Night photography, how does it work?
If there is one area that is often neglected by many people (including me), it’s night photography.
In his defense, one would tend to think that there is not much to photograph at night because it is simply too dark.
We even often have the laziness to take our camera out when it’s dark on a trip for example, preferring to go and hang out in night markets or simply rest to prepare our next day! Perhaps you are looking for ways to improve your travel photos?
However, at night is often the time when the play of light comes on and there are great photographic opportunities.
I am thinking particularly of people living in cities, near tall buildings, lighted bridges or even lakes/ponds/sea bodies of water.
From a technical point of view, if you’re new to photography, you probably have the impression that it must be complicated to shoot during this moment.
Indeed, it’s not that simple, but it can be learned and mastered.
Your main enemy here will be, as you guessed it, the lack of light.
Let’s now see together how to make a success of your night shots, by evoking the adjustments, the choice of the material and some advices as a bonus.
The constraints of lack of light
As mentioned above, the main concern of night photography is therefore the lack of brightness.
You’re going to tell me, normal, it’s night! Let’s see how we can compensate it by playing on the three parameters that make up the exposure in a photo.
You slow down the shutter speed as much as possible: you’ll be limited by hand quite quickly,
You open the diaphragm of your lens: this is equivalent to placing your aperture towards a small number “f/”.
You are limited here by the maximum aperture of your lens,
You increase the ISO sensitivity: by increasing the ISOs, you let more light into your sensor and you can take faster.
You are limited by the maximum ISOs of your camera body.
As a reminder, the more you increase the ISOs, the more noise you have on your photo (quality that deteriorates).
Here are the 3 points to compensate for the lack of light.
Each of these choices will impact your photo in a more or less strong way, for example the appearance of noise (for the ISO), the decrease of the depth of field (for the aperture), or a blurred photo (for the speed).
But there is a magical tool that could help you make one of the above choices: the tripod!
If I speak to you in Chinese and you do not yet master all the technical terms related to the exhibition in particular, I refer you to the theme on the basics of photography.
Remember that the 3 elements that make up the photo exhibition are intimately linked and that moving one parameter necessarily impacts another one next to it.
The ideal settings for night photography (and their impacts)
Now let’s look at the settings for the night shot and the impact they have on your picture.
The items listed below apply primarily if you do not have a tripod.
Of course, with a tripod, you can do whatever you want in terms of settings…
Your ultimate goal (without a tripod) is then for night photography to obtain a clear picture (sufficient shutter speed), without noise (ISO at the lowest setting) and with the desired depth of field (point related to the chosen aperture).
SPOILER: in 90% of the cases, it’s impossible without a tripod 😀
If you run out of light, the first thing you’ll have to do is open the iris of your lens (to make it as simple as possible to put a “f/” as small as possible).
As a reminder, opening from f/5.6 to f/4 brings twice as much light to your sensor.
Concretely, you will be able to shoot twice as fast as before (the camera compensates for the excess of light by simply taking faster if you are in semi-automatic mode for example).
Do you see what I’m getting at? If you go down to f/2.8 again, you’ve doubled again, etc.
night bridge photo
architectural night photo
Examples of classic night photos: an illuminated bridge and an architectural photo
1 – You will be very quickly limited by the maximum aperture of your lens.
If you are a beginner and you have a low range lens, this will be for example f/4 or f/5.6,
2 – Decreasing the aperture will lead to a decrease in the depth of field.
Concretely, your scene will be less sharp everywhere (depending on where you focus).
The shutter speed
The problem with shooting speed is motion blur.
Indeed, you won’t be able to get a sharp freehand picture below a certain speed (depends on your stability and focal length).
Using a lens with a stabilizer may allow you to gain a bit in speed but let’s say that above 1/10 or 1/15th, your pictures will be blurry anyway and you will have no choice but to use a tripod.
Small aside and to keep in mind the relationship between the focal length (in mm) and the speed limit of shooting, we advise, at the very least, the equivalent between the two.
Let me explain.
With a 300mm telephoto lens, it would be advisable to shoot at 1/300th for example.
With a 11-18mm wide angle lens, it will be possible to take a sharp picture up to 1/20th for example.
The longer you have a long focal length, the more speed you will need.
I let you imagine that you photograph animals at night or almost at night with a 600mm for example…
The last point of the exposure triangle, it is the parameter that can save our lives in some cases.
All the parameters being linked, if you have opened your aperture to the maximum (“f/” at the lowest) and your DSLR still displays a too slow speed, you will be able to compensate by increasing the ISO.
Going from ISO 400 to IS0 800 will allow you to gain 1 notch of speed, that is to say to take twice as fast.
The disadvantage of this technique is of course the appearance of digital noise in the dark/black areas of the scene.
Your photo will degrade enormously so be careful to find the right balance.
iso and night shot
Special attention must be paid to ISOs during night shots.
How do I do it then?
Let’s take a simple example: you’re in town at night, you’ve opened your aperture to the maximum of your lens, say f/2.8, the camera displays 1/4s, which you can’t do by hand.
You are already at IS0 1600 which is the maximum limit of your camera body.
What happens then in this case? Well, you’re stuck and all your pictures may simply be blurred.
Not to mention the fact that shooting at f/2.8 will probably make part of your scene blurry, which is not what you wanted in the first place.
You now have no other option than to shoot using a photo tripod.
Your only possibility would be to have more suitable equipment, more about that below.
It can happen that in night photography, the white balance (basic automatic on your camera) can play tricks on you.
If you take pictures in RAW, this is not a problem, because you can adjust it in post-processing.
Otherwise, do not hesitate to make several tries to find the correct value of the moment.
If you don’t master yet the notions of focus and autofocus, I let you read again the dedicated article in the basics of photography.
Depending on the quality of the collimators of your camera, it is possible that depending on the situation, you may not be able to focus in automatic on your subject in the dark.
In any case, remember to always manually select your collimator (and not let the camera do it).
I often advise to use the center focuser of your camera body which is often the best and the one that catches the subject the best.
If you still can’t do it, don’t hesitate to switch to manual focus mode and focus yourself by turning the dedicated ring.
What equipment should I choose for night photography?
As explained above, photographic equipment is important for night photography.
Whether you take your photo freehand or with a tripod, the idea is the same.
The only thing that changes is that if you shoot on a tripod, you have less to worry about your equipment.
Why is that? Simply because, on a tripod, you can make the settings you want and often the optimal settings: ISO at the lowest setting, chosen aperture (f/11 for example to make the whole scene sharp) and speed adapted to the other two parameters.
Even if the camera shows you a 5-second picture, you can still take it on a tripod.
All this is impossible without it.
For freehand photography, I can see two things to clarify:
- The camera body: the more you have a camera body with a higher ISO, the faster you will be able to take a picture (even if noise will appear as you go along).
On my 6D, I can easily shoot IS0 6000 pictures, the quality remains correct.
At the time, with my 500D, I was stuck at ISO 1600 and I couldn’t take sharp pictures in the middle of the jungle in Sumatra…
Ideally, choose a housing with a high number of collimators and good qualities.
This will be really useful for hanging a subject in the dark where the contrast of the scene is not often there.
Of course, needless to say that the more collimators you have and the more you choose a camera that goes up in ISO, the more expensive it is.
Let’s take a detailed look at three examples of perfect night photography equipment:
- the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (large maximum aperture), the Canon 5D Mark IV (top ISO) and the excellent Canon 85mm f/1.8 (perfect for quick shooting).
- tokina landscape photo lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO DX-II: my first wide angle in APS-C, a fabulous lens!
- choose a top-of-the-range SLR Canon 5D Mark IV: a fabulous case that handles ISOs perfectly manage its iso’s with a bright photo lens
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: a perfect lens in APS-C for cheap portraiture!
- Your lenses: freehand, the ideal will be to have bright and stabilized lenses to put all the chances on your side.
Some of them are out of price, but you can find little gems like the Canon 50mm F/1.8 or the 85mm f/1.8 at quite affordable prices!
The larger your lenses will have a maximum aperture (I repeat: a small “f/”), the more you will be able to let light into your camera and take the picture faster (limit the motion blur).
Among the essential photo accessories for night photography, we can quote :
- The photo tripod: the choice is not simple and it will be necessary to adapt your purchase to your practice and the weight of your current or future photo equipment.
You can refer to my article on the subject in the basics.
Here are a few good references to start with.
- A remote control: it comes with the tripod and remains ideal to limit the movements when you press the shutter release.
In the worst case, you can use the self-timer on your camera.
It will also be indispensable for long night exposures.
I personally use this one.
- Extra batteries: if you are a fan of long exposures or if you photograph in the cold, having at least one spare battery is always recommended.
Some more tips for successful night shots
In bulk to finish, here are some recommendations and techniques to keep in a corner of his head to improve your night photos.
Taking advantage of the blue hour
It’s that moment of the day just between day and night, that time of the day so loved by some photographers.
A very special atmosphere often emerges from the photos taken during this short period of time.
You can refer to specialized photo sites to know when is the blue hour of the day depending on where you are.
Playing with lights in the city
In the countryside without lights, you won’t have fun at night, but in the city, there’s really something to do with all the lights present.
Whether it is the lights of cars, buildings, storefronts, fountains, you have all the subjects or almost all to please you! Make by originality! Holiday periods are ideal for lights of course.
Thinking about reflections in the water
Often in the city, you also have quite a few small bodies of water.
I’m thinking particularly of parks, green gardens, that sort of thing.
You can very often have fun and play with the reflections in the water, for example at blue time or with lights that are reflected in the surroundings.
Doing long poses
If you master the long daytime pose, why not try this technique at night.
It’s a perfect time to let your imagination run wild.
In the city, you have some great things to do with night rides, passing cars or fountains.
Tripod mandatory, no choice here.
Mastering the bokeh with a wide opening
For fans of shallow depth of field (understanding how to highlight a subject by blurring the front or background), night is a great playground.
You’ll be able to put details of the scenes in front of you and get, for example, beautiful bokehs with blurred lights in the background.
It’s really the occasion to make beautiful dark pictures with these famous colored circles in the background.
In Christmas time, you have something to enjoy.
Technical advices: open at full speed (your smallest “f/”), pay attention to your speed if you are freehanded (even if you have to raise the ISOs) and take care of your compositions to emphasize the subject.
Raw shooter for post-processing
Last technical advice.
I often talk about it in my articles, but being able to shoot in RAW allows you to make up for your shooting mistakes a little better.
For example, if you under-exposed your photo too much, it will be much harder to recover it in JPEG (which is already a treatment in itself).
I wrote a complete article on the difference between RAW and JPEG, it’s a gift!
The night photographer’s guide: this is what you need to know to take pictures at night
Night photography is perhaps one of the most spectacular photographic disciplines.
Also, on the other hand, it is perhaps one of the disciplines that most distorts reality, in some of its variants, since it offers us to capture scenes that the human eye is unable to appreciate.
I am talking about capturing the Milky Way in all its splendour (which is not easy to do with the naked eye), to manage to see traces of stars or even to create the unreal circumpolar ones, to achieve “Martian” landscapes in an earthly atmosphere.
This is the beauty of photography.
Used with criteria, it allows us to alter reality and create worlds, create stories, create beauty.
The basic equipment
Your two best friends, in addition to a camera with BULB mode (long exposure mode), for night photography will be your tripod and a cable release or remote shutter.
As for the first one, we have to realize that the amount of light is reduced.
This means that we need stability.
We recommend a tripod with a certain weight and to be able to put a counterweight on it to eliminate or minimize any possibility of movement.
Your two best friends will be the tripod and a cable release or remote trigger
Also when shooting directly, pressing the shutter may cause vibrations.
To minimize these, in addition to using the mirror lift option (if using an SLR) you can use a cable release.
Remote IR triggers sometimes give problems with bulb mode and only allow controlled exposures up to 30 seconds, so you should consult your IR trigger manual.
This never happens with the cable.
One click to shoot, lock the button and wait for the set time.
Another click and you’re done.
The cable should be of the intervalometer type (with an LCD display), with a stopwatch to keep track of the time.
When the programmed time is reached, the second click will be automatic and the intervalometer button will unlock the camera shutter.
You can manage with a simple one without display or other options and control the exposure time with your watch or mobile phone.
In addition to this, once you advance in night photography you will find the following elements useful:
- A head torch: the kind you put on your head.
Something very necessary when walking at night.
This way we will see where we are stepping.
Those with a red light are also recommended.
The reason is that you can leave that light on while you talk to your colleagues
- Mountain boots: recommended for walking well and getting into certain places, especially when we are in the countryside.
Flashes, lanterns and gels: According to taste and depending on the type of lighting we do.
Some night photographs of landscapes do not usually have artificial lighting, but in the case of wanting to illuminate nearby objects it is surely necessary to use some of these elements.
- Rechargeable batteries: Many, many and well charged.
It is not unusual to be in the middle of nowhere and run out of batteries.
Also remember that with the cold, especially in winter, [batteries last less]
Within the basic equipment, in addition to the above elements and our camera, we must take into account some mobile applications (there are many) that are essential to schedule our outings and work in night photography.
From those that offer us the information about the sunrise and its position, the phases of the moon or those that help us to calculate the hyperfocal.
When we are going to do night photography, one recommendation is that we never go alone
Although not part of the team, if we are going to do night photography, one recommendation is that we never go alone.
Especially if it is in the country (also in the city, to avoid, in that case, possible thefts).
You have to take into account that in the middle of the countryside there is usually little or no mobile coverage and if something happens to you it is always better to minimize the possibilities and have a partner who can help you or alert the emergency services.
Eight economical reflex cameras to start this summer in photography
Twilight (and not the film) is the interval before sunrise or after sunset, during which the sky is dimly lit, softly lit, and where the colors of the sky move away from the usual blue of the day, which in photographic terms is truly a treasure to be discovered.
This twilight phenomenon occurs when the upper layers of the atmosphere are illuminated in a much less perpendicular way.
We collect details:
- When does it happen? At dawn, at dusk, or in the so-called “blue hour”
- Use of closed diaphragms: f8, f11 to f22 or f32 (remember that at the f22 or f32 ends the lenses tend to be quite poor)
- By using very closed openings, we obtain photographs with great depth of field.
- Where virtually the entire scene is in focus.
- If the exposure time is very short, a tripod is not usually necessary, but as in almost all landscape photography, it is advisable to use it to minimize the possible trepidation.
- Use of neutral density filters: full, gradient and inverse gradient.
The exposure time varies greatly depending on the light, as the atmosphere can change in a few seconds.
- The lowest possible ISO of the camera is usually used (100 or 200).
- For the above reason, noise problems do not usually occur.
- Urban photography at night
Yeah, nighttime city photos.
But at night everything changes, there are less people and in many places there are special lighting to make certain monuments or buildings more attractive at night.
- When? From dusk, all night and dawn.
Use of closed diaphragms too: usually between f8 and f16, the latter being a good starting point.
By using very closed apertures, we obtain photographs with great depth of field.
- Where practically the whole scene is in focus.
- Long exposure times (between 1″ and 30″, is the usual).
- Use of neutral density filters to achieve longer exposure times.It is usually easy to focus with the autofocus.
- The lowest possible ISO of the camera is usually used (100 or 200) although in many occasions we can use high ISOs to get certain details of the scene to stand out.
- The noise level is moderate.
To achieve the highest possible sharpness in our photographs, we must adjust the focus very well, which will not be as complicated as when we take night photographs in the countryside, since the illumination of the urban landscape may even be enough for the autofocus to work properly.
If this is not possible, the best thing to do is to focus by hand or use the hyperfocus, which we will see later.
If you don’t have much practice in this area, don’t worry, take a manual focus shot, check the focus and if it’s not right, try again.
Photographing a monument is a good situation to practice manual focusing.
In general we encounter three types of situations:
The blue hour is no more than the hour before sunrise and before sunset (these time intervals are approximate) producing an intense blue in the sky.
This light has certain particularities.
For example, during these periods of time, natural light is very diffused, which results in a high quality of scene illumination.
On the other hand, the situation of the sun in relation to the horizon causes a curious physical phenomenon, so that spectacular sunrises or sunsets full of warm colours are produced.
In addition to photographing landscapes in such suggestive light, shooting during these periods is highly appropriate for cityscapes for one simple reason.
Cities are then illuminated by artificial light from street lamps, buildings, advertising posters, etc., which mixes natural and artificial light, allowing you to capture simultaneously illuminated skies and urban buildings.
Moderate light pollution
Playing with the color temperature allows us to modify the tones of the photograph.
We can enhance the oranges by raising the color temperature with the preset cloudy setting, which will use a color temperature between 6,000 and 7,000 kelvin degrees, depending on the camera model.
If we want bluer tones, we will use the tungsten preset, which is 3,200 degrees Kelvin.
Remember that if you work in RAW, you can easily change the temperature in the processing.
Excess light pollution
Think of a scene in the middle of your cities.
Even though it is a closed night, you will be faced with an immense legion of lights from street lamps of all kinds, illuminated signs or even window lights.
On these occasions, as we must always do before, taking into account the scene and the photo we want to take, we know that it will be difficult to compensate for so much light pollution.
We can choose to switch the photograph to black and white, obtaining high contrast night shots.
But what if there was no light pollution? Well, in Xataka Foto they explain it to us.
Long exposure night photography
The first thing we need is to learn how to make a correct measurement.
There are quite a few ways to do this.
Normally if we are in the country, away from the city and with low levels of light pollution we tend to expose, as a general rule, for the sky.
That is, we will try to achieve a correct exposure of the sky depending on whether we want more or less wakes or we want to show the Milky Way, using high ISOs.
- Slightly more open diaphragms are often used to capture more light (from f/2.8 to f/8) and it is a good starting point for many people to use f/5.6.
- More angular focal lengths are often used to show scenes more broadly (10 to 16mm) but it is not uncommon to use larger focal lengths such as 50mm.
- In this case, because it is a closed night, much longer exposure times are used. We are talking about from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on what we are looking for. This is so except in some cases where the moonlight can drastically reduce the exposure time, especially in summer.
- Composing is difficult. That’s why I recommend using the highest possible ISO and shooting a picture of several seconds to see the composition on the screen.Reset the camera and tripod.
- Repeat shooting as many times as necessary until a satisfactory composition is achieved.
- The lowest possible ISO (usually 100) is generally used to minimize shooting noise. This, however, increases the exposure time, which also causes noise.
- Normally, a balance must be found between the exposure time (which provides the movement of clouds and stars) and the ISO (which the higher the ISO, the more noise it generates). In-camera noise reduction works by taking a second picture with the shutter closed and subtracting the so-called hot pixels from the first exposure. This second picture takes as long as the first one to be exposed, doubling the time we need to take a picture. If you take a five-minute photo, the camera will not finish until after 10 minutes, and if you take a one-hour photo, you have another hour of the camera applying noise reduction.
- Noise increases exponentially as we use higher sensitivity values, especially when we go beyond the camera’s native sensor modes and enter forced values. The noise generated by the digital sensors is not always the same, as it is actually nothing more or less than that, electronic noise, interference. It seems logical then to think that if I repeat the shot, I’ll get the same picture (as long as it’s not a static scene, of course) but with a random and different noise each time, although similar in quantity and type, but not exactly the same.
- We haven’t commented it before in the previous cases, but it’s mandatory to shoot in RAW, because of the advantages that this format offers in matters, specially, of post processing.
- Although the most usual is ISO 100, we can work with almost any camera up to ISO 1600, nowadays. In fact, to be able to take out the milk route we will have to use ISO 1600 or higher.
Measurement is the step that requires the most calculations and we have to be focused to save time and not have too many wrong tests.
In the parameters that determine the measurement, we will keep in mind the following aspects:
- ISO sensitivity: the lower the sensitivity, the less noise the photograph will have. The recommendation is to work at 100 ISO, but if your camera has a low noise signal and you are in a bit of a hurry, you can raise the sensitivity.
- Diaphragm: the more open, the shorter the exposure time and also the more stars will appear in the photograph.
- Shutter: we will almost always work in the BULB position to be able to make long exposures.
The exposure time will determine if we have the stars as lines or as points.
If we want to have the stars as points, we must apply the following formula to obtain the maximum exposure time: we will divide 500 by the focal length we are working with, but in the Full Frame scale.
If we have a camera with an APS-C sensor and we work with the 18-55mm zoom in the most angular position, which is 18mm, we will multiply 18 by 1.5 (18×1.5=27) to have the focal length in Full Frame and divide 500 by this amount.
The maximum shutter time for not having the stars moving, taking the picture with focal length 18mm, is 500/27=18.5 seconds.
For Full Frame it will be the same but without the multiplication.
Once we know how the metering parameters affect our photography, a starting point, when we have moonlight illuminated the elements of our picture, is to do a test with ISO 100, f/4 aperture and 500 second exposure time.
But in order not to stay forever to see if we have been right, the best thing is to apply the law of reciprocity: we will raise the ISO to the maximum that our camera gives (for the example I will use 3200 ISO) and we will reduce the time as many steps as the ISO steps we have raised.
From 100 ISO to 3200 ISO we have: 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 ISO which are 5 steps.
Now we reduce the time by five steps, starting at 500 seconds: 500, 250, 125, 60, 30 and 15 seconds.
Our test measurement is at 3200 ISO, f/4 aperture and 15 second exposure time, which allows us to see the results quickly and make the adjustments we are interested in.
Once done, let’s not forget to go down to 100 ISO and do the process in reverse to have the correct exposure time.
Everyone must learn to find their light in the dark, as we see here:
In addition to star trails, movement in the clouds or showing the Milky Way, in long exposure night photography we can find circumpolars.
A technique that allows, by means of several captures from the same position and with the same duration, to capture the circular movement of the stars in relation to the Polar Bear, that, as we know, points to the North.
The hyperfocal is your friend, discover it
When you are new to photography and especially if you like landscape photography, one of the biggest mistakes is to forget about the aperture (or even leave the automatic mode), focus on infinity and shoot.
Come on, we focus on that mountain or tree we see far away.
So, normally, what is in the foreground is a little more out of focus while the background is clear.
Well, this may look good in some pictures, but when you start to understand the composition and how to balance it, you usually realize that maybe the foreground should have the same degree of detail (sharpness) as the background.
This usually happens because we think, wrongly, that in landscapes we only look at the infinite, at the horizon, at the background, in short.
So how can we define hyperfocal distance?
The hyperfocal distance is the minimum distance at which I must focus with my camera under certain conditions of focal length and aperture of the diaphragm so that the reasonably clear area behind the point of focus reaches infinity.
So we have three variables: camera, focal length and aperture.
To know the formula, it is this: Hyperfocal distance = focal²/(circle of confusion x F number).
It should also be noted that the circle of confusion varies according to the size of the sensor (full frame, APS or CSC for example).
From the formula, it quickly becomes clear that wide-angle lenses “have” a lot of depth of field, right? because the lower the dividend of that formula, the lower the ratio of it.
Hyperfocals table for 35 mm and APS-C
|20 MM||1,66 m||1,21 m||0,83 m||0,60 m|
|24 MM||2,40 m||1,74 m||1,20 m||0,87 m|
|35 MM||5,10 m||3,71 m||2,55 m||1,85 m|
|50 MM||10,41 m||7,57 m||5,20 m||3,78 m|
|70 MM||20,41 m||14,84 m||10,20 m||7,42 m|
|100 MM||41,66 m||30,30 m||20,83 m||15,15 m|
|135 MM||75,93 m||55,22 m||37,96 m||27,61 m|
|15 MM||1,40 m||1,02 m||0,70 m||0,51 m|
|20 MM||2,50 m||1,81 m||1,25 m||0,90 m|
|24 MM||3,60 m||2,61 m||1,80 m||1,30 m|
|35 MM||7,65 m||5,56 m||3,82 m||2,78 m|
|50 MM||15,62 m||11,36 m||7,81 m||5,68 m|
|70 MM||30,62 m||22,27 m||15,31 m||11,13 m|
But if you don’t want to go crazy with math to calculate the depth of field, we can use some tools, such as DOF Calculator, where I get a hyperfocal distance of 0.635m.
More precisely: from half of 0.635m of my camera when taking the picture will be in perfect focus.
Or use another application for Android made by Ivan Sanchez “Fusky”, a well known photographer specialized in night shots: Hyperfocus.
If you use iOS you can use SetMyCamera.
This is very useful, in night photography or in low light conditions.
We focus at hyperfocal distance and we can leave our focus on manual and forget about the autofocus for the rest of the night.
One note, depth of field is not an “absolute value”.
It also has to do with the output bracket of the photograph and the distance from which it will be seen.
It is not the same to see the photograph from the monitor, on the camera screen, as on a wall at 20x25cm or at a size of 100x150cm.
The feeling of sharpness will be different in each case.
Lighpainting means “painting with light”. Etymologically it is practically the same as the word photography.
It consists of drawing with a light source different shapes during a long exposure photograph.
The history of Lightpainting dates back to 1914 when Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth first used small lights to follow the movement of their company’s manufacturing process in a long exposure photograph.
Their intention was not to produce the photographs as an artistic activity, but to study the possibility of simplifying the work done in their company, yet they produced what is known to us today as the first photograph in which the scene was painted with light.
The impressive thing about this technique is that we can use any type of lighting and employ a variety of colors to obtain different results
Later, in 1935, Man Ray was the first artist to explore the technique of light painting.
His greatest contribution to this discipline came in his series of photographs: “The Writing Space”.
Man Ray opened the shutter of his camera and used a small flashlight to create a series of swirls and lines in the air.
What is impressive about this technique is that we can use any type of lighting and employ a variety of colors to get different results.
The white balance doesn’t matter much anymore.
It’s all about creativity.
We recommend lightpainting with LED flashlights with different color gels, because they create thinner and more precise lines than any other type of flashlight (e.g.
But any light source is fine.
They are also widely used: steel wool to create “light sparks” type effects or the light thread.
Of ruins, composition and the rest of concepts
There is a theme that is quite recurrent in night photography: ruins.
Those of us who like night photography love to photograph ruins.
