Some of the most beautiful and stunning photographs were taken at night. The ability to get the perfect photo from the night sky is what differentiates an amateur photographer from a professional. However, even as a beginner, you can still capture stunning images at night if you know what you are doing.
Daytime photography is good but when you take that extra step to become what I referred to as "shadow walkers" you will enjoy every single beautiful photo you get from shooting at night. However, this will require some skills; you need a mastery of light as well as your camera settings to achieve this. Shooting perfect images in the night can be achieved using advantages of DSLR cameras which include fast aperture lenses, high ISO capabilities, and long exposures. However, it still has some of its challenges. You will need to find a way to overcome noise and shallow depth of field issues.
In this article, you will learn how to start shooting long exposure photographs at night. The following tips will turn you into a professional shadow photographer:
1. Get Proper Stabilization
The first thing you need when going for long exposure night photos is to achieve stabilization. Lack of proper stabilization is the main culprit of ruined photos. To achieve proper stabilization, I will recommend that you get a tripod. This will help you to stabilize your camera while working with long exposures.
Another important tool is "remote shutter release". Although this is not a must-have tool, but it will help you to achieve an added layer of stability by keeping you from touching your camera when you are ready to shoot.
2. Shoot in Manual Mode
Forget the "night scene" mode and your camera's auto settings; you will be better-off using the manual mode when shooting long exposure night photographs. Using auto settings will leave your photos ugly with some other unwanted properties. The best way to achieve success with long exposures is to have total control of your camera.
3. Maximize Any Available Light
Light is important in photographs, to achieve this with long exposures, you will need to set your camera's shutter speed to make the best use of any available light. The speed could be 3 seconds or 30 seconds. In some situations, you may need to use bulb (B) mode. You won't need as long a shutter speed if you are shooting just after sunset or before sunrise. However, in any case, you will need to be able to interpret the available light well and then set your shutter speed accordingly to maximize the light.
4. Make Use of Manual Focus
No need using auto-focus in the dark, trying to do this will give you fits. Instead of wasting your time fiddling with AF, simply switch your camera to manual focus. On the other hand, if your camera comes with "Live View" you will need to use it to achieve precise focus.
5. Keep ISO Settings Very Low
In order to avoid noise in your shot, you will need to start out at your camera's lowest ISO settings. Since you are using a tripod, you won't likely need to increase ISO. You can lengthen the exposure time if you need more light.
6. Use Smaller Aperture
You are better off using smaller (f/8 on up) when working with long exposures, this will help you put more of a scene into focus. Using smaller aperture is the best way to go for landscapes, cityscapes, and also for those times you want to introduce blur effects such as star trails and light trails into the shoot.
7. Shoot Towards the Sun
A good thing to do when you are doing a long exposure without an ND filter is to shoot toward the sun. This will give you a nice sky with lots of color and gradations when the sun is behind the horizon line.
Basic Rules for Shooting Long Exposure Night Photographs
- Avoid light pollution: There are lots of artificial light source at nights that will disturb the night sky and create green/yellow glow on the horizon, try to get as far as you can from these light sources.
- Height: You will be closer to stars (for more light) when you choose higher ground.
- Clouds: Avoiding shooting if the air is filled with clouds, it will make it hard to see the stars.
- Moonlight and foreground lighting: Plan ahead to know when the moon rises so you can make maximum use of it.
Shooting long exposure night photographs may seem like a lot of work, but you will get better after some practice. The important thing is to plan well, have the right tool and plan to meet the right weather condition.
** NOTE ** If you’d like to know more about this subject, learn more about the new course by Jim Hamel on night photography here, so you can take stunning night photos too!