How to stretch your creativity further on a low-light shoot
The trick with flash photography at night is to make it look as much like a natural light source as possible. You might want to consider using warming gels and shooting in RAW as well, just in case you need to do some tweaking later on. But by following this guide you’ll be on your way to learning how to take some decent low-light snaps and giving them some atmosphere.
A hint of flash
The key with flash photography at night is to try and make it look as natural as an artificial light source can. Switching your flash to the slow-sync setting will enable the ambient light to register on the CCD and blend in the flash accordingly.
If you‘re shooting in an environment mostly lit by tungsten or fire, you might consider placing a warming gel over the flash, so that its burst of light blends with the scene. Sheets of colour adjustment filters are made by Lee Colour Magic in a variety of strengths (available from www.speedgraphic.co.uk).
You can always shoot a single RAW file, then save it out with a different white balance setting and then blend them together, but save yourself time and do it in the field.
The best slow sync shots work when there‘s colour and brightness in the background and the subject‘s silhouetted. Take an exposure reading from the background using centre-weighted or spot metering and lock that reading in. Add a little underexposure to saturate the colours if you prefer. The flash will then take care of the exposure of the main subject, with any movement being rendered as a blur.
If the sky lacks punch, change the white balance setting to Cloudy or Shade – either in-camera or later when you‘re converting your RAW files.
You can‘t beat a good silhouette at this time of year. Crisp, clear days are often followed by dusk skies ablaze with colour. To make the most of this richness, look for a clearly de?ned subject to place in front of it.
Take a meter reading from an area of the sky that‘s not too bright or dark, lock the exposure in and recompose to include the subject. It‘ll be rendered as a silhouette against a saturated sky.
Don‘t worry about clipped shadows on the exposure histogram – you don‘t want to record detail in the subject.
Try to capture the mood and soul of a place at night, as well as the most attractively lit buildings. Keep an eye out for interesting shadows, contrasts, shape and that old favourite, urban decay. Make sure you have someone to keep an eye on your gear though.