Master a whole new shade of creative expression with just a few tips.
In the sport of photography, athletes are constantly battling two key enemies; Light and Movement. Photographers are often struggling to capture just that extra bit of light, and trying to get rid of that other little bit of camera shake.
It is the limitations of Light and Movement that stop many photographers once the sun goes down.
However, there are the brave warriors, who march on against the darkness, and continue taking photos, showing us the world in a whole new light. Fear not, noble warriors of the light, for the darkness is not something to be feared. With just a few valuable tips, any photographer can capture the beauty and elegance of the night.
A Photographer Battles On Against The Night
Why shoot photos at night, and how is it different from simple long exposure photography? Aren’t they the same thing? Night photography is very different from General Long Exposure Photography! Night Photography means working in an environment, typically outside, with its own natural lighting. Learning to make use of this existing, minimal light will not only allow for unique photos, otherwise impossible at any other time of the day! Learning to harness hidden light sources will help to strengthen understanding of how light affects a scene, and fully understand an environment.
Tip 1: Bring The Right Tools
A painter cannot paint comfortably without his easel. Likewise, a night photography cannot operate comfortably without the right tools. Stepping into unknown territory always intimidating. However, night photography can be an easy journey with a little preparation. Save some heartache and pack this gear along!
- Tripod – Photographers need something to hold their cameras still for long periods of time. If there is hiking involved, make sure the tripod isn’t too heavy. If it has a carry bag and a shoulder strap, the journey will be much easier. Even a budget, $25 tripod can do the job. Just make sure the tripod itself is sturdy, connects to the camera solidly, and doesn’t wobble.
- Form Fitting Gloves – Night Photography differs from General Long Exposure photography in that photographers will be working in the field, in a natural environment. It may be windy or cold. Find gloves that fit your hands as closely as possibly and are not bulky. Ensure that you can operate your cameras controls without obstruction, even with the gloves on. Mechanic gloves often fit the bill just right.
- Headlamp – Nothing is worse than shooting a raging river beneath a full moon, sitting on a rocky outcrop, then dropping a lens cap or memory card and not being able to see where it landed! Setting up the tripod and handling equipment will be much easier with a headlamp, since you will have both hands free.
- Extra Batteries – Long Exposures drink battery juice like a refreshing soda pop. If your camera applies any extra processing such as noise reduction, the battery will drain even faster, and you will have to wait even longer for exposures. Don’t be caught out losing shots you really want due to a flat batt. Bring at least one extra battery for any excursion and two if you intend to be out a while. If you can find a battery grip for your camera body, you will find it to be wonderfully convenient.
- Wireless or Wired Remote – Most camera bodies will allow you to slow shutter speeds down to 30 seconds. In order to use Bulb Shutter, and keep the shutter open for longer than that, a Wireless or Wired Remote must be used. Having the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds allows for even more artistic freedom. Also, using a remote shutter release will avoid a lot of camera movement.
- Flashlight – Using a flashlight instead of a flashgun or strobe light unit allows for much greater control of lighting. Especially while shooting in environments with uneven terrain and surfaces, using a flashlight as a paintbrush to the foreground will ensure even exposure.
Tip 2: Be Familiar With Your Gear
If you have a hard enough time managing your lenses, filters, remotes, and other camera equipment in broad daylight, you will end up having a bad time shooting at night. Before stepping out of the light with your valuable gear, make sure you can handle everything proficiently. Spend some time at home, go into a dark room with the lights off and practice changing lenses and moving items in and out of their inventory slots in your bags or pockets.
You may find out that some of your items may drop themselves on the floor, or misplace themselves. The last thing you need is to be on the field and unable to find your wired remote, or the extra battery. If your gear isn’t incredibly organized, now would be a good time to get it all sorted out. Be certain you can access all your items and change lenses with minimal drama. Finding out your setup’s faults at home is a lot better than finding out in the field… in the dark.
