DSLR Tips Workshop: How to take photos at night
Photos taken at night can produce spectacular results – in fact many cities present their best views after dark. Night photography can also be very forgiving in bad weather, so if rain’s prevented you from grabbing the shots you want of a city, it’s well worth trying again after sunset. Night photography can prove quite a challenge in Automatic modes, but it’s surprisingly easy with a few simple tricks and in this workshop I’ll explain how.
In the photo of Christmas lights above left, the camera’s automatic settings have selected an exposure that’s way too quick, and as a consequence the image is too dark. The trick to successful night photography is to get much more light into your camera for a decent-looking image, as seen in the image above right. In my video tutorial below, I’ll explain how to achieve this effect, and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a reminder of the steps you’ll need to take.
Checklist: Night photography
1: Switch your camera to Manual mode by turning the mode dial to ‘M’.
2: Choose the smallest f-number available and a relatively long shutter speed to record the lights. One second is a good starting point and most cameras indicate seconds using double quotes, so look for 1”.
3: Keep your camera very steady. Preferably use a tripod or a Gorillapod. Use the self-timer to avoid wobbling the camera as you press the button.
4: Check your photo. If the lights aren’t bright enough, try a slower shutter speed. If the lights are too bright, try a quicker shutter speed.
5: After taking your photo, remember to set the mode dial back to Auto or Program mode.
Always temporarily switch off any anti-shake or image stabilisation systems when using a tripod. If the camera is perfectly steady these systems can actually introduce wobbling as they attempt to counteract something which isn’t there.
Some cameras will also have difficulty focusing in dark conditions, so if yours is having problems, switch the lens to manual and focus on the lights. If they are distant, focus the lens to infinity.
Another way to maximise available light is to increase your camera’s sensitivity by using a bigger ISO number. Increasing the sensitivity will however reduce your picture quality and may still not give you a quick enough exposure to handhold. So stick to using a tripod and a low ISO number for the best quality.
As explained in the video, there’s just two tricks to successful night photography and one is keeping the camera steady. The simplest way to avoid camera shake is to use a tripod. Manfrotto models are widely regarded as the best around and allow you to separately buy the legs and the head unit. If you’d prefer to travel lighter, consider a Joby Gorillapod who’s flexible legs can be wrapped around almost anything from a railing to a branch for a steady grip.
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