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episode 31

Night Photography Tips

Night photography is one of the best types of photography especially because it offers a different look from what many of us are used to. This kind of photography can be rewarding especially if you know how to capture images under different lighting conditions and also control the exposure for the better. This article will give you tips on how you can get better exposure as you shoot different things at night. Below are the tips to follow in order to for you to get proper exposure in night photography.

  1. Work in manual mode

This is a pretty simple one especially if you are familiar with night photography and are used to getting out there and trying to get a good balanced exposure when it comes to really dark situations. The reason for working in manual mode is that your camera will be fooled a little bit. If you have any kind of automatic mode such as the aperture priority mode (That’s what you’ll pretty have if you don’t have a manual mode), but if you got crazy and got to shutter priority or time value mode, you camera is going to be fooled because if it sees something that is a little bit brighter or very dark especially night scenes, it will automatically try to up the ISO as high as it would go to try and balance out and get a good exposure and it will probably give a pretty long shutter speed and you don’t want that combined with a high ISO.

What you want is to probably work on manual mode, try a little bit of trial and error when it comes to your exposure. If you have a tripod, that’s a huge bonus and that’s one small caveat when it comes to all this stuff. When it comes to photography, you want to have a nice, sturdy tripod. If you do have any of those and have your camera set on manual mode, then you can automatically assume that your ISO is going to be around 100 because you don’t have to worry about having a high ISO. When it comes to night scenes especially, you want to have a clear scene because if you have underexposed pixels and maybe there’s a high-rise somewhere in the photo, it can be an overexposed pixel and it can get all crazy and wacky. As such, you will definitely want to have a very low ISO to try and get an image that is as clean as possible. Doing that allows you to dial all the stuff and make sure it’s a well-exposed image (we’ll talk about that more in the other tips). Using manual mode makes it possible for you to dial up the ISO and iron out your aperture and shutter speed and try to balance your exposure using all three of the exposure triangle elements.

  1. Use your histogram

There is a couple of two-fold things when it comes to this but using your histogram is going to give you a more accurate representation of what the scene is actually looking like. Let’s say you go somewhere and take a photo using maybe a manual mode but set the camera on live-view, it’ll look very decent. You think it looks great enough, it’s bright and you can see some foreground elements maybe and you are like, wow, I got the first great photo. However, when you get to your computer and pull that image into Lightroom or Photoshop, you realize that it’s still a little bit dark and wonder why it was looking brighter in your screen than it is in either of the two software. Typically, the reason for this is that your screen is lying to you a little bit. If you were to go to your camera settings and look at your screen brightness, you might find that it is lit all the way up thus making your image brighter than it really is. That’s why you need to pay more attention to histogram as it will show you if you have more shadows, blacks, balanced exposure and mid-tones and whether it is overexposed among other things.

Most of the time when you look at an image at the back of the screen and think that it looks very good, if you pull up your histogram, you’ll probably see that you might need to give it a few seconds to gather in more light for that night time photo. Always pay attention to histogram especially when it comes to night-time photos because your camera’s LCD can lie to you into thing you have a better image than you actually do have.

  1. Make sure you are a little comfortable with the bulb mode

For those who don’t know, bulb mode is found in most DSLR and is marked by a “B” sign and sometimes you will need to go to your camera settings to change it for the shutter speed. Bulb mode is set in such a way that as long as you hold the shutter button down on your camera, the shutter inside stays open thus exposing the scene to your sensor. This is a really important mode when it comes to night time photos because that way you can actually control how long your shutter stays open. Let’s say you are in a really dark scene and have an aperture of 16 and an ISO of 100, you will need to have a very long shutter to make sure you expose that scene correctly. If you were to do that and put it to a regular manual mode, most of the time the shutter speed will only go to 30 seconds but in that particular example, you are going to need longer than 30 seconds to get a well-exposed photo. That’s when you need to switch to bulb mode and you have to hold the shutter button down on your camera to expose it for longer than 30 seconds. You can go for as long as the shutter button can hold or as long as your camera battery can last so as to get a well-exposed scene. You may be wondering how you are going to hold the shutter battery down on your camera but you probably need a shutter release for that because even if you have a steady hand and you hold the shutter button for around 45 seconds, you are likely to introduce a little bit of camera shake. Shutter release is very cheap and there is a plug in your camera and that will act as a shutter button and then you are able to play with that, hold it down and lock it in place and you can actually walk away, letting your camera shutter stay open recording the scene for you so you don’t have to hold it down.