If the long exposure generates in the viewer the idea of movement and the passage of time, in the case of ruins this second effect also occurs.
There are many online resources for this, such as: The uninhabited villages, an interesting blog on this topic.
Perhaps within our national panorama, one of the most interesting is the village of Belchite, in Zaragoza, totally abandoned and destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, to which the following image belongs.
Therefore, we usually look for locations such as abandoned hermitages, disused factories, abandoned mills, dry trees in the middle of the field and any other elements that suggest the passage of time.
Calculate the time of exposure
There are many ways to calculate exposure time for night photography.
It depends in each case on what we want to achieve.
One of the simplest ways for correct exposure of the night sky is as follows:
We want to use ISO 100 and f/5.6, for example.
We shoot a picture at ISO 3200 (normally we won’t go over 30″), a bit by eye and “trusting” the camera’s exposure meter.
We look at the histogram and see if we’ve gone too far or fallen short.
If it’s underexposed we go up to ISO 6400 and try 30″ again.
However, for this example, let’s imagine that it is correctly exposed to ISO 3200.
If we want to shoot at that ISO 100, without changing the aperture, we have to multiply the exposure time by 2 every time we go down a step.
So at ISO 1600 it would be 1 minute, at ISO 800 it would be 2 minutes, at ISO 400 it would be 4 minutes, at ISO 200 it would be 8 minutes and finally at ISO 100 it would be 16 minutes of exposure.
Note that the longer the exposure time, the hotter the sensor may become.
Some older cameras are not very well suited for this.
And the king of night photography is…
In general, the calculation of exposure time is the same for all types of long exposure photography so I recommend you read the Long Exposure Photography Guide.
Post Processing Night Shots
We could be talking about it for hours here.
In addition to compensating for lighting or eliminating dominance.
I recommend the following trick.
As you have seen, in long exposure night photography (the one with more followers), it is very common to illuminate using flashlights or flashes.
Sometimes, when doing night photography we find a very typical problem: given a certain exposure time we are not able to illuminate or paint the scene in that time.
Usually because the scene is too big.
Even though we have our army of flashes and/or flashlights well prepared, we do not have time to illuminate everything in one shot.
Well, let’s do it in parts.
Suppose we have 4 minutes for a proper exposure of the sky.
We can quietly light the bottom part to make a perfectly lit path.
Then in a second take illuminate another area.
In a third, the rest.
In short, as many times as we need.
We are lighting what gives us time.
it is not easy.
But night photography is a lot of fun and offers many variations.
We hope that this guide will make you feel like getting started in this exciting discipline.
And remember, if it is in the company of someone much better, safer and you will have a better time.
Night photography (landscape, architecture, portrait, etc.)
Without light, no photo.
Intuitively, once the sun goes down, one would be tempted to think that you should put the camera away and go about your business.
Except that the city lights have a particular charm that we sometimes want to photograph, especially during the holiday season when bright decorations start to embellish our cities (and add light pollution :P).
All the more so in winter, the days are short.
So let’s see together how to get out of a situation that may seem difficult at first glance.
At night, the main constraint is obviously the lack of light.
Yes, I’m pushing open doors, but it is always important to ask oneself the question of constraints to face a photographic situation.
- How can we compensate for this lack of light? If you remember the articles on the exhibition, there are 3 simple ways to do this:
- Increase the aperture (which is limited by the maximum aperture of your lens)…
Slow down the shutter speed (which is limited by your stability and the presence or absence of a tripod)
- Increase ISO sensitivity (which is limited by the capabilities of your camera, which produces less and less clean images as ISOs are increased)
The tricks for night photography will therefore mainly consist of maximizing these three parameters while obtaining a satisfactory result (desired depth of field, sharp photo, not too noisy).
The equipment and accessories for night photography
To increase the aperture, it will be preferable to work with very bright lenses, which therefore have a large maximum aperture.
It is often fixed focal lengths such as the famous 50mm f/1.8, which will allow to use a very important aperture and thus to maximize the quantity of light entering the camera.
This is why interchangeable lens cameras such as reflex and hybrid cameras are the most suitable.
That said, this is not impossible with compacts and bridges, as long as you play on the increase in exposure time (more on this later).
Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, a wide-aperture lens ideal for night photography
To decrease the shutter speed, care must be taken not to create motion blur.
From a certain speed, you will not be able to shoot without stabilizing your camera properly.
For reasonable shutter speeds (like 1/15th), a stabilized lens will help you a lot, especially if you make the effort to be stable yourself.
For slower speeds, it is absolutely necessary to get a tripod.
You can eventually put your camera on what you want (wall, statue, bench, cat, CRS bus, …), but it will not always allow you to frame as you want.
In short, buy yourself a tripod.
Finally, to increase the ISO while keeping a clean result, know that in general and to simplify, the bigger the sensor and the newer the camera, the more effective the noise reduction at high sensitivity will be.
Thus, a SLR from last year will be more efficient than a compact camera from 3 years ago, obviously.
That said, since noise tends to be concentrated in dark areas (like dark skies), take it easy on the increase in sensitivity, or you’ll end up with a sky full of ugly little colored stars.
In any case, treat the noise in RAW post-processing
That’s what digital noise looks like (before you’ve processed it in software). Not great, huh ?
I’m not talking about the flash, because it’s going to ruin the whole nightlife of the cities you’re trying to transcribe.
And no, it won’t light up the 20m high building in front of you, even if you turn it on.
However, it can be useful if you want to make portraits at night.
In this case, choose a remote flash, or if you use the built-in flash, release it AND lower its power.
Best Settings for night photography
Take a night handheld photo
First, push the ISO sensitivity to the maximum acceptable for your camera (if you don’t know what “maximum acceptable” is, read this article on automatic ISO sensitivity).
Believe me, you’ll need it if you shoot freehand.
If you use a tripod, leave it at ISO 100.
Then, there are several solutions:
- You switch to aperture priority mode:
- Open fully or almost fully (don’t hesitate to close the diaphragm a bit if you’re wide in terms of shutter speed)
- Make sure that the shutter speed chosen by your camera is sufficient to get a sharp freehand shot. Remember the minimum shutter speed rule = 1/ (focal length x 1.5).
- If it isn’t, and even if it is, use exposure compensation to underexpose the image: your camera will often tend to look for detail in shadows. Underexposing by 1 or 2 stops is the equivalent of saying “it’s normal that it’s dark, don’t panic”.
- You switch to speed priority mode :
- Choose the minimum speed you need to avoid motion blur.
- Let the camera open the diaphragm any way it wants.
- Here too, I strongly recommend using exposure correction.
- Use the manual mode and make your own settings.
Taking a night picture on a tripod
If you’re shooting on a tripod:
- choose aperture priority
- set to have the depth of field you want
then let the camera choose the shutter speed, possibly using exposure compensation.
- Don’t forget to turn off stabilization and use the mirror lock and remote control, as in any long exposure.
If you want more details on the complete method for this, I wrote a complete article on long exposure.
Tips for landscape, architecture, etc.
night photo blue hour landscape
Night photography is a very diverse discipline: it can include cityscapes, architecture, life scenes, portraits, etc…
The advice of these disciplines therefore applies to it just as much, even if it is limited by constraints.
Having said that, here are some tips in bulk that can be useful to you to improve your night photos :
- Shoot during the “blue hour”. This is actually the moment after golden hours, when the sun is really down but the sky is still a royal blue for a few dozen minutes (see photo on the right). Having a sky of this color is much more aesthetic than a black sky, and provides a complementary color to the orange-yellow of the night lights.
- Water is your friend. Especially in long exposure, reflections in the water are extremely aesthetic.
- If you have trouble focusing, switch to LiveView and focus naturally by enlarging the image.
- Recharge your batteries well, as long exposures wear them out more quickly
Night photography is a vast subject.
It would be unfair to reduce this photographic field to its simplest expression.
It would be equally inconceivable to give you the keys to all the themes that make up night photography in this article of a few hundred words.
Night photography or “photography in very low light” is among others astrophotography, light painting, night portrait, urban night photography, fireworks, thunderstorms and lightning…
Admit that it represents a beautiful diversity of possibilities and techniques!
This article will address the precepts common to all these themes.
It is essential to assimilate them to embark on the adventure of night photography.
This article will also distill clever practices that will simplify this photographic genre.
THE MAIN CONSTRAINTS OF NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
Knowing the constraints allows you to better overcome them.
In low light, we are all confronted with :
- The problem of stability.
- It is at this stage that motion blur makes its entrance.
The problem of noise.
- This problem happens when we start to increase the sensitivity (ISO) of our cameras.
Unfortunately, not all cameras are equal in this noise management.
To the focusing problem.
No or little light makes the autofocus of our cameras inoperative.
In the best of all worlds it would be enough to have a tripod permanently, to have a camera that can handle very high sensitivities without degrading the details and the rendering of the image, and finally that your camera can see at night (like in the middle of the day!).
As it is unfortunately not the case (well in my world 😁) we will detail what it is possible to do to get around these limitations by taking concrete cases.
The chapter dedicated to stability will clearly be the most detailed of all.
The search for the ideal exposure time is the N°1 challenge of night photography.
NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE CITY…AND WITHOUT A TRIPOD…
When using a tripod, it is easy to lower the exposure speed (if the subject allows it) and stability is no longer an issue.
By lowering your shutter speed, you will be able to let enough light on the sensor so that you don’t have to increase your ISO.
Your image quality will be maximum.
But when you don’t have a tripod where you consider the stress is too high, you have to use subterfuges.
The first logical reflex is to increase your isos to be able to increase your shutter speed and thus hope to avoid any blurred movement.
This is a good initiative, but be sure to stay within the acceptable limits of your equipment.
This technique will allow you to freeze moving subjects such as passers-by more easily.
However, this may not be enough.
To put all the chances on his side and gain stability I will add these few tips that are between tips and common sense rules:
- Learn how to hold your camera well it’s more important than you think and it’s far from being innate 🙂
- Block your breathing and relax your muscles
- Set your self-timer to 2 seconds, this will prevent vibration when pressing the release button.
- Help yourself from your environment by leaning against a wall for example.
Use low walls or other barriers as a tripod.
- Use a cord (fix a cord under your case and lock the other end of the cord under your foot.
- Put the cord under tension and enjoy better stability 😉)
- Set the shutter speed priority to make sure you maintain sufficient exposure speed to ensure a sharp image.
Another important detail: the shutter speed depends on your focal length.
The shorter your focal length, the shorter your exposure time can be without the risk of blurred images.
This detail is really important if you don’t have the means to stabilize your equipment.
This chapter is entitled “Without a tripod”, so don’t overlook the possibility of using a monopod, which is much more portable than its cousin the tripod.
ISO SENSITIVITY, NOISE AND NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
The mistake you should not make is not wanting to raise its sensitivity to ensure maximum detail in your image.
By adopting this attitude, you are taking a huge risk of blurring or significantly underexposing your image.
Be aware that a night photography image that is “underexposed when shot” will generate more degradation when increasing the exposure in post-processing.
This is normal because you are amplifying the signal.
It is comparable to a weak audio signal where you increase the volume of the audio signal to bring out all the noise.
The advice I can give you here is to agree to reasonably increase your sensitivity.
The input key to your image is, and will always remain, light.
Prefer a well exposed night picture as soon as you take the picture.
ISO and astrophotography
The beautiful images of nebulae or planets in the deep sky that you know are rarely the result of a single image.
There are equatorial mounts (which attach to a tripod) that follow the movement of the earth’s axis of rotation and allow for longer exposure time.
However, beyond a certain exposure time, noise becomes too present to guarantee good image quality.
The solution: multiply the number of shots over shorter exposure times.
The noise in each image will be better contained.
The disadvantage is that this only applies to a fixed subject.
The step of stitching the images in post-processing software is mandatory.
This operation is not insurmountable.
This technique, valid on the deep sky is also adaptable in night landscape photography.
I have just revealed here the secret of taking pictures of our lunar star and of a correctly exposed landscape 😎.
This technique should not be confused with bracketing which consists in multiplying the shots by varying the exposure.
FOCUSING IN NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
It’s no secret that when the light goes out, your autofocus is in the cabbage.
At least that’s the case with all cameras that have contrast detection autofocus.
To compensate for this inconvenience, you simply disable the autofocus on your camera body.
I think everyone knows the little button on the lens :).
To make it easier for you to focus in night photography, you’ll have to switch to Liveview or “screen mode”.
Turn the focus ring of your lens until the image of your liveview is sharp.
With this technique, I can assure you that you will have a precise focus, even in night photo!
With this technique the lucky owners of a hybrid camera will be at an advantage because they have a feature called Focus peaking.
This assistance provided by the camera consists in displaying on the screen the sharpness areas of your image in blue, yellow or red colour…
practical, isn’t it?
Night portrait focusing
Night portrait requires getting close to an artificial light source.
In the city, you will have a lot of choice without necessarily waiting for the Christmas season and its illuminations.
Your autofocus needs light to catch your subject.
For a better effect, remember to include background lights.
Combined with a large aperture, this will create beautiful circles of light.
In night portraiture, we are rarely on a tripod.
To avoid motion blur, I advise you to multiply your focal length by 2 and to switch your camera to speed priority mode, or even manual.
For example, with a focal length of 50 mm don’t go below 1/100 of a second.
And finally ask your model not to move too much!
SOME USEFUL TIPS FOR NIGHT PHOTOS
Your sun visor during the day becomes an indispensable dew shield at night.
For long exposures on cool nights, there is equipment that warms your lens by a few degrees.
Choose short focal lengths with a wide aperture.
This will give you more flexibility in exposure time.
Don’t forget to bring an extra battery.
Long exposures and low temperatures discharge batteries faster than you think.
Shoot your images in RAW format.
You’ll be better able to handle noise and correct fickle white balance.
While a large tripod can be a real constraint, carrying a small table tripod discreetly may be appropriate.
Night photography is a photographic art of patience.
No photographic discipline depends so much on the exposure time.
The compromise, relative to the exposure triangle is omnipresent.
I have deliberately not discussed here the characteristics related to the diaphragm, as the factors that can influence the choice of this one are numerous (subject, exposure time, focal length…).
It must be deduced that there is no miracle recipe!
Creative minds will find in night photography a magnificent playground, so many experiments and iterations are numerous.
Night photography brings together a variety of activities that call for different levels of technical skills.
Astrophotography gives night photography its letters of nobility because it imposes all the photographic constraints on the photographer: stability, noise management, focus and a moving subject.
I demystify this specific activity in another article.
Night photography may seem difficult for some of you to approach.
However, the techniques to be implemented to make a success of your night photos are simple to apply.
Lack of light should not be a problem, it is necessary to know how to adapt in all circumstances in photography.
Let’s see together how to take night pictures easily without worrying about how to
Compensating for the lack of light
In order to take good night pictures, you have to use the light wisely.
To do this, you have to play on three fundamental parameters.
The aperture of the diaphragm, which allows more or less light to pass through the lens to reach the sensor.
You will therefore have to use large openings if you want to take night handheld pictures.
The shutter speed, which lets the light pass through more or less quickly.
By lowering the exposure time, the amount of light received will be greater.
Sensitivity, on the other hand, will make the sensor more or less sensitive to light.
We will see in detail later in the article how you will need to use these settings to get night shots that are always successful.
Choose the right time to take night pictures
You may not have thought about it, but there’s a good time to take better night shots.
This ephemeral moment, when the light disappears, is called the blue hour.
This moment is also called, between dog and wolf, because they could easily be confused with this period of the night.
In order to enjoy this moment, you will have to wait until the sun has completely set to get a beautiful night-blue sky.
Then you will only have a few dozen minutes to take your pictures before it gets completely dark.
What equipment for night photography
As the light is less present in these moments, it will be necessary to find solutions to make a success of its night photos.
Firstly, if you intend to take pictures at night by hand, I strongly advise you to bring a bright lens.
Fixed focal lengths are the best examples, since they have a very large aperture, such as a 35mm f/1.8.
They have the advantage of bringing in much more light than lenses with sliding apertures.
As a result, we can work at faster shutter speeds.
Cameras with interchangeable lenses such as SLRs and hybrids are best suited for taking quality night-time photos from the comfort of your own home.
Compact cameras and other low-end bridges are restricted by the aperture for freehand photography.
In this case, the use of a photo tripod is strongly recommended to ensure a clear image with maximum quality.
However, some top-of-the-line models do very well with the stabilization.
Use wide-angle lenses to cover a large part of the image.
The longer focal lengths are rarely used but can sometimes be interesting depending on your creativity.
The photo below was taken with a focal length of 50mm.
With little light, stability is paramount.
The other parameter that increases the amount of light is the shutter speed, decreasing the exposure time.
Only thing is, at night, there’s not much light.
When photographing at night with your hands up, you must keep a fast enough speed to avoid blurred movement.
Remember that the shutter speed should be proportional to the focal length used to get a sharp picture.
For example, if you photograph with a 35mm lens, remember to be at least 1/30th of a second away.
It’s very theoretical, but it’s a good place to start.
Depending on your stability, lower your speed a notch, release and check sharpness.
The problem is different if your camera or lens has built-in stabilization.
Don’t hesitate to use it because it will make you gain several speeds! In these low-light conditions, the shutter speed can quickly drop and taking a night-time handheld shot can quickly blur your photos.
The goal is stability.
You need to find a stable place to put your camera to prevent it from moving during exposure.
In order to avoid this, I advise you to get a tripod.
It is the essential accessory for those who wish to take night photos in good conditions.
It’s also the ideal companion to low-end compacts and bridges to ensure crisp photos.
Be careful to disable the stabilizer if you use a tripod, it’s useless
Some useful accessories for night photography
I recommend that you have a remote control to take night shots, especially if you intend to do long exposures.
It prevents abrupt movement when the shutter-release button is pressed and increases the power to achieve sharper images.
Alternatively, you can use your camera’s self-timer to avoid creating vibrations when you release the shutter.
Also think about bringing an extra battery for your nighttime photo outings.
Indeed, when you take pictures with long enough exposure times, and especially when the nights are cool, they discharge much faster.
It’s a simple piece of advice, but we don’t always think about it! Be careful when using the flash.
In order to keep the atmosphere at night, it is to be proscribed.
There’s no need to flash at all! Except in the case of night portraiture or a specific use of complex lighting with multiple flashes to illuminate several areas of the landscape.
But that’s another subject I’m going to be will be developed in another article The right settings for taking night pictures To make your night photos a success, the settings you make must be in harmony to capture the night-time atmosphere you perceive.
They will be important for image rendering, movement and exposure.
First of all, I advise you to set the sensitivity to a reasonable value in terms of noise, in relation to the capabilities of your camera.
This is important to maintain maximum quality when working freehand.
You will increase the sensitivity only if the shutter speed is not fast enough to freeze the movement and the lens is already at its maximum aperture.
The question does not arise if you photograph at night with a tripod.
In this case, choose the lowest sensitivity of your camera to obtain a quality image; this will avoid the appearance of digital noise.
Now let’s look at the different modes to use for night shots.
The speed priority mode is the one that has control over the movement.
The first thing to do is to choose a safe speed if you want to take pictures at night with your hands up to avoid motion blur.
Don’t worry about the opening, it changes automatically.
Feel free to use the exposure control to underexpose or overexpose your images.
With a tripod, you have the freedom to choose the speed of your choice without worrying about the aperture.
Aperture priority mode allows you to control the depth of field.
I advise you to open the diaphragm as much as possible to let as much light in as possible if you are shooting at night with your hands up.
Watch your speed all the time; it has to be fast enough to freeze the movement, remember the relationship with the focal length mentioned earlier in the article.
Don’t hesitate to close the aperture if you have room for shutter speed.
Also think of using the exposure compensation to voluntarily underexpose your image in order to retranscribe the night atmosphere.
With a tripod, you can close the diaphragm without worrying about the speed.
I advise you to choose a value of diaphragm around f/8 or even f/11 to obtain a good rendering on your images, in terms of sharpness and depth of field, without exceeding f/16 to avoid the phenomenon of diffraction.
Finally choose to work in manual mode if you want to control all the parameters.
However, always make sure you get a well exposed image.
Give free rein to your creativity As for the metering mode to adopt; I recommend that you remain in matrix metering to calculate exposure, especially during long exposures.
If you want to expose a particular area, then choose spot metering.
Be careful with colours when shooting at night
When it comes to white balance, you should know that it is difficult to get a perfectly balanced white balance, given the various light sources you may encounter in the urban night landscape.
I therefore advise you to leave your camera on the automatic white balance which works well in most cases or to select the Tungsten mode.
10 tips to make your night photos a success
At night, everything changes.
When you start night photography, all the basic functions and rules must be adapted to this new environment.
There are many ways to capture the night or even use it as a creative accessory.
Here are some tips to help you master the dark.
1.Equip yourself properly
Night handheld photography is virtually impossible to achieve.
A good tripod is essential, as most night shots are long exposures.
A tripod is a rather bulky tool that you have to drag for hours, so choose the lightest model possible.
A fluid head to allow you to frame accurately.
A remote shutter release allows you to leave the camera untouched to activate shooting.
During an exposure lasting several minutes, the slightest vibration can ruin your image.
2. Light reacts “differently” to long exposures.
Although light is always complex to manage, this complexity is definitely noticeable at night.
The long exposure allows you to capture ambient light that you can’t see with the naked eye.
Your eye has an exceptional ability to adapt when confronted with darkness.
Exceptional, but still limited.
Your camera has no limits.
The scene will get brighter and brighter depending on the selected exposure time.
You can literally turn a night scene into a day scene.
You must therefore analyze each light source and expose according to the desired mood.
3. Urban landscape
Photographing the city at night is a major challenge.
You have to deal with many elements: street lights, buildings, billboards, cars, the moon, people, etc.
It’s all a matter of balancing ambient and artificial light.
The challenge is to balance these elements and decide which one to highlight.
Any moving light (often a car) will create a thread of light that will be as long as your exposure time.
The angle of view is also important if you want to see the thread of light left by the subject.
Each light source has a different intensity, so you need to expose your photo with a subject first and make a few exposures to find the perfect balance.
4. Night Landscape
Perhaps you prefer the country to the city? The opportunities for night photography are just as interesting there, no matter where you are.
Away from the city, light is scarce.
Exposure time is usually longer because the light is far away or practically absent.
The city’s light pollution or the brightness of the moon are often your only light sources.
Focusing can be difficult in total darkness.
A flashlight is a great tool to add to your bag.
By pointing your flashlight at the subject, it’s easier to focus more accurately.
Avoid overexposing your images, you’re photographing at night, it’s normal for the image to be dark.
5. Night Portrait
One facet of night photography that is sometimes forgotten is the portrait at night in ambient light.
The type of lighting that illuminates our streets at night is very varied.
Don’t hesitate to use a floor lamp or even a neon sign as the main light to create original portraits often with dramatic colour dominants.
6. Get into the habit of taking multiple exposures
The contrast level at night is much too high to get a balanced picture in a single exposure.
That’s why the exposure range is essential.
The difference in brightness between each light source appearing in your composition sometimes requires an exposure for each of them.
In this way, you can achieve the desired level of detail and density by combining images in post-production.
7. Take your pictures in RAW
Like any photo project that requires a lot of post-production work, take your images without compression.
This raw information is absolutely necessary to manipulate your images without loss of quality.
8. The LCD screen is very useful at night
Several cameras offer live exposure simulation on the LCD monitor.
This function is very effective in giving you an idea of the scene.
It is much more comfortable than the viewfinder which is sometimes difficult to reach depending on the camera position.
9. Using the flash at night
The combination of portable flash and ambient light is an advanced technique, but with spectacular results.
The flash can be used for portraiture or to detach an object from the scene being photographed.
For portraiture, keep in mind that you combine long exposure for ambiance with the flash for precise, controlled light on your subject.
To avoid blurred camera shake you should use the “second curtain release” function of your camera.
This function causes the flash to fire at the last moment of exposure for a sharp image.
As the name suggests, this function allows you to literally “paint” with light.
You can use this technique to illuminate a scene or draw “traces” with a light source for more abstract effects.
The technique is relatively simple.
Scan the scene with the light beam from your lamp as if you were painting.
Each sweep will add a layer of light so increase the brightness.
Conversely, for strokes of light your light source should appear directly in front of the camera.
What equipment for night photography?
SLR or Hybrid camera ?
To take pictures at night, you need a Reflex or Hybrid camera.
The idea is indeed to use a tool powerful and thin enough to capture the details of a scene in very low light conditions, without distorting the colors and the night atmosphere.
The idea is good to make night pictures without flash!
These cameras have the advantage of having interchangeable lenses, allowing you to use one or more high aperture capacity lenses suitable for night shooting.
But even more, the more recent your camera is, the more you can increase the ISO sensitivity, the risks of noise are indeed better and better controlled.
In any case, don’t abuse this setting at the risk of distorting your photos!
An adapted lens
To take successful night shots, your SLR or Hybrid should be equipped with a very bright lens, i.e.
one with a large aperture to capture maximum natural light.
Some fixed lenses allow you to use a large aperture: the 50mm f/1.8, the 35mm f/1.8 for example are perfect for capturing a maximum of light and to succeed in your night shots.
A camera with stabilizer and a tripod
Night photography also requires the use of suitable exposure times, i.e.
relatively long exposure times (slow shutter speed).
However, the longer the exposure time, the more likely you are to move and create blur in your image.
For this reason, it is best to use a stabilized lens.
For the slowest shutter speeds, you must place your camera on a flat, stable surface or better still on a tripod that you can adjust and position as you wish.
But also :
A few extras for successful night-time photography:
– A remote shutter release / remote control: this will allow you to trigger the shot from a distance and thus avoid any movement of the camera when you press the shutter release.
This accessory is especially useful if you take night photos with a long exposure time.
Alternatively, you can also use your camera’s self-timer.
– Battery backup: Taking pictures with a long exposure time will put a lot of strain on your camera’s battery.
Add to this the coolness of the night, and your charge level will be affected! So a piece of advice: recharge your battery well before going out at night and always carry a second one in your pocket.
Watch out for the Flash! The use of the flash would destroy the whole night atmosphere…
to be proscribed therefore!
Technical advices to make a success of your night photos
You will have understood it, to make a success of your night photos is to know how to juggle between the settings in order to find the right balance.
The idea is always to compensate for the lack of light, to make sure you capture the right amount of light to get the shot you want.
So how do you compensate for the lack of light? By setting the three basic parameters mentioned above: aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity.
You must act on these three settings by looking at :
Increase the aperture: the more open your aperture, the more light is captured.
You should therefore use large apertures to capture images at night.
Increase the exposure time, in other words slow down the shutter speed.
The longer the exposure time, i.e. the slower the shutter speed, the longer the light will have time to reach the sensor.
This parameter is limited by the stability you have, because the longer the exposure time, the more likely you are to move, and the tripod takes on its full value here.
Increase the ISO sensitivity.
This is more or less possible depending on your camera, some handle high sensitivity better than others.
By playing with these three parameters, you have to try to find the result you want: the right exposure, the right depth of field, sharpness, limited noise, etc.
You can start by increasing the ISO sensitivity.
Take pictures as you increase ISO to find the maximum acceptable for you (when does noise start to appear?).
Then you can use the semi-automatic or manual modes found on all SLR and Hybrid cameras:
– AV, open priority mode: you set the aperture of the diaphragm, your camera will adjust the speed accordingly.
Start with large apertures (small number!), and lower as you go along while testing.
– Tv, shutter priority mode: this time you set the shutter speed and your camera takes care of the aperture.
Start with the minimum shutter speed and test.
The objective is to find the ideal exposure time to bring in the right brightness, while avoiding blur (especially if you don’t have a tripod!).
– M, the manual mode: Here you have to set everything by yourself.
This mode is not recommended if you don’t fully master it.
It is often preferable to shoot in semi-automatic mode in order to keep a little concentration and imagination to succeed in composing your night photos!
Light painting and other tips for original night photos
Taking pictures at night will allow you to discover a new photographic universe where inspiration and creative possibilities are not lacking.
Here are a few tips and tricks for taking successful night photos.
What’s that? Light painting simply means painting with light, that’s all!
How’s it going?
At night, choose a very dark area.
Set the shutter speed to a long exposure time, more than 30 seconds, open the diaphragm accordingly, and put your camera on a tripod.
Then, place the frame, at the right distance, and provide yourself with a button of light: small led lamp, the torch of your mobile phone, or whatever you have to diffuse a continuous light.
You can also use coloured light sources.
This is where the remote control or self-timer comes into play: remotely trigger the photo, the 30-second timer, with the light in your hand pointing at the device acting as a pen, write or draw what you want as if a large imaginary picture was standing in front of you.
The light at the end of your movement is captured as if they were strokes of paint, it’s magical.
Be careful not to appear like a blurry ghost wandering between the luminous shapes, you must always be in movement!
Don’t hesitate to make big gestures so that the result is legible.
Finally, if your light is too strong, you will have to do the same exercise with your back to your camera.
The light will not be pointed directly at the lens and this will avoid “burning” your shot, i.e.
bringing in too much light and obtaining a picture that is too white.
And that’s it, it’s up to you!
Play with the lights of urban landscapes
The city offers many lights just waiting to be captured, it’s a real playground for any night photographer.
Learn how to spot them and play with them: ground lights, overhead lights, lights that shine through the branches of a tree, shop windows, flashing neon lights, the soft orange lights of old street lamps, the white, yellow or red streaks from car headlights, etc.
Photograph during the blue hour
Certain hours are more conducive to night photography.
The blue hour, for example, the one just after sunset, is ideal.
It still benefits from a very interesting natural luminosity, because before turning black, the sky turns a deep and intense blue for several tens of minutes.
Use water and reflections
At night, the reflections of the lights on the water are very aesthetic (street lamps, buildings, moon, etc.).
They will offer a beautiful palette of colours and bring a play of textures to your shot.
Make beautiful blurs
As previously explained, with a long exposure time, the risk is blur.
But this blur can also be very artistic! You can capture a moving vehicle for example, it will disappear in favor of a strange trail of light more or less blurred.
Use Black & White
Do not hesitate to take your night photos in black and white, you will intensify your pictures.
Indeed, an almost deserted urban scene captured at night in black and white can make you shiver as if it were escaping from an old polar fleece that is cold in the back…
Optimize your photos by developing them (post-processing)
Finally, whether it’s after a night or daytime photo shoot, don’t hesitate to develop your images.
Adjust your pictures by applying basic post-processing with your favorite photo editing software (see our article “Which photo editing software should I use?”).
The nights are longer these days, enjoy! Autumn and winter are ideal seasons to get into night photography, it’s up to you! And once you’ve taken some great night photos, don’t forget to have them printed with myposter! Discover all our products for this right now!
10 tips to make your night photos a success
Several times while walking around Paris at night to take pictures, I met people who were just as passionate about photography as I was.
On the other hand, many of them, seeing my photos on the back of my camera, were often surprised by the difference in brightness and color between their photos and mine.
It’s also by seeing the night photos that you can find on the different Internet networks, which are often too dark and with red colors, that I decided to make this photo tutorial.
As the beautiful days will come back quickly now, I offer you some tips to improve your night photos, whether in an urban or more natural environment.
Before the 10 tips
The best results will always be obtained if you use your camera in manual mode for ISOs, Aperture and Shutter speed.
You also need to set White Balance and sometimes even focus manually.
1. Choose your equipment carefully
First can all cameras take beautiful pictures at night?
In fact no, you need to own a top of the line reflex camera 😉 .
I’m kidding, of course.
Although both entry-level and high-end SLR cameras, as well as hybrid cameras, will get the best results, bridge-type cameras can also get very good results in night photography.
On the other hand, compact cameras or mobile phones or tablets are not really made for night photography.
What equipment is needed for night photography compared to daytime photography?
The first thing to succeed in night photography is to have a tripod.
There is something for every price depending on the camera you own, the use you want to make of it and also the budget you want to make of it.
I refer you to the article I wrote some time ago, for the criteria to take into account when choosing a photo tripod.
Also think about taking a small flashlight, it’s always useful.
Finally, charge your camera’s battery well.
The night photo consumes more battery because we use more our screens and especially the operating time of the sensor for reflex cameras, goes from 1/50 to 1/200s per photo on average during the day to 1 second up to 30 seconds or more at night.
And when you have shorter exposure times, you’ll probably have to increase the ISO and in that case your camera will consume more battery power.
For other cameras, bridges and hybrids, your sensor is on all the time, but to show you a clearer image when you set your camera, your camera raises the ISOs, so these types of cameras consume a lot more battery at night than during the day.
A second battery can be a good buy if you want to take a lot of night shots.
2. Don’t raise your ISOs too much
Contrary to what many people think, high ISO slices should not be used for night photography.
It is important to know that the defects visible in photos taken during the day are even more noticeable in night photos.
It is better to increase the exposure time than to raise the ISOs too much, if the scene being photographed has no moving parts.
That’s why to take successful night shots you should not raise your ISOs and your camera should be stable on your tripod.
The more you raise your ISOs, the more noise (white dots) you will have in your pictures.
3.Prefer RAW format to JPEG format for night photos.
The RAW format has many advantages over the JPEG format.
The effects of rising ISOs are better handled with the RAW format than the JPEG format (less noise).
White balance problems can be partially compensated for with RAW format, whereas with JPEG format it is impossible.
Finally, and most importantly, RAW has a dynamic range 2 to 4 EV wider than JPEG (variable depending on the camera).
Basically, with JPEG, you will be able to take pictures with fewer burnt (overexposed) and bunched (underexposed) areas.
4. Adjust your white balance correctly and do not under-expose your photos.
The two most important things in night photography are the correct setting of white balance and exposure of the pictures, as I say during the night photography workshops.
As they say, especially in my job as a photographer, a photo is your every word in the world.
Here is the type of night photo that I come across most often on the Internet :
This picture was taken in automatic mode.
Here you can see that the photo is dark (underexposed) and the colors are not beautiful.
All those who have already passed by the Eiffel Tower at night, know that there is more light because this Paris lighthouse is so bright.
On the other hand, if you look at the grass at the foot of the tower, you will see that it is too yellow and dull.
So the picture is not beautiful.
Here is the same photo taken in manual mode with a white balance and brightness correctly adjusted:
We can see on this second version of the photo that the exposure is good and the colors are beautiful.
The plants are very green and not half yellow.
Grey chart and white chartAs I teach the participants of the photo courses from the beginning to switch to manual mode, as long as the light is natural, the weather is nice, it rains or there are clouds, you can afford to leave the white balance on the automatic mode, your camera will manage the colors well.
But as long as you’re using artificial lights, you need to set your white balance correctly.
Personally, I use the LASTOLITE Ezybalance 30cm grey chart.
