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Recently I have been getting some comments from people who are unsure about night photography.  Seems some people are not sure how to take night photos, so I asked one of them, Laura Macky, if she would like me to do a post on taking photos at night, and she said yes.  So hopefully I can help explain it.

Let’s start with the equipment that you need if you want to do them properly, or expertly.  I will also tell you ways to get around some of these after this.

LeanneCole-citynight-20131208-4228The above image, I showed it yesterday, so please excuse the double up.  Is an image that show perfectly how to take a night photo, and the circumstances under which most night photos are taken.  The focus of the image was the tree, having people around didn’t matter, so time didn’t matter.  I could take as long as I needed to get the shot.

My camera was set up on the tripod, and as I wanted the best exposure possible my ISO was right done to 100.  I usually always have my camera set on Aperture Priority, so I had my aperture set on 7.1, and according to my camera, I needed a shutter speed of 6 seconds, which is why the camera had to be on a tripod.  The long shutter speed is why the people seem like ghosts.

I know I am going to get people telling me I should have the camera on manual, but you know what, I rarely do.  If I can get away with aperture priority or shutter priority, then I go for it.  I know there are times when you have to put it on manual, and I used to find my old camera had to be put onto that when I got a shutter speed of more than a couple of seconds, but so far the D800 has proved to be a real trouper that way.

It is also advisable to use a remote shutter release, so you avoid camera shake when you press down the shutter button.  I have to admit, I don’t always use one, I have got a lot better at just pressing the button and not getting that camera shake, though, if I can and I have it with me, I always use it.  Better to be safe.


The above image was taken with a very long shutter speed, around 25 seconds, aperture f/11 and the ISO would have been 100 or thereabouts.  The slower the better to get the water to look smoother and to get the colours reflected in the water.

LeanneCole-townhall-20131129-0245When I was taking these the camera was on the tripod again, it was up high, so I had  a wireless remote shutter release on the camera, the trigger in my hand.  Time was a lot more important in these photos.  I couldn’t have long shutter speeds because then the lights would all blend into one another, I needed a faster shutter speed.

To achieve this, I set the ISO onto 4000, I was also curious to see how the camera would go with a ISO that high.  Again, the camera was on Aperture Priority, and the aperture was f/8.  I have looked at the properties of the image and the shutter speed was 1/5 of a second.  So fast enough for this show, but still too slow to hand hold the camera.

One thing to remember when you go up ISO is that you start to introduce noise or what used to be referred to as grain to your images, so you really want to use lower shutter speeds when you can.  It isn’t always possible though, so it can be a trade off at times.

LeanneCole-city-20131129-0234This image was done with me hand holding the camera.  These were the last photos I took for the night, and it was a last minute thing.  I had the 50mm lens on the camera, and decided to just see what I could get.  So the camera wasn’t on the tripod, which meant I needed a faster shutter speed.  I usually tell my students that they should always get something faster than 1/60 of a second, but I know myself I can go a little slower.  The ISO has to be turned up high enough to get a good shutter speed, my aperture was f/6.3, I could have turned it down more, but didn’t.  My ISO ended up being 4000.

I have found that people who start taking photos often forget about ISO, they will say I used the aperture I wanted, but I kept getting dark photos, what was I doing wrong?  I say, did you turn your ISO up, and they look at me with that look that says, I can’t believe I forgot about it.  The three most important things to use when taking photos, your exposure triangle, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, they all have to work together.

So to take great photos at night you need a camera that will allow you to have some control over ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.  You should also use a tripod and remote shutter release.  So what happens when you don’t have those?

If you don’t have a tripod then find a solid surface to put your camera on, a car, a fence post, a bench, anything that stays still.  It will give you the same results as a tripod, except, you may not be able to manipulate and get the image you want.  A tripod you can adjust the head of it to get the composition you want.

If you don’t have a remote shutter release then you can use the inbuilt timer that is in most cameras.  You can set it to go off in 2 seconds and then you stop camera shake that way.  I have done this on some occassions.

So I hope that helps those of you who want to do some night Christmas photos and are unsure how to go about it.  This is how I do it.

I have some more photos of Flinders Street Station as well.

Please note all images have been taken for the City of Melbourne and they have exclusive use of them.

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