Does your digital camera only come out during the hours of daylight? It can be tempting to wait for the sun to shine, but packing your camera away as soon as the light begins to fail can mean missing hours of great picture opportunities. Night photography can be one of the most rewarding genres you’ll shoot.
Your DSLR is more than capable of taking great pictures in these conditions – but it needs your help. If you take a point-and-shoot approach when the light gets low, you’ll end up either with blurred pictures or images where the atmosphere of the scene has been lost.
But there’s no need to be afraid of the dark; we’ve got the answers to all of your frequently asked questions on how to set up your camera to shoot night photography.
We’ll show you the exact settings you’ll need to use, and which gadgets are really worth taking out and about with you. We’ll also throw in plenty of great tricks to help you encourage your camera out of its nightly slumber.
Choosing the right aperture for night photography
When setting up your camera to shoot night photography, it’s usually essential to keep the camera perfectly stable. In low light, faster shutter speeds are harder to achieve.
In some situations, such as floodlit sporting events, it might be necessary to hold the camera in your hand, but in most night scenarios you need a steady platform to rest the camera on.
The ideal choice is a sturdy tripod, which will keep your DSLR completely still, even with shutter speeds that are minutes long.
However, you can also keep the camera remarkably steady simply by balancing it on a flat surface, such as a car roof or a window ledge, and then firing the camera using the self-timer function to avoid any unwanted vibration (and the resulting camera shake).
Now you’re free to select the shutter speed, aperture and ISO that will work best for the subject – and not just those that will give you the least camera shake. The exact settings you need will vary with the subject (see the table below) and exactly how well it’s lit.
But for tripod shots (find out the best way to set up a tripod), keep ISO at 100 (to minimise noise) and use a narrow aperture (f/16). The shutter speed may be seconds long, but with your camera fixed firmly this isn’t a problem (find out some of the common problems at every shutter speed – and the best settings to use).
Here is a quick, but handy, photography cheat sheet listing some of the rough camera settings you’re likely to need for some of the more popular night photography subjects.
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