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.
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