In his article, Nighttime photography, James Jordan shares how adjustments to your regular methods of photographing need to be made when taking photos at night. Below he shares other important tips for both compact and digital single lens reflex camera users.
If you’re a digital single lens reflex camera owner and your camera has a mirror lockup feature, use it to minimize vibration at the beginning of your exposure. You can also set your self timer to trip the shutter to cut down on camera shake. If your camera supports one, a remote shutter control is another handy tool.
Some cameras have Bulb settings but don’t support the use of a remote or cable release. I’ve used a large rubber band to hold down the shutter button on exposures greater than the maximum allowed on my camera. I placed my cap over the lens prior to opening the shutter and then removed it to begin the exposure. After the exposure was complete, I placed the cap back over the lens and removed the rubber band.
A small kitchen timer will help clock longer exposures. I preset the timer to my desired exposure length, then start it simultaneously with the shutter opening. When the timer beeps, the exposure is done. I’ve tried counting seconds in my head, but when you’re gong for a five or ten minute exposure, it gets tedious and easy to lose your place.
Focusing in near-darkness – Focusing is a tricky proposition in near-darkness. Carry a flashlight to help illuminate your subject if necessary to give your camera (or your eye, if focusing manually) something on which to focus. The flashlight will also help you see your camera’s knobs and buttons. Once the autofocus is established, I usually switch the lens to manual focus so I don’t have to repeat focusing for every shot thereafter.
Want to see stars? If you’re in an area where stars are visible, an exposure of 30 seconds at ISO 400 will catch them. After 30 seconds, the rotation of the earth will cause stars to form a “trail.” To catch star trails, a setting of ISO 100, f5.6 and an exposure time of anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours will do the trick.
Batteries – Long exposures eat up batteries very quickly. Make sure you have a fresh set or freshly charged batteries in the camera before you head out at night. It’s also a good idea to carry fresh or fully charged spares with you.
Go wide – A wide angle setting will not only give you a better field of view, it will increase depth of field and help make up for small errors in focusing.
Go low – Nighttime shots are dramatic in and of themselves, but you can enhance the drama even more by setting your tripod as low as possible. Most of my night shots are taken not much more than 12 inches above the ground.
Experiment with white balance – If you’re photographing a nighttime landscape far from city lights, a Daylight white balance will work the majority of the time. If you’re shooting a cityscape at night, however, try switching to Incandescent to keep street and window lights from showing up as orange. The Incandescent setting will also deepen the blue of the sky during the Blue Hour.
Music of the night
As with everything related to improving your photography, experimentation and trial and error will eventually get you to a point where you are comfortable taking pictures in any situation. Use these tips as a starting point and go out to make your own photographic music of the night.