NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY: SHOOTING AFTER DARK
The short winter days don’t leave many opportunities for daylight photography, but there’s plenty you can do when the sun’s gone down.
Tip 43: Light trails and movement
Try setting your camera up by the side of a busy road or on a bridge (but make sure you’re not causing an obstruction or putting yourself in danger). Experiment with exposures anywhere from 1 to 30 seconds – you’ll need to adapt the exposure to the speed and intensity of the traffic. Andrew Whyte’s amazing shot takes this technique a step further, using a camera fixed inside a car, with the interior illuminated by flash.
Tip 44: Star trails and moonlight
If you leave the camera shutter open long enough, you start to record things that are invisible to the naked eye. Moonlight looks as strong as daylight, and stars form curving trails as the Earth rotates while the photo’s being taken. Andrew Whyte’s image is spectacular. The exposures will take many minutes, or even hours, and you’ll need to find a spot away from manmade light pollution.
Tip 45: Exposure calculations
For camera meters, the problem with night photography isn’t so much the low light (modern meters are highly sensitive) but the presence of bright light sources, such as in this scene by Jon Sargisson. These almost always fool the meter into underexposing the shot. And in situations where you provide your own lighting during the exposure, the meter is no help at all. Switch to manual mode and guess! Your first try will show you roughly how far out your estimate is.
Tip 46: City lights
At night, lights can make colourful, evocative subjects in their own right. Neon signs are a classic example, but in this shot, Michelle McMahon takes it a stage further by focusing on a rain-spattered window and creating a wonderful ‘bokeh’ effect with the lights in the background. Your camera’s autofocus system might struggle at night, especially when you’ve got overlapping subjects at different distances, so be ready to switch to manual focus instead.
Tip 47: Bands and gigs
It can be difficult getting proper access at big venues, but local pubs and clubs can offer great opportunities for shots like this one, by Al Pulford. It was taken using a flashgun set to rear-curtain sync to provide a more realistic blur effect (the flash fires at the end of the exposure, not the start). You could start small, by approaching amateur bands who might be glad to have a photographer taking shots, and work up to bigger groups and venues as you gain experience.
Tip 48: Bring your own lights!
Jon Sargisson used Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 Speedlights to add subtle illumination to the ruin in the background of his scene in Tip 45.
Tip 49: Static light sources
Static light sources are good, but moving light ones are even better! When you shoot at night, always look for an opportunity to add that extra dimension – time.
Top tips for timing photos
Tip 50: Use a remote
Remote releases prevent you jogging the camera, and can also time the exposure for you.
Tip 51: Use your watch
With exposures longer than a few seconds, use ‘B’ mode and time the shot manually. You don’t need split-second accuracy.
Tip 52: Take a black card
If something gets in the way during the exposure, cover the lens until it’s gone, then carry on.
Tip 53: Self-timer
If you don’t have a remote release, use the camera’s self-timer.
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Night Photography: how to set up your camera to shoot anything
City photography: tips for taking pictures of buildings and cities
Bulb mode: how to get pro-quality shots in low light
Night photography exposure guide: free cheat sheet