Take your night images to the next level with creative photography techniques at night!
Night photography is an exciting genre of imaging that encompasses many different disciplines from concerts to traffic trails, and landscapes to nightclubs. However, it’s notoriously difficult to take good images at night because of the lack of light.
Low light levels means camera settings are pushed to the extreme as photographers try to maximize the brightness of available light to eke out every last photon for a good exposure. Not only that but autofocusing is next to useless because the camera relies on sufficient light to nail focus on subjects. Instead, you’ll have to get creative by nailing manual focusing techniques. So let’s take a look at some of the creative photography techniques you can use to nail some excellent night photographs.
As the light fades and the city lights turn on, drivers of cars and other motor vehicles turn on their headlights to see where they’re going. Take any camera to the city at night and put it into automatic and you’ll see that all you’re left with is a set of streaky bright lines worming their way through your photo. This can look unsightly, but with a little preparation it can actually transform a dull city scene into something remarkable.
Set the camera on a tripod and engage manual mode. Set the aperture to f/5.6 or narrower to ensure a long depth of field. Put ISO to 200 or similar in order to reduce image noise, and then switch the shutter speed to roughly 10 seconds. Watch as the headlights turn into traffic trails that smoothly slide along the frame. Simply by putting the camera on a tripod and engaging manual control of the camera, we’ve achieved traffic trails. This kind of photography works extremely well in bustling towns and cities, and on highway overpasses where it is sufficiently safe to take night photography.
It’s important to use a remote trigger such as the MIOPS Flex to take the photographs. That’s because when the camera is triggered by hand when shooting long exposures, the small vibration from the user can cause the camera to move during exposure and make images blurry. Instead, set up a remote trigger to remove the issue and keep the camera steady for sharp shots.
Rear Curtain Flash
Something you’ll no doubt have seen on all the nightclub galleries online is something called rear curtain sync flash photography. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but the principle is simple. Allow the camera to shoot a long exposure (1/2 a second will work) and place a flashgun on the hot shoe. Engage rear curtain synchronization - this means that the flash will fire at the end of the exposure. Now for the technique.
Remember, this’ll work best in indoor situations or at night when ambient lighting is dim, such as a nightclub full of dancers. We’re aiming to move the camera deliberately during the long exposure, and then have the flash fire at the end of the exposure to correctly expose the foreground subjects. If you look for some kind of lighting to put in the background it will amplify the effect. Now, as the camera is rotating the camera, aiming to keep the lens steady during the shot. You’ll be left with a very creative night photography effect where the background is blurry and textured, but the foreground subjects are exposed correctly.
Low Light Landscape Photography
Landscape photography is all about composition, and nailing focus through-and-through, once the light goes down. There are two techniques to achieving a low light landscape photograph that contains correct focus: setting the aperture and manually focusing.
Narrower apertures such as f/11 and f/16 produce a greater depth of field than wider apertures of f/2.8 or f/1.4. The depth of field is the slice of focus in front of the camera that is in focus. To ensure a landscape is in sharp relief from foreground to background it’s important to set a narrow aperture. But a long depth of field is no good if the focus isn’t in the right place.
Autofocusing will undoubtedly not work when shooting in low light. That’s because the camera relies on available light to help autofocusing clasp onto a subject. Instead, engage the live view and set the camera to manual focusing mode. Then zoom in on the screen and find a spot bright enough in the landscape to see on the screen. Next, rotate the focusing ring until the landscape is in focus. If you’re struggling to see the landscape, bring a high power torch with you to light up the landscape before focusing.
Timelapses are a great way to capture the environment at night. Look for moving subjects such as waves on a beach, clouds moving through the sky, or a busy inner city. Set up the camera on a tripod and engage the in-built timelapse mode. Set the interval times (the time it takes between shots) to an appropriate length between images based on the moving object's speed. For example, clouds flying through the sky will require around a five second interval time, unless there are high winds, in which case one to two seconds will work.
If your camera doesn’t have an in-built timelapse mode then use an external camera controller. You’ll need a camera controller that can not only trigger the camera remotely but also has the ability to set intervals between photos. The MIOPS Flex is the best camera controller from a smartphone because it allows manual control via the on-board screen and buttons on the device itself, or via the MIOPS app on a smart device like a smartphone or tablet. Simple attach the Flex to the camera with an appropriate cable and mount it to the hot shoe of the camera. Then dial in the mode settings and set intervals as desired before triggering the camera.
Gig photography is notoriously difficult to master. When photographing concerts at night low light levels and stroboscopic lighting mixed with other stage productions can make it hard to get decent images. That’s where getting creative is important.
First off, shoot with a lens that has a wide maximum aperture, like a 24-70mm f/2.8. Then set the camera to a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority. Dial in the widest aperture possible and set the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the focal length. For example, if shooting at 24mm set a shutter speed of 1/25 sec as a minimum. If the image is still dark then boost the ISO sensitivity. Alternatively, dial in auto-ISO to let the camera set an automatic exposure.
Blog Credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes
Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients. Further information can be found in his website www.jasonpb.com.
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