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How to Shoot Motion Photographs At Night With Slower Shutter Speed

How to Shoot Motion Photographs At Night With Slower Shutter Speed

Night is an incredible motive for street photography. Cityscapes are lit with a myriad of interesting and colorful light sources, such as lampposts, neon signs, store windows, car lights, and bare bulbs. People dress in their favorite outfits to go out. Bland scenes by day can suddenly turn ominous and fascinating at night. Here are some recommendations for capturing those shots:

Slow down your shutter speed

The reason for movement blur is simply that the amount of time that the shutter of a camera is open is long enough to allow your camera’s image sensor to ‘see’ the movement of your subject.

During the day, you will typically use shutter speeds that are a small fraction of a second. At night, however, the camera will use shutter speeds that are longer than one second – sometimes significantly longer. Think of it this way: because it is dark, the camera needs a longer period of time to gather light for proper exposure.

boat floating on amsterdam river

The shutter will now be open for a longer period of time, so the camera needs to be held steady or the picture will move during the exposure process, causing your image to be blurry. That is why a tripod is required equipment at night. You can leave the shutter open as long as you want, as long as the camera is steady and does not move at all.

Tripod + Shutter release

There are two ways to get a feeling of movement in your images – have your subject move or have your camera move (or both).

In this type of shot, you need to do everything that you can to keep your camera perfectly still or in addition to the blur from the subject, you’ll find that the whole frame looks like it’s moving as a result of using long shutter speed. Whether it be by using a tripod or have your camera sitting on some other still object you’ll want to ensure that camera is perfectly still.

A remote shutter release will avoid vibrancies that will result in blurred images during long-exposures. MIOPS Smart+ will allow you to set the desired time of exposition and we recommend, having 30 seconds as a starting point.

traffic lights at night

Aperture

The aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light into the camera. The size of the aperture determines the amount of light being let into the camera for given shutter speed, and it also affects the depth of field.

For the most part, there is no difference between how you will use the aperture at night versus how you use it during the day. The only difference is that the camera will struggle to get enough light for proper exposure, so a small aperture will often require ridiculously long shutter speeds. In addition, the background is usually black, so you don’t need to worry as much about achieving a wide depth of field.

clouds moving above new york skyline at night

ISO

ISO is a measurement of the sensitivity to light of your digital sensor. Higher ISO values make your digital sensor more sensitive to light and thereby allow you to use a shorter shutter speed or a smaller aperture.

Using higher ISOs will result in more digital noise in your pictures. Since dark areas of your picture tend to show more digital noise than lighter areas, it is often a problem with night photos. Therefore, resist the temptation to crank up the ISO at night if you can help it.

Since you will be using a tripod, you can usually avoid the need to use a high ISO or set to the minimum, such as 50 or the default, 100. However, in those cases where you cannot use a tripod or you have a moving subject, you will need to increase the ISO.

person shot at night in long exposure

Try shutter priority mode

One of the most important settings in photographing an image that emphasizes movement is the shutter speed. Even small changes in shutter speed will have a big impact upon your shot – so you want to shoot in a mode that gives you full control over it.

This means either switching your camera into full Manual Mode or Shutter Priority Mode. Shutter Priority Mode is a mode that allows you to set your shutter speed and where the camera chooses other settings (like Aperture) to ensure the shot is well exposed. It’s a very handy mode to play with as it ensures you get the movement effect that you’re after but also generally well-exposed shots.

The other option is to go with Manual mode if you feel more confident in getting the aperture/shutter speed balance right.

 

Related Article: Night Photography, How to Shoot Stunning Light Trails

About The Author Manuel Delgado:

Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.

Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany. 

Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile

Guide to Capturing Best Long Exposure City Time lapses

a busy city at night

Nighttime-lapses stand out from other time-lapses as they combine multiple long exposure shots into a sequence that plays back as a video. The effects and motives are infinite as imagination itself. Most cameras, from mirrorless, DSLR's and even smartphones, can achieve these results as long as they allow you to set the exposure manually. Most of the time, video cameras are limited, as they can't expose for extended intervals like photo cameras. Of course, a great solution is using external triggers such as MIOPS Smart, RemotePlus, or Mobile Dongle.

cars passing on the bridge by night

Best time for city time-lapses

Trails of light caused by cars passing by, bicycles, lighted buildings, or any urban structures lit by incandescent or fluorescent bulbs are the best scenarios to shoot. Any city will offer multiple options, but most important is choosing the ambient light to work. Shooting at night is the best because the contrast is more notable and dramatic.

It is recommended to do city time-lapses in winter because the sun sets earlier, providing a dark sky that is more suitable for capturing lighted motion. However, shooting in summer also has its advantages, providing different effects, such as working during the blue hour, which provides more fainted tones. During this time of the year, backgrounds are more full of life, like trees and bushes full of leaves, which can be more visually appealing. Also, combining day and nighttime-lapses can lead to interesting results. In the end, it all depends on the desired effect and the availability of time.

Consider shooting in raw

If you are an experimented photographer, it will be obvious that shooting in RAW is a must, but for a beginner who doesn't know the difference between using RAW and JPEG, it is important to acknowledge that saving nighttime-lapses in JPEG has a significant limitation. The main issue is, with JPEG files the dark parts of the image will be too underexposed, and the bright lights are often overexposed.  Raw photo sequences, which allows you to adjust exposure and contrast much better in post-production, reveal a lot more details that are otherwise lost in the shadows or highlights when saving them as JPEG files.

cars passing next to Allianz Arena at night

Resolution matters

As mentioned, even smartphones are capable of shooting time-lapses; however, the high resolution of the DSLR and mirrorless cameras allows you to crop and adjust the angle and position of the sequence even when creating a 4K video. Using keyframes, the time-lapse can be animated easily, making the shot look more interesting than leaving it static. That's where the Capsule Slider comes in handy. For example, you can animate a zoom or simply simulate a tracking shot.

Filters

Daytime-lapses are usually captured with a neutral density filter attached to the front of the lense. For nighttime-lapses, different filters can be very handy as well, for example, light pollution filters. These filters are designed to block out the wavelengths of light emitted by Sodium Vapor Lamps, the main cause of light pollution. A quality light pollution filter will allow the colors and light emitted by the subject to reach the camera sensor and block out the nasty brown glow of a washed-out sky. The design of the filter includes layers that block specific bandpass lines of the visible spectrum.

cars passing by arc de triumph at Paris

Other considerations

The aperture value (Av) refers to the lens opening's size, which determines how much light makes it through the lens. Since aperture values (or f-stops) are represented as fractions, smaller values provide a larger lens opening – and a larger lens opening means more light will pass through the lens. To shoot the night sky and its surroundings, it is highly recommended to use a lens with a maximum aperture value of at least f/2.8 if possible.

Slower shutter speed allows more light to reach the image sensor (great for night photography), and when shooting nightscapes, it is recommended to use a very slow shutter duration of between 20 and 30 seconds. Of course, further adjustments should be made according to the current circumstances.

When shooting still frames for time-lapse, it is important that the camera doesn't change focus every time it takes another picture, so it is important to switch to manual focus mode when shooting time-lapses. When shooting at night, achieving proper focus can be a challenge. Therefore, use the Live View zoom and magnify feature to make your subject larger and lock your focus properly.

This type of photography can lead to impressive results with patience and practice. As an example, and if considering the exposition time mentioned above for taking pictures every 30 seconds, it means that the camera will be shooting two frames every minute. If 180 pictures are needed, then the camera should run for 90 minutes.

cars passing by a pink lighted building

Related Article: What is the Easiest Way to Make Good Timelapse Videos?

About The Author Manuel Delgado:

Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.

Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany. 

Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile