Final tips from our professional photographer
Experiment with ISO
Simon explained that shooting hand-held as the sun’s going down raises the spectre of camera shake as the light fails. You can try to get round this by boosting your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity), which in turn increases shutter speed and reduces the risk of shake.
As you can see in these shots, even in lighter conditions at ISO100 the ‘Gherkin’ is blurred. By contrast, in darker conditions at ISO800 and even ISO1600 the images are sharper. Higher ISOs can mean more digital noise, though.
Why RAW is more flexible
“With a RAW image and Photoshop’s Camera Raw software you can successfully increase or decrease the exposure by up to one stop,” says Simon. The software will actually let you increase or decrease by four stops, but Simon advises against this: “You’ll end up with a ton of digital noise!”
Simon also explained why adjusting exposure in RAW is a safer option than doing it in JPEG. “If you make radical exposure tweaks to a JPEG image you can ‘damage’ the file and end up with a shot that lacks definition and detail.”
Turn on the light
“At night it’s virtually impossible to read the top LCD screen on your SLR. I pointed out to Caroline that you should use the light on your camera’s LCD so you can see your settings. A simple but invaluable tweak!”
Under and overexposure
“When taking photos at night, it’s better to underexpose than overexpose your images,” advises Simon. “You can recover darker images more easily in Photoshop because they contain more detail and tones than burned out, overexposed images. This is especially so if you shoot in RAW. Of course, it’s always better nail the shot with perfect exposure first time around!”
Set your white balance afterwards
“Sometimes you can’t get close enough to your subject at night to get an accurate white balance reading for your grey card (see above), or you might get a ‘false’ reading because of orange street lights on your subject, which happened when we were photographing Tower Bridge,” says Simon. “Get around this by doing the following…”
Identify and remember a piece of the structure that is a neutral ‘white’. On Tower Bridge the stone work was too cream and too brightly lit, the roof was in shadow, but the steelwork painted white and under the same spot-lights as the main bridge was ideal.
Back at home, launch Camera Raw in Photoshop and select the White Balance tool. Now zoom in and click the eye-dropper on the white steelwork to set your white balance and bring all the colours into line. This is like a virtual grey card.
Alternatively, you can simply decrease the white balance ‘temperature’ to 2000K (cold, with more blues) for an artistic image. 3000K gives a good result for spot-lit buildings, but try increasing it to ‘daylight’ (around 5500K) if you want a warmer, ‘street light’ image.
PAGE 1: Meet our professional photographer and apprentice
PAGE 2: Tips on how to take pictures at night
PAGE 3: Final tips from our professional photographer
PAGE 4: Our professional photographer’s recommended gear
PAGE 5: Shot of the Day
Moonlight photography tips: making magical midnight landscapes
Painting with light: what you need, and where and how to do it
Low-light photography fixes: how to reduce noise while preserving image quality
Bulb mode: how to get pro-quality shots in low light