Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tips for night shooting during the holidays

Your adventures don't stop when the sun goes down, and your photography shouldn't have to either. Night photography can record beautiful scenes that have a fairytale world feel to them when compared to their daytime counterparts. A plain fountain becomes a lighted wonder, or dreary skyscrapers light up like Christmas trees. Night photography does require a slightly different approach than daytime photography, but it all boils down to the same thing--capturing light. Once you begin your love affair with the night, you will discover that night photography is an excellent way to increase you awareness of light for all types of photography. Here are some simple ways to improve your night photography. 

Determine Your Camera's Capabilities

As with any photography, you need to understand what your camera is capable of doing. Whether you have a point-and-shoot or a SLR, be sure to familiarize yourself with your camera. Four considerations to make for night photography:

  1. Flash - is there and on-board flash? Is there the capability for an add-on flash?
  2. Shutter and Aperture Control - does your camera allow you to control the shutter speed and the aperture settings or at least have a "nighttime" preset?
  3. Film Speed - can you set your preference of film speed?
  4. Shutter Release - do you have the option of a remote release button for the shutter or a self-timer?

Determine your subject and the amount of light available

While you may be able to see a scene perfectly well with your eyes, cameras do need a bit more light than our eyes in order to function properly. You do not need any fancy hand-held photography light meters for this step. The meter in your camera will work perfectly well. Simply point your camera at your intended scene and press the shutter halfway down. However, be sure that you point your camera at the darkest part of the scene you are taking that you want to be visible in your image. If you take a meter reading from a brightly lit fountain, that beautiful oak tree behind it catching the light will be too dark to appreciate. Take your reading from the oak tree instead. Look at the readings it gives you. It may say that you need a flash, or if you have a SLR, you may see the metering bar showing you how much underexposed our image will be at your current settings.

Make your adjustments to settings that are necessary for the available light

If your camera does not have any adjustment options other than a nighttime setting, then turn the dial to your camera's nighttime or landscape setting and skip down to part 4 of this section. If you camera has other abilities, use them. There are four things you will set on your camera for nighttime photography:

  1. Film Speed - This is marked by "ISO" on some cameras. Unless you are shooting nighttime sports, use a slower film speed. This will reduce the grain visible in your images and produce a much clearer image.
  2. Aperture - The aperture will be determined in mostly by your subject. Aperture controls how much depth of your image will be in focus and will be marked on your camera as F-Stop. If you are taking an image of your family standing in front of a landmark, you need a larger aperture (smaller F-stop number) than if you are taking an image of a lighted fountain and the lighted museum several yards behind that. Set you aperture based on your subject, in the next two steps we will adjust the exposure.
  3. Shutter speed - Unless you are shooting nighttime sports or another situation where you need to freeze motion, your shutter speed will be your third step. Set your shutter speed for a proper exposure on your metering bar. Remember to take your meter reading from the darkest part of the scene you want to appear well lit.
  4. Flash - You will use flash to "fill in" areas that need additional light. Remember that flash does not have an unlimited range so this works best for areas relatively close (about 4 to 9 feet) from you. If you use your camera's on-board flash I would recommend using it only when you must illuminate a person. If you have an add on flash that works with your camera you can use the fill-flash feature to set it to less power and illuminate things like the bases of lighted fountains that may otherwise be lost in shadow.

Stability

You are almost ready to take your photo! You are most likely using a shutter speed that is several seconds long. Since you will not be able to hold the camera steady using your hands for that length of time. , set the camera down on a platform of some kind. Tripods are the most common choice for a stabilizing platform, but do not extend the tripod to its fullest height. Most low-cost tripods are not stable at their full extensions and will still produce a residual shake from the pressure you use to press the shutter button. If you do not have a tripod or you are not allowed to use one in your location, there are other options -- Beanbags, backpacks, rolled up jackets, or even purses can work very well.

Release the Shutter

You are about to take your photo. Release the shutter by using 1 of 3 methods:

  1. Finger - The standard way you are used to taking an image. Press the shutter release with your finger. In night photography, you need to be especially careful to press the shutter as gently as possible to reduce camera shake. This is the least desirable way of releasing the shutter in night photography but with practice, you can produce good images this way. One way to improve your finger release images is to use the longest exposure possible. This will minimize the visibility of any initial camera shake.

  2. Remote Release - Remote release is the most preferred method of shutter release for night photography. There are two options for remote release. These are a cable release and an IR release. The cable release is a cable that fastens into a mount on your camera and has a button at the end of the cable. The IR release is a remote control like your TV remote. It operates on infrared light and must be pointed at the IR sensor on the camera to work.

  3. Self-timer - This is a great work-around for those who do not have a remote release. The self-timer allows you to press the shutter button and remove your hand from the camera before the shutter is released. This prevents camera shake very well.


Night photography can open a whole new world to you and I hope you will give it a try. Like everything else in life, it takes some practice but the rewards are well worth the effort!

Information courtesy of About.com

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