How to take photos at night
Want to take memorable photographs of landmarks, friends and nature after dark? Find out how with our 7-step guide…
02 Jul 2015
Want to take memorable photographs of landmarks, friends and nature after dark? Find out how with our 7-step guide:
1) Set your camera to manual mode
This will give you absolute control over aperture and shutter speed – the most important elements in capturing well-exposed photographs. You can adjust these settings while monitoring the screen view on your touchscreen until the image looks right.
2) Shoot in RAW not JPEG
You’ve got your camera set to manual, now take even more control by shooting your files in RAW rather than JPEG. RAW files are not processed or compressed and include much more detail than a JPEG. This extra data gives you much more control to adjust exposure, contrast and colours when editing in Photoshop.
3) Tweak your ISO levels
ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera will be to light. But don’t think a higher ISO setting is right for night photography in general. ISO commonly ranges from 100 to 1250. Higher ISO settings will give you grainer pictures. You need to experiment to find the right setting for your shot.
Top tip: Low ISO gives better quality but means much longer exposure times. Use a higher ISO setting when shooting handheld. If using a tripod it doesn’t matter so much because the exposure can be adjusted using aperture and shutter settings.
4) Adjust your shutter speed
The shutter speed is how long the shutter remains open while taking a photo. A slower shutter speed will give you a longer exposure, allowing more light into the camera – perfect for night-time photography.
The shutter speed is measured in parts of a second – usually 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8. However when shooting at night speeds can be as high as 30 seconds.
Top tip: Different night-time scenes demand different shutter speeds. Taking a photo of a fairground ride with cool-looking light trails requires around 15 seconds, while capturing a floodlit castle takes just 4 seconds
5) Understand your camera’s aperture
The aperture is the size of the opening in your lens, affecting how much light gets through to the camera’s sensor. You can control the size of this hole by tweaking your camera’s f-stop.
- Small apertures: f/22, f/16
- Medium apertures: f/8, f/5.6
- Wide apertures: f/4, f/2.8
Smaller apertures let less light in to the camera, and give a greater depth of field. Wider apertures let more light into the camera and give less depth of field.
Understanding aperture: Smaller aperture is ideal for landscapes or buildings as it’ll get more in-focus. People or photos of particular objects are generally better with wider apertures because they keep the background out of focus, and your subject in focus.
6) Make sure your camera is steady
If you are using low ISO settings, smaller apertures and slow shutter speeds you’re going to need to keep your camera steady.
These exposure times are too long to shoot hand-held – do so and you’ll end with blurry results.
A tripod is essential – as is setting it up properly and making sure it’s secure.
Top tip: if you don’t have a tripod lean on something. Use a wall, tree, car roof or any other static object to rest your hands or elbows on to help keep the camera steady. Don’t use someone’s head or shoulder because they move too much.
7) Experiment with your settings
There’s no ‘right’ exposure – tweak your aperture and shutter speed ‘til you’re happy with your shot.
Increasing or decreasing exposure by aperture or shutter speed will change your picture hugely. For example, a fast shutter speed would ‘freeze’ moving lights while a very slow speed will leave startling light trails across the picture.
Top tip: Make large adjustments. If 4 seconds is too dark or too light, adjust by at least doubling or halving the speed.Increasing or reducing the speed by a second won’t make a noticeable difference when using that end of the shutter-speed range.
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