Guest Post about Night Photography

Today I am publishing a guest post through My Blog Guest. Thank you to Sam for the photography tips.

Night Photography: A crash course.

We all love a good night photo. A beautiful cityscape, boats on a still harbour with their lights reflecting across the water…  These views themselves are works of art, and a good photo can even add another dimension to them.

But more often than not when it comes time to look through our photos at the end of a trip or night out, the photos tend to be blurry and grainy, if not completely black and unusable.

I remember being in Victoria, Canada, and trying to take a photo of the Royal BC Museum at night. If I knew then what I knew now, I could have ended up with something quite spectacular to show my friends, rather than the abstract mish mash of blurry lights and sense of frustration that I took home with me.

The difficulty with night photography is the lack of available light. A flash can do a great job of illuminating a close space (even if it can be a little harsh and unflattering), but the light drops away sharply at distance and by about 20 feet it is basically not doing anything.  The other big problem with a flash is it can wash out the natural ambient lighting of a scene. All the nice streetlights and sign glows will be replaced by a big dull white flash-light.

Essentially, for anything other than a group of people or a close, isolated subject, the flash needs to go. But then what? Your poor little camera has to try and deal with the low light conditions that the flash was put on the camera to negate in the first place.

There are two ways to naturally get more light into your camera. One is to open up the aperture, which basically increases the flow of light through the lens. The second is to use a longer shutter speed, which allows the film or sensor to be exposed to light for a longer period of time.

There is a third variable which may help you get the exposure you need, and that is ISO or ‘film speed’. Basically this describes how sensitive either the film you are using, or the sensor in your digital camera is, to light. In other words if your ISO is a higher number, then you need less light to get the same exposure.

With that in mind, how do we take nice night photos? Well generally speaking, with a point and shoot style camera, you should have the aperture wide open to allow maximum light to get to your sensor.  The only reason you would ever want to stop your aperture down would be to try and get a longer depth of field, i.e a deeper zone of area in the photo that is in focus, however this only really applies with bigger format cameras such as SLRs, as changes in depth of field are barely a factor in point and shoots.

The next step, and this is crucial, invest in a cheap tripod. Stabilising your camera allows you to use longer shutter speeds without getting the awful blurry mess we have come to expect from flash-less night photos. Shutter speed is really your friend at night. The one thing to keep in mind though is the movement of your subjects. Obviously if they are moving they will end up blurry at longer shutter speeds.

Another small tip that will make a huge difference when using very long shutter speeds, is to use the timer function of your camera. The actual physical process of pushing the shutter release button to take the photo can be enough to cause a blur at long shutter speeds, however if you have at least a 2 second delay the camera will have stabilized again before the exposure starts.

The only remaining variable we have to try and reduce that blur is your ISO, however a higher ISO will mean grainier, lower quality photos.

So to conclude, buy a cheap tripod, crank open that aperture, wind back that long shutter speed, set your camera’s timer and try and keep your iso as low as the situation permits.

Happy shooting!

Sam Matthews
Home Art and Furniture

4 thoughts on “Guest Post about Night Photography”

  1. This is just in time because I tried to take a photo the other night and I was able to get the light right but its blurry!!! I guess I really have to bring the tripod with me. Another suggestion I got is to put the camera on a timer mode (2 secs) so that the camera wouldn’t shake when I press the shutter.

  2. The extra second or two on the timer is a good idea.

    If you have a camera with f-stop and etc this is good. Mine is a digi point and shoot type so the extras like exposure aren’t available. I do have a decent tripod, but I seldom bring it along unless I’m planning ahead or using my own vehicle (cause I can just leave it in the trunk then).

  3. Laura, if you have no control over the shutter speed or aperture of your camera, and it’s a hassle to use a tripod, then the best thing to do in your situation is just make sure the ISO is as high as it can go (this should be able to be changed on even a point and shoot). This will allow your camera to automatically choose faster shutter speeds to reduce blur. (that or hold the camera REAL still :P) The photos will be grainier because of the high iso, but this can always be improved in something like photoshop, and hey, you actually have a photo as opposed to not.
    Hope this helps!

  4. Thanks Sam. I will have to dig out the book that came with my camera to find ISO settings but it sounds like a good idea. What might be a grainy photo to you could seem just fine to me. I will try it out and see what results I get.

    I do try to hold it very still. lol Doesn’t always work out, even when I am sure I held my breath and everything.

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