Tip 3: Search For Natural Light
‘Taking a picture’ is another way of saying ‘creating an exposure’. Without light, we cannot create an exposure. Keep your eye on the sky, and see what light can you use. Make sure you know exactly what type of shot you want to take: A Sky with a silhouette foreground or a Foreground picture.
If you want to focus your frame on the sky and stars, and have the foreground as silhouettes, set up the frame to face the moon and stars. Try to limit the foreground to the bottom third of the frame.
If you want focus on your foreground, shoot with the moon, or other natural light to your back. You will be surprised how much light you can get out of the moon. If you cannot get enough light from natural sources, use a flashlight and paint the areas you want to expose. A flashgun shouldn’t be used, as they cannot evenly expose elements in the frame.
If you are shooting in the city, or any place with artificial light, you will have a much easier time creating a balanced exposure, or even scenes with dynamic lighting.
Tip 4: Keep Track of Time
Because we are working with long exposures, there will be very little reason to increase the ISO on the camera. Keep ISO low to reduce noise and grain. Many night exposures may need between one to few minutes to expose just right. Learn to count time at your own pace, and you’ll never need to waste time with a clumsy stopwatch.
If your name is Bob, learn to count your own “Bob-Minutes”. You may see that if one Bob-Minute creates a shot that is underexposed, you can try two Bob-Minutes for the next shot. Whatever method you use, it is important to keep track of how long your exposures are, so you may make any adjustments necessary.
If you are shooting the stars, be wary of 3-Minute Danger. Stars make wonderful backdrops in photos, but they can take a long time to photograph. If the shutter is open for longer than 2 minutes, Star-Movement starts to become noticeable. Past 3 minutes, the stars will start to form a small trail, making the shot appear to have low sharpness, as if there were camera shake. 3-Minute Danger with Stars is not a desirable effect! One of the few situations that call for a higher ISO is to avoid 3-Minute Danger and unwanted Star Trails.
However, this time limit differs for each lens. For an 8mm lens fisheye lens, 2 minutes is the limit, and adheres to the 3-Minute Danger rule. However, shooting at higher focal lengths, such as 14mm, 18mm, and so on, reduces the amount of time it takes for star trails to become apparent. This means that a lens shooting at 18mm will capture star trails sooner than an 8mm lens. Be sure to figure out what time limit your lenses have!
However, with shutter speeds measure in the hours, a pleasant star-trail effect can be achieved.
Tip 5: Shoot the Widest Angle Possible
Shooting in dark environments is difficult enough. If using a kit lens like an 18-55mm, shoot at the 18 focal length! A focal length of 18mm lets in much more light than at 55mm. It will be hard enough to get any light to expose. The less time you need to expose, the less camera movement or subject movement you risk, and the less noise there will be.
Tip 6: Be prepared to wait!
Long exposures come with long periods of waiting. A session may last an hour, and only yield fifteen shots! A photographer can be easily discouraged with so much waiting and so few results. To deal with this, pack along some snacks and water. An MP3 player can also go a long way dealing with the dark monotony.
Ideally, bring a colleague who would like to do night shots with you, and in between exposures and waiting, you can enjoy each other’s company.
Rather than sitting idly while waiting for an exposure to process, pay close attention to your environment, and plan your next shot. Search out new sources of light, frame new angles, and decide on what you want to do next. You may find some worthwhile secrets about your shooting location that may lead to your next keeper shot!
Don’t be intimidated by difficult shooting environments. Unique exposures can be taken by shooting in the night. Don’t be afraid to play with White Balance settings to discover hidden colors in the environment! Try all the settings and see what colors you can get. Whether shooting out in the city, beach, or out in the mountains, night photographer can produce a whole new range of unique, expressive images. Plan ahead, pay close attention to your surroundings, and have a good time!
For more tips, techniques, and hands on time with cool camera gear, check out the upcoming The Digital Show Expo in Melbourne, VIC!