Have you ever captured a photograph of a firework display and looked forward to developing the photo with the goal of seeing the astonishingly bright colors against the night sky? Rather than an amazing kaleidoscope of colors against a black backdrop, the colors come out blurred and muted.
This happens to be the greatest challenge of taking photographs at night. Ever since the camera was invented several years ago, photographers have been trying to figure out how to tame the denizens of the night. When the dark forces of the night are tamed and controlled, they can deliver some of the most breathtaking images that you have ever seen, as if the world takes on a whole new life of its own.
The primary problem with taking pictures in the dark or at night is, of course, the lack of light. Now, when it comes to photography, lack of light is a major problem because if you want to produce great photos, you need light. However, thanks to today's rapid development of the camera, one can easily engage settings that can help control these limiting effects of shooting in the dark.
In essence, shooting photos at night requires knowledge of how the camera operates in manual mode. The primary skills to know are the exposure settings: ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. By setting the camera to allow more light to enter while making the shutter speed relatively fast, one can take perfect night photos with a DSLR camera.
ISO determines the level of sensitivity the camera has in the presence of light. It is known to be in increments of ISO 200, 400, 800, 1600, 6400, etc. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to light and the more it enables one-time capture photos in the dark. However, as the ISO increases, the frequency of picture noise will appear. Increase the ISO higher to ensure more sensitivity to light in the dark, but not too high otherwise, picture noise can occur.
Aperture had to do with the adjustment of the size of the opening of the photographic lens. The larger the size (smaller F values), the more light enters and the narrower the depth of field is to the front, and defocuses the back. The smaller the size (larger F values), the less light enters and the entire depth of field focuses. Adjusting the F value to a lower value as possible enables more light to enter in the dark.
Shutter speed involves how fast the shutter lens open and close to receive light. A more rapid speed (i.e.: 1/2400 sec) allows less light to enter but freezes the action in place to ensure no blurriness occur in the picture. A longer shutter speed (i.e.: 1/4 sec) allows more light to enter, however, due to the amount of time that the shutter lens stays open, blurriness of the picture can occur. Set the shutter speed in such a way that it is relatively fast, yet allows some light to enter in the dark.
Taking sharp photos at night requires a combination of the factors ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. When the combination is right, a sharp, clear photo can be captured even in the darkest night.
To give you a clearer understanding, I'm going to share some top tips that are sure to make any picture pop, no matter the level of darkness.
When Capturing a Still Photograph
If you're planning on shooting a cool picture where your subject is motionless, two primary factors are sure to come in handy: the ISO settings and the Shutter Speed.
Increase The ISO Setting
As I mentioned earlier, try to turn on your camera's ISO to the best it can go. Remember that on DSLR cameras; maximum ISO can lead to more noise in images. So, you can play around with the settings while capturing a few shots to ensure you're going as high as possible before images become excessively noisy.
Reduce The Shutter Speed
The camera's shutter speed needs to be reduced as low as possible. Low shutter speed ensures your camera's eye stays open for longer periods so that more light can enter the lens. The major downside of this is that even the slightest movement can ruin the photo, in essence, you'll get a blurry shot. So, to be on the safer side, get a tripod to avoid unnecessary movements.
When Taking Pictures of People
Capturing an individual in the dark is sure to be tricky. As a photographer, your goal is to make the person look awesome. There are two factors that make a face look spectacular in photos:
- No direct light and harsh light.
- Equal lighting across the face.
- Clearly contrasting colors for clothes.
All these factors or conditions are difficult in low light situations.
Make Use Of The Best Light Source
As a photographer, before you start capturing those great shots, take a look around and figure out which is the brightest light source around you. In essence, move the person closer to the light source so that they are well lit. This is very crucial for night shots.
Reduce Or Switch Off The Flash
Now I believe that the first instinct of every photographer is to make use of the flash when shooting in the dark. That's a bad idea. The flash can come in handy only if the ambient light is poor or not good enough. In some cases, flash photography can make your photos look off. It causes harsh light to bounce off people's faces, and it can even lead to the weird eyes-shut photo. To make things better, you can get a flash diffuser or a reflector. They can help reduce the harsh lighting and spread it evenly.
Use Manual Focus
In most cases, autofocus tends to get confused in dark environments. To make your photos better, try to rely on manual focus.
So far we have explored how you can capture great photos in the dark, it's now up to you to make use of these tips to make your night photography exceptional.