So, it’s good to get comfortable with the bulb mould as it is a good mode to use when you want to have an exposure that’s longer than 30 seconds.

  1. Shooting in Raw

This is an easy tip and will actually work great for any style of photography no matter what situation you are in minus maybe a couple of options where we do not mind editing. This is a tip that’s almost in every other tip we give in this post and this is very important especially when you are shooting at night since you have more information to really balance that exposure out if you get something that’s a little too dark or too bright. If you only shoot in jpeg, it will only compress things in the photo and you won’t be able to get anything back and if you do, it won’t be looking that great. Shooting in raw will surprise you as to how much information you have to bring back when it comes to night photos. If you have a little bit of a foreground element and are in a dark scene, you would really want to brighten that up and it will certainly handle itself better than you might think.

Shooting in raw for every kind of photography and in almost all situations is probably the best tip we can give when it comes to the editing process.

  1. Use a flashlight

This tip is for getting prepared or getting the composition right for your image. When you are in a really dark situation, one thing you can do is to bring a flashlight with you to try and help you compose the scene better. This is especially important when you are in a situation that’s hard for you to see. What you’ll need to do is take a shot that is at a higher ISO than you would shoot any image later in the night going forward. Take a high ISO image at around 6400 or 12800 thereabouts and this will allow you to get that image and get a fairly short exposure time but what you’re really looking for when doing this is the composition of your scene. You are not caring about the image quality, it could be out of focus but that doesn’t really matter. You’re just trying to get the composition ready and right when it comes to night photos you are taking. The reason for this is because if you get your camera settings down exactly the way you think they should be and then take an image, you may have to wait for 60 seconds to get a proper exposure and see whether you have the right composition using that Bulb mode.

That’s when you’ll have to skip the entire process, take a higher ISO image and you can get 2 or 3 seconds out of it and then you can see the bright scene of your photo and that way you can compose your photo better. It’s just a way of saving time and again, you are not looking for great quality since you will delete these when you get back to your editing.

  1. Blackening your shoots at night

A lot of people would think of blackening their HDR process as being only a daytime thing to try and calm down those bright highlights and minimize the shadows so the images are a little bit more balanced. However, you can actually do almost the same thing when it comes to night photography. You can do some blackening and try to get some more details on some of the shadows. You don’t have to bring all of that back since you still want it to look like a night photo but it just gives you some leeway. But it will be good to keep away from auto blackening that might be on your camera where you can change the blackening to go to maybe -2 stops under in neutral exposure and 2-stops over. Instead, I would actually recommend using the histogram so as to do it manually so you get your settings on manual mode and have them dialled with the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and make sure you add some more neutral exposure so that the histogram has some sort of a spike in the middle. You can then take your photo there and shorten the shutter speed to where you get the darker of the image and then increase the shutter speed to get the lighter of the image. Then you can do some blackening or HDR blending back in Lightroom and then get some more information to play with. This is one thing to think of but it’s probably not for all situations, you probably don’t want to do that but if you are in a city, you can try and get away with blackening. Blackened night shoots normally come out very cool and you can give it a try the next time you go out at night.

  1. Increase the aperture for starburst effects

If you are ever exposed to a lot of floodlights, street lamps,, maybe you are in the streets or in a park and a have a tripod and have the time, you can actually take your aperture dial-up to around f22 for example, and when you take the photo and you get a really nice exposure, you will see those cool starburst effects in the light because your aperture is closed down and this will make for a kind of fun cool effect looking photo. It’s not a crazy tip to get a better exposure but it’s actually kind of a fun one and really works well with bright lights especially when you are shooting at night because most of the bright lights are on. So, if you have a really cool situation, that’s a really good way of getting those starburst effects and each one of the lights will give you some really good effects. This is a little nice way to try and spice up your night photography.

You can use these tips to enhance your night photography and explore different ways of doing it. These tips will work under different settings and scenes.

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