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by Brian Tarling

Half of the year is night-time. Instead of being put off by of bad light, explore the possibilities of night photography.

You will probably need to get your ‘eye in’ to see what makes a good night photo. Sometimes the shots are obvious because they are well lit up. Others you may be able to visualise the potential of during daylight. Large areas of darkness or black should be avoided.  Also try to keep areas of burnt out highlights to a minimum, but some are inevitable or even want to be exploited. Look for subjects with an even spread of light over the whole image.

Setting up the camera.

            The camera needs to be stable during the exposure. Hand held shots are not an option. You will need to leave the camera supported by resting it on a suitable surface. A tripod is your best option so long as it is used competently.

I would set the ISO first followed by the focus then set a suitable aperture and have the shutter as your main variable. If the shutter setting is more critical then adjust the aperture first and or the ISO last.

Taking the shot.

            It is best not to touch the camera at all from shutter release to the end of the exposure. You can use the self timer mode or a remote shutter release device to do this. SLR cameras have an option for mirror lock up, but this is not required if the exposure is longer than ¼ of a second. It is also good practice to cover up the view finder to stop any light entering the camera via the view finder affecting the exposure.

Overcoming problems.

            For digital cameras, a check of the histogram is the first thing to do. Often a valley shaped one can be found. Don’t forget white to the right. As ever with digital cameras try not to over expose the shot. I have found that you do not need to use any long shutter noise reduction modes to reduce any pixel hotspots.

For film cameras, use the reciprocity failure guide and bracket your shots at the suggested exposure, then one stop over, followed by two stops over.

            Because most of your shots will be lit be artificial light there will be a colour casts to deal with. Most of the time your shots will have a warmer colour cast that is pleasing and is best left as it is.

            For digital users change your white balance/Kelvin setting. Set tungsten/2800K to cool a scene down and set cloudy/shady/10000K to warm a scene up.

For film users use an 80 series filter to warm a scene up and an 85 series filter to cool a scene down.

For fluorescent lighting pull your hair out, as this can produce a green or magenta cast. Some modern fluorescent tubes are daylight balanced. There is a FL-D filter for film and two/three settings in white balance for digital.

Further thoughts

            Night is the opposite of day, as half way between sunset and sunrise the sky is at its darkest. There is a ‘magic hour’ after sunset and before sunrise where there is light/colour in the sky which can be used to good effect. The trick is to take shots when the sky is as light/dark as the foreground/subject is. Gray graduate neutral density filters can be used to darken down any lighter areas in the shot. Don’t forget this might be your lit subject and not the sky! If there is a clear sky, the longer the exposure the more blue the sky will appear in your night shots. When the sky is cloudy you find the colour of the sky comes out anywhere from grey to black so keep the exposures short or the sky area to a minimum. Knowing the sunrise/sunset times and directions and the full moon dates/times and directions can be useful. As your shots are going to be long exposures taken at night you will need to keep warm. Gloves that you can operate your camera with while still wearing them, a woolly hat and warm shoes and socks will all help. If you are cold you will NOT take the time to produce good shots! Have plenty of charged batteries for your camera, flashgun and at least one torch.

If required use the hyper focal point to focus on to give you as much depth of field as possible.

Night vision devices amplify available ambient light levels by passing the image through a photo-cathode and focusing it onto a green phosphor screen. The screen is green because the human eye is particularly sensitive to differences in shades of green as this colour sits right in the middle of the spectrum of visible light.


Type of shots to consider:-

Architecture / buildings               Water / reflections           Moon / stars        Fireworks / fire

Shop fronts / high streets             Christmas lights                Car light trails      Painting with light

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