Monday, November 2, 2009

Shorter Days and Long Nights: Night Photography

For those of us in the northern hemisphere the nights are getting longer at this time of year, which starts to limit daylight shooting time. That isn't always a bad thing though, as night shooting can be very rewarding. Halloween and Christmas time offer some interesting subjects to shoot at night. One of the best aspects of night shooting is the contrast between darkness and light. I was unable to do as much night shooting on Halloween as I would have liked, just got a few shots, but it reminded me of the different sides of night shooting.

Firstly, night shooting can be a lot of fun. Make sure you have a tripod or a flash though, because night shooting requires much slower shutter speeds than during the day. Secondly, it forces you to consider light sources even more than in the day. The main reason you have to consider light sources more is that the direction of the light will have a much greater impact on shutter speed. In the shot I posted in today's blog,  the shutter speed would have differed by as much as 20 seconds, if I had not set my meter on the light inside the pumpkins. So the difference is dependent on what you want to expose, the subject or the entire scene. In this case the subject was brighter than the rest of the scene, which meant I would have blown the highlights on the subject if I had used matrix/multi-zone metering.

In this next photo, I used a long exposure, 30 seconds, and a small aperture (F22) to capture the light in the way I wanted. If I had used a larger aperture, I would not have captured the light trail from passing cars, because the overall lighting conditions were leading to shutter speeds closer to 1 second. You don't have to use such a small aperture though, if you used a ND 4 or 8 (neutral density) filter, a larger aperture (F9-11) would have been able to capture the same effect, and lead to a sharper image.

There are a few important settings and tools for night shooting, so keep them in mind if you want to do any. First, and most importantly, a tripod. No amount of VR/IS is going to make up for a 1 second or longer exposure, in fact turn off VR/IS when you have your camera mounted on a tripod for this kind of shooting. Secondly, switch to aperture priority or manual shooting modes. Reason being that using auto will most likely lead to a pop-up flash coming up and wrecking your photo. Secondly, control of the aperture can be important for longer shutter speed, such as if you want to capture vehicular light trails. Next, you may want to use mirror lockup or the self timer with a cable or wireless shutter release to reduce any possible camera shake, which would cause blurry images.