desirable way of releasing the shutter in night photography but with practice, you can produce good images this way. One way to improve your finger release images is to use the longest exposure possible. This will minimize the visibility of any initial camera shake.

Remote Release - Remote release is the most preferred method of shutter release for night photography. There are two options for remote release. These are a cable release and an IR release. The cable release is a cable that fastens into a mount on your camera and has a button at the end of the cable. The IR release is a remote control like your TV remote. It operates on infrared light and must be pointed at the IR sensor on the camera to work.

Self-timer - This is a great work-around for those who do not have a remote release. The self-timer allows you to press the shutter button and remove your hand from the camera before the shutter is released. This prevents camera shake very well. Night photography can open a whole new world to you and I hope you will give it a try.

Night Photography is great fun, once you "get it", the possibilities for being creative and producing amazing photos is endless. I myself have been a keen night photographer since recent past and love the challenges it presents as well as the opportunity to be out and about when the rest of the world is tucked up indoors. The adventures shouldn't stop when the sun goes down, of course the photography shouldn't have to either. This Night photography tutorial will travel you to record beautiful scenes that have a fairytale world feel to them when compared to their daytime counterparts. A plain fountain becomes a lighted wonder, or dreary skyscrapers light up like Christmas trees. Like everything else in life, it takes some practice but the rewards are well worth the effort!