While most of us would love to spend our days indulging in our photographic ambition, more often than not we find that time, especially daylight, gets away from us. One way to satisfy your shutter craving is to try nighttime photography. Take a look at 8 fundamental night photography tips to ensure you get sharp shots in the dark.
Night photography tips: 01 Use a tripod
Let’s start by going back to fundamentals. Because you’ll be shooting in a relative absence of light, your exposures are going to be minutes long. This means that you’re going to have to employ a tripod.
And don’t reach for that old rickety one in the closet with the flimsy legs and limp head. You’re going to need a decent, sturdy tripod that’s going to provide your camera with constant stability.
Tighten bolts on adjustable legs as necessary, and make sure that the quick release plate is attached firmly on your camera, using a coin to tighten up the bolt if need be.
Don’t skip this last step, particularly if you’re shooting with a long lens in upright format because the camera is more prone to slip on the plate.
Set your camera up at the right height by extending the tripod legs according to the centre column and the thicker upper leg sections according to the lower thinner ones.
Bottom line, the sturdier you position your tripod, the more securely it will hold your camera. Ensure that the tripod head is locked tightly after you’ve composed your image.
Night photography tips: 02 Attach weight
To further aide in steadying the camera, many tripods come with a hook at the bottom of the centre column so you can attach a counterweight. Don’t fret if your tripod is without one of these helpful hooks.
Go ahead and hang something – perhaps your camera bag – over the collar. Be careful around your counterweight, though, as even just a bit of wind can introduce some movement.
Ideally your counterweight should hang just above the ground, thereby providing a downward force with little to no resulting movement.
Beanbags also come in handy in these situations. Simply place it over the camera or lens to help diminish unwanted vibrations.
Night photography tips: 03 Take shelter
No matter your nighttime shooting venue you should always seek out a sheltered shooting position. Naturally, you want to avoid strong winds and the whip of cars speeding by.
Taking the simple step of setting up next to a wall or tree can have a great impact on the quality of your image.
Night photography tips: 04 Turn the stabilization off
While it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll want to turn off lens-based stabilization during nighttime shooting. Systems such as lens-based stabilization and sensor-shifting are specifically designed to balance out movements that occur when holding a camera in hand.
Leaving these systems on when shooting from a tripod can introduce unintended movement, resulting in image blur.
Night photography tips: 05 Find a light
By-the-book photographers will show up early to set up the camera, compose the image and focus the lens well before nightfall, thereby avoiding the problems that can come with trying to focus at night.
But as we stated in the beginning, not everyone has that kind of time. While the majority of modern compact system and DSLR cameras have extremely sensitive autofocus (AF) systems, they still require some light to function.
Your AF system can be aided by any bit of light in your scene, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should focus on it. A sharp subject and appropriate depth of field are achieved only when the light you’re focusing on is at the right distance.
If you find yourself in a complete absence of light, try using a torch (flashlight) to shed some light on your subject and help focus the lens.
Night photography tips: 06 Back-button focusing
Once the shutter release is depressed, the camera focuses the lens. This default setting is fine for most scenarios, but as we already know, focusing is complicated when you’re shooting at night.
Nighttime shooting typically calls for splitting the focusing and shutter activation across two buttons. Using the back button to focus the lens will prevent the camera from adjusting focus when press the shutter release to take your shot.
Night photography tips: 07 Focus manually
Shooting in extremely dark settings always calls for manual focus. This isn’t so easy if it’s so dark that even your own eyes don’t have access to enough light to gauge the sharpness of the subject.
If you find yourself fumbling through this scenario, try activating your DSLR’s live view (mirrorless cameras operate in live view full time) in order to bring up the image on the screen, which will appear brighter than it does to your eyes.
Focus can also be set to the correct point if your lens has a distance scale.
Night photography tips: 08 Use a remote release and mirror lock-up
To obtain the sharpest results possible you should use a remote release and exposure delay or mirror lock-up. Doing so will keep the shutter from opening while the camera is vibrating after pressing the shutter release or the mirror lifting.
Following this rule isn’t so important if your exposure spans several minutes, as the first few seconds are fairly significant.
That being said, it never hurts to practice using these modes and you’ll be making certain that you capture as much detail as possible.