Taking photos at night can be a great change of pace from daytime photography. The same scene can look completely different during the nighttime than it does during the day. It’s not the best time to shoot in all locations but in certain areas, especially in cities with interesting architecture, night photography can be a beautiful thing. So, here are my 5 tips for getting the most out of your camera at night.
1. Stabilize the camera: The best way to do this is with a tripod; stabilizing cameras are what tripods are designed to do. Because there is less light at night the camera often needs a longer shutter speed to capture the scene. Stabilizing the camera will prevent you from going home with a bunch of blurry photos. If you don’t want to carry a full tripod around, there are alternatives. Many companies make small tripods (like the Gorillapod) that can easily fit in a backpack or purse. Find something to set the camera on or brace it against, find something to lean up against so your body stays more still, and use whatever you can find around you to keep the camera as still as possible.
2. Turn up the ISO: Especially if you’re not using a tripod, or if you’re shooting moving subjects, it’s better to have a high ISO and a little noise in your photo than a photo that’s all blurry. Depending on the camera, you may be able to increase the ISO considerably (I take plenty of photos with my camera at ISO 3200) without seeing too much of a negative effect from noise. A higher ISO (meaning the camera is more sensitive to light) allows the camera to have a faster shutter speed so you don’t need to be quite as still (or your subject doesn’t need to be quite as still) to result in a good image.
3. Turn down the ISO: If you’re shooting a still scene from a tripod, do the opposite and dial down the ISO. This means the shutter speed will be longer but since nothing in the scene is moving and the camera isn’t moving that shouldn’t be a problem. And you’ll have the advantage of having less noise in your photo. Should it happen to be a windy day, ignore this tip and go back to a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed, because even a little movement in the camera can be enough to end up with blurry photos.
4. Don’t trust the camera: Digital camera are usually pretty good at figuring out what a scene should look like during the daytime, especially if you tell them the type of scene and lighting conditions. At night this can be more hit or miss, what the camera thinks is the correct exposure for the shot may be much brighter or darker than what you actually want. Check your photos as you take them and make adjustments as necessary.
5. Play around with long exposure: Besides having the advantage of meaning you can have a lower ISO, long exposure photos can create some interesting effects in photos with some objects which are moving. The photo to the right was taken with a 30 second exposure. The lines of white lights are the headlights of cars driving towards the camera and the red and blue lights are the taillights of cars driving in the opposite direction. The light on the left looks more interesting in long exposure with its star shape than it did using a regular length exposure, which was just a boring round light. Taking a photo with a long exposure, of course, requires the use of a tripod or some other means of keeping the camera very stable.
That’s all for now. I hope you found this information useful and be on the lookout for a Part 2 sometime in the near future. Night can create some great opportunities for unique photos. Until next time, happy shooting.