One of the most difficult tasks in photography is shooting at night. While the pros are chasing more powerful techniques and new ideas, those who focus on daytime photography often overlook the fact that most of the rules and practices of daytime photography may not work at night. However, having realized this, you can readily begin to master filming in the dark.
- Explore the unknown
The first question to ask yourself before taking your camera out for a night out is what is the exposure time? Understanding the functions of the camera is essential to taking pictures at night: the degree of aperture opening can turn the flashlight into a flash of light, and the shutter speed will allow the camera to see subtle details. Shutter speed also creates the popular effect of light “tails” — long streaks of light from moving objects.
There are no rules in night shooting, as much is based on intuition and experimentation. Anything that produces results can be recorded by creating custom rules for a given camera, location, and light level. Thus, it will be possible to understand how to achieve the desired effect.
- High sensitivity test for exposure measurement
If you’re not sure how to determine your exposure settings, use a trick known as the high ISO test. The number of seconds when testing shutter speeds at high ISO is equal to the number of minutes when shooting at standard ISO at the same aperture. Or each time you increase the ISO and open your lens aperture blades, your exposure time will be halved.
For example, ISO is 6400, which is 6 times greater than ISO 100, while the aperture is fully open at f / 2.0, increasing the amount of transmitted light, unlike the average value of f / 8.0. These settings will result in an image with poor contrast, increased grain, and limited depth of field. This can be solved by using shutter speed instead of settings. Ideal settings in these conditions imply a shutter speed of 4 seconds, respectively, you can calculate the required exposure time for the same image at ISO 100 and f / 8 and it will be equal to 32 minutes.
Pictured above on the left is a photo taken at ISO 6400 and f/16. On the right — at an exposure of 8 minutes.
In this test, after shooting, it is important not to forget to return all settings to the most convenient.
- Learn and memorize equipment functions
At night, it’s a little more difficult to get to the camera settings, and it’s even more difficult to find everything hidden in the camera bag. Therefore, in low light, it is even more important to know the instructions for the camera by heart, to remember exactly how and what works and where it is located. It is fundamentally important to have quick access to all the necessary settings: at night it is absolutely always necessary to shoot at manual settings. And, if this is new to you, it is best to practice all the maneuvers before you go “in the field”. Thus, it will be much easier and more convenient to quickly get the frame you are looking for.
It is always good to have a magnifying glass with a light with you. It will help both increase and highlight the settings in the dark.
- Explore the route ahead of time
At sunset or at night, the world around visually changes, so it may not be so easy to highlight a certain composition or object. In order not to encounter such a problem directly during the shooting process, and in order to prepare for all possible surprises, we always recommend researching the route in advance. It is always better to plan your arrival in advance in order to be able to prepare equipment, set up tripods, lay out equipment, and so on. The time just before sunset is ideal, arriving at your location just before sunset will give you the luxury of filming in this short but valuable time frame and will even be able to practice the effect of changing light on the shot.
If you do not have the opportunity to explore the route in advance, use a computer — often, on sites where photographers share their shots, there are GPS coordinates of locations. And never forget the analog compass.
- Pay attention to contrast and colors
Most often when shooting at night, we are faced with high contrasts and different colors. Therefore, it is especially important to shoot photos in RAW format, this will allow you to get great opportunities in post-processing.
In order to capture the best colors, you can manually set the white balance to a certain temperature, especially useful when you need to achieve the cool blue light (3200K) that is most often associated with night images. The camera has different white balance settings for different lighting conditions. Automatic settings are certainly convenient, but it’s still better to test everything manually and experiment with the settings.
Shutter speed 10 seconds, ISO 400 + Nikon Fluorescent 1(sodium vapor) mode
Left — the balance is built on the cement to the left of the pipe.
On the right — by neutral light in the back of the yard.
With mixed lighting, when artificial light from different sources has different temperatures, the task becomes more complicated. Although these situations are common when filming in the city. Light is not so easy to determine by eye and even more difficult to control. Many signs in the city now use LED light, so it turns out cleaner and whiter in the photo, and all sources have approximately the same temperature.
- Don’t forget a tripod
Vibrations during night shooting, especially at slow shutter speeds, are unacceptable. Hand shaking can simply negate the whole photo. That is why it is necessary to take care of the tripod and remote control in advance. Of course, you will have to get used to working with this equipment, researching suitable easy-to-transport and stable tripods. We recommend that you carefully study the SIRUI model line. The remote control is necessary in order to avoid accidental camera shake when the button is pressed. It is always important to pay attention to third-party sources of vibration: floor or bridge shaking, wind, even details such as a camera strap. All this can be reflected in the photo.
- Adapt to natural conditions
The moment that many people forget is the weather conditions. For example, during rain or fog, which often occurs at night, especially during cold seasons, condensation may accumulate on the lens. When moving the camera from a warm room to a cold one, this is unavoidable. The result will be very blurry and fuzzy images, in addition, condensation interferes with light transmission. You should always have a camera maintenance kit with you.
- Dress according to the season
This advice is important not so much for the camera, but for the photographer. At night the temperature is always lower and even in summer it can get cold if you stay outside for a long time. You need to go to the shooting, preparing for any surprises — rain, snow, strong wind and fog. Dryness, warmth and comfort are the three main indicators that clothing must meet.
- Take a spare battery with you
We never tire of reminding all photographers to always have an extra battery in their arsenal. This is especially important, because in the cold and when shooting with long exposures, the battery runs out much faster. You can conserve battery power by turning off Live View or LCD display. If you’re shooting on a tripod, you can turn off image stabilization as well.
Returning to the topic of frost, it is advisable to keep spare batteries warm. And always remember about the ability to recharge from a car or an external power source.
For safety reasons, do not forget to tell your relatives where exactly you are going to shoot.
- Get outside and try!
Never be lazy to try, go to remote places and go out at night to take interesting photos. Nighttime pros and amateurs alike have a few secrets to keep them up and running.
A promise to yourself to shoot under certain conditions — with a full moon, snow, fog — helps a lot.
You can always plan a joint photo walk with friends or familiar photographers. This is much harder to give up.
Well, we can only wish you good luck in the night shooting!