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Night Photography (Long exposer photography)

Night photographyMost photographers’ call it quits after the sun goes down, missing out on some incredible photography prospects.

What is night photography? Well, it’s basically the technique of capturing photographs at low light over a long exposure of time. Photographs of city cityscapes at night, car tail light streaks, fireworks and the full moon are all examples of night photography. Just like any other genre of photography, it is very diverse.

Night photography can use either natural light, artificial light of a combination of both. Exposure times can be as little as 1-2 seconds or take multiple hours.

Equipment Needed for Night Photography

You’ll need a camera capable of long exposures: Your camera should be able to stay open for at least 2-3 seconds to do even basic high-light night photography. The longer your cameras shutter is able to stay open, means the more light it can gather. Preferably, you want a camera that can stay open for at least 30 seconds, which will let you capture most low light events.

The good news is that most modern digital cameras will let you keep the stutter open in manual mode for the 30 seconds you’ll need. Some higher end point and shoot cameras and all DSLR cameras will also give you a BULB feature, which lets you keep the camera shutter open as long as you want.

Tripod: A good sturdy tripod is absolutely necessary for good night photos. The slightest shake of your camera can cause you image to come out blurry. Make sure that all you tripods components are tightened down snuggly and your tripod is on level ground. Wind can be a big issue when it comes to long exposures. So either try to shoot behind objects blocking the wind or use a heavy tripod if you can’t avoid it.

Self Timer or Remote: Because even the touch of your figure on the shutter button can cause your long exposure photograph to blur, you’ll need to use your cameras self timer or an external remote. Self timers work fine for night photography but it can get annoying waiting for your camera to count down every time you want to take a shot. Not all cameras can use remotes, but if your camera can, I definitely recommend getting one. Depending on your camera, it may even be compatible with programmable remotes which let you pre-program you camera to take a series of photographs at different intervals and exposure times … definitely an advantage for night photography.

Red Light Flashlight: Because you’ll be stumbling around in the dark, it a good idea to carry a flashlight with a red light option to see where you’re walking and to help set up your equipment. A regular flashlight will work, but red light helps preserve your night vision, so it takes less time for your eyes to adjust to the dark after you turn it off.

Setting up your Camera

In most cases, you’re going to have to learn your cameras manual setting for shooting night photography. Your camera will probably will not be able to either auto focus or meter in low light situations. This is mostly a process of trial and error, but we’ll give you some tips below to help along in the process.

First, your camera auto setting may work if you’re shooting a scene with lots of light. For example, a bright cityscape or the moon, will usually turns out good on auto setting. You may need to adjust the EV levels help get the perfect image in auto mode and remember to turn off the flash.

If your camera isn’t focusing or metering correctly, them it’s time to place it in manual mode. You’ll want to first start by setting your cameras aperture to a low number. Generally F4.0 to F5.6 works best. Remember that the lower the aperture number the more light your lens lets into the camera sensor.

Next you want to set your ISO. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera sensor is to light. This is very helpful when shooting in very low light. The trade-off is that a higher ISO also produces more grainy noise in your images. Most times an ISO of 200 to 400 works best. Note that some of the newer DSRL’s can produce low noise images at very high ISO’s. Test out your cameras ISO setting beforehand to see where noise becomes too great for a good image.

If you have a camera with an interchangeable lens, you’ll have to manually focus your lens, if it’s too dark for your cameras auto-focus to work. This is simply done by setting your lens to the infinity mark. TIP: When shooting objects that are fairly close, you can use a bright flashlight to illuminate them and then let your cameras autofocus do its work.

The last step is setting up exposure times. Exposure time can GREATLY vary depending on available light and usually involves taking multiple pictures to get the length correct. Below are some guide lines to help you out:

  • Cities and buildings: 5-30 seconds
  • Fireworks: 3 to 15 seconds
  • Campfires: 3-30 seconds
  • Moon Light Landscapes: 10-60 seconds (possibly more if it’s not a full moon or cloudy)
  • Star trails: At least 20 minutes (Make sure your batteries are charged)

Example of night Photography:

Star Tails:
Star Trails

Cities:
City night photography

Landscapes by moon light:
Moon Light Photography

Campfires:
Campfire Photography

More examples can be seen in my night photography gallery. If you have your own night photography pictures, sign-up and share them!

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