Once folded, it doesn’t take up any space in a photo bag.
Its 18% grey side allows you to adjust the brightness correctly and its white side allows you to adjust the white balance correctly.
There is another 50cm grey chart if you wish to have a larger one.
It is necessary to use the best mode of light measurement, according to the type of lighting you have on your stage in front of you and to make your measurement at the best place according to your subject, as I teach it, from the first photo course, to the people realizing a photo workshop at my place.
5. Don’t open your lens too much, but don’t close it too much either.
As I show in the video of the article on the effects of lens closure on light, I advise you to use your lens with an aperture between f/8 and f/11 if possible.
I refer you to this video course, or my night photography workshops to understand how it works.
It would be too long to explain it here.
If you open your lens too much you may have vignetting problems, color problems and more distortion.
Conversely, if you close your lens too much you will have diffraction problems.
Basically, the best rendering on your photos will be with a medium aperture, between f/8 and f/11.
6. Take advantage of the blue hour, arrive at the right time for beautiful pictures.
There are two golden hours a day in pictures.
The morning after sunrise and the evening before and after sunset.
It is during these two moments that you will take the most beautiful landscape photos.
In fact, these two hours allow you to capture the full spectrum of brightness, because the dynamics of the scene you’re taking a picture of, corresponds to the dynamic range of your camera.
The golden hour of sunset is also called the blue hour.
These two moments are really at their best for 15 to 20 minutes under our latitude (metropolitan France), when the dynamics of the scene to be photographed corresponds exactly to that of your camera.
So, make sure you know the time of sunrise and sunset to be on time.
Here is a second example of a photo taken at the blue hour, like the photo that opens this tutorial.
Night photo class
7. Play with light
As you can see on the previous picture or the one against this paragraph, one of the advantages of night photos is to be able to play with the light effects.
For the previous photo I rather preferred to play with the lights placed at ground level in the Cour Napoléon of the Louvre, rather than standing stupidly on top of it to place my finger on the pyramid as hundreds of people do every day.
For the photo opposite, I waited for a barge to pass over the Seine.
In order to illuminate as much as possible the banks of the Seine for the tourists who travel on these boats, the lights are much whiter than the lights present in the streets of Paris (higher Kelvin degree).
So by setting my white balance quite low (2500°K), the whiter light coming from the barge and illuminating the trees, appears blue on the picture, without even having to retouch the photo.
If you have car passages, you can voluntarily extend your exposure time to have light effects with the movement of cars.
As indicated in tip number 5, you can change the iris setting of your lens to make halos appear more or less around the lights.
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the very strong contrasts offered by artificial lights at night.
As shown in the second image of the tutorial, at night it’s quite easy to take pictures in dark light or lowkey.
8. Do some scouting before your photo session
At night, it is less easy to find the right places for beautiful photos and even more so in natural landscapes without artificial lights.
It is therefore advisable to do some scouting to find the most beautiful photo spots, before it gets too dark to do so.
Locate the orientation of the scenes you want to photograph to know where the sun will rise or set.
That way you can position yourself in the best places to make the most of the best light, the most beautiful shadows that make night photography so interesting.
If it is a place close to your home, or close to a place that is familiar to you, don’t hesitate to come back several times.
You will see that you will rediscover this scene according to the seasons, the weather, the moon, …
9. Use the current tools
Today, there are quite a few tools available to help you with photos.
There are applications on smartphones that allow you to know your depth of field, depending on your settings.
You can use for example “Dof Calc”.
There are also applications that will help you to know in which direction and at what time the sun will rise or set, but also the moon and its phase (full moon, black moon, crescent, …).
These applications will even show you the angle of the two stars according to the hours and seasons.
Personally, I use “TPE” (The Photographer’s Ephemeris).
Other applications can allow you to find hundreds of photos of the places you want to visit during your holidays.
Personally I use “Google earth” a lot.
In short, there are dozens of portable tools on our smartphones, our tablets, for photographers.
Feel free to go to 😉 and use them.
10. Optimize your photos in post-processing
It is sometimes interesting to finalize the night photos by post-processing.
The photo just above has been “retouched”.
To amplify the orra of light coming from the city and darken the sky more than it was to give this effect.
On the last photo, I merged two photos as I explain in the Photoshop video course of the blog.
The goal was simply to keep the best of the two photos that made this final composition.
night photo course
Many times, night pictures are too dark because photographers do not know how to measure light properly.
It is necessary to master the tools for measuring and adjusting light.
The other major problem in night photography is color.
Again, this is not due to the cameras, but to a wrong adjustment of the camera.
You have to master the white balance setting to take good pictures.
10 TIPS TO IMPROVE THE SHARPNESS OF YOUR NIGHT PHOTOS
Have you ever weighed after you saw on your computer screen that that night picture you thought was sharp is indeed not so sharp? I’m not talking about a completely blurred image, but rather about that slight blur that you don’t see on your camera screen but that jumps out at you once you’ve viewed the image on a larger screen.
In this article, we will explain the errors to avoid and how to improve the sharpness of your photos taken at night.
Switch to manual mode and don’t raise the sensitivity too much
As far as your camera settings are concerned, our advice will depend on the type of photo you want to take.
In all cases, it is recommended to use a camera with manual settings, hybrid or SLR type.
If you want to capture motion, use your camera’s shutter speed priority mode and set the speed you need to get a nice motion blur.
We recommend that you use increments, choosing a fast shutter speed and then gradually increasing the exposure time.
Your camera will adapt the aperture of your lens (and therefore the depth of field) accordingly.
In all other cases, we recommend that you use the Aperture Priority Mode.
You will set the aperture (to obtain a certain depth of field) and the camera will set the corresponding shutter speed.
When taking night pictures and using a tripod, it is recommended that you do not set the ISO too high to avoid having digital noise in your image.
This is not necessary if you stabilize your camera well, because raising the ISO is often used to obtain a speed fast enough to avoid blurred images.
Equip yourself with a sturdy and sufficiently weighted tripod.
To take a successful night photo, there are a few technical rules to follow.
The first and most important is to equip yourself with a tripod to stabilize your camera when you take a picture.
Indeed, night photography is often synonymous with long exposures in order to compensate for the lack of light.
In these conditions, a sufficiently stable tripod is necessary or even indispensable.
To improve the stability of your tripod, some brands add a hook at the end of the central column, such as the Vanguard Alta CA 233 AGH tripod, to hang your camera bag and place your tripod on the ground.
Other manufacturers offer ballast nets to attach to the legs of your tripod.
Add a heavy object (or a large pebble if you’re on a beach in Normandy) and you’re done.
Vanguard Alta CA 233 AGH Tripod – Tested on Phototrend
One point that is often forgotten is how to attach your camera to the tripod.
Above all, choose a tripod adapted to your equipment in terms of load.
For example, if your camera + your heaviest lens is 2 kg, choose a tripod whose maximum load is well over 2 kg, to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises.
With your camera attached to the tripod, it’s time to check that all the screws are tight.
I draw your attention to a particular fixing: the case itself.
Very often you are afraid not to tighten it tight enough for fear of damaging the underside of your camera, but if there is play, you are sure to get blurred pictures, especially when you photograph in portrait format.
A test is to position your camera in portrait mode on the tripod and see if it sticks out.
If it does, the screw is not tight enough.
Beware of external elements such as vibrations or wind.
We very often forget to take into account external and natural elements, but these can spoil the moment (and especially the sharpness of your image).
I will share here an experience in Paris, and another one in Iceland.
In Paris, with the tripod firmly anchored to the ground, I was ready to take my picture when I felt a vibration under my feet.
The underground metro was passing right under me, and the vibrations were going up, even tiny, to my camera.
So I could choose between two solutions: change places, or wait between each subway passage.
Depending on your constraints, it will surely be a choice to make.
If you are on a bridge, the passage of the cars can also generate vibrations.
In Iceland this time, I had to face the wind which made my box vibrate.
Here, I couldn’t help but pray for a short lull to allow me to take my picture, but when the natural elements are against you, it’s hard to fight, except by making sure that you have a pose fast enough so as not to be at the mercy of the winds, or by finding a place sheltered from the wind.
Avoid touching your camera when shooting
If you think that holding your camera (already on a tripod) with your hands, the strap, or any other imaginable means will help you stabilize your image, you are mistaken.
Your body is also subject to external elements such as wind or vibration, and holding the camera only extends the contact area and does not stabilize it at all.
Even if there is no wind or vibration, you are less stable than you think, and if you hold the camera while shooting, the vibrations of your body will be transmitted to it.
Therefore, remember to stabilize your tripod as described above.
Use a self-timer or a remote control to trigger the camera.
The moments before your photo is triggered are surely as important as the trigger itself.
To reduce the vibrations that result from handling the camera, it is recommended that you use your camera’s self-timer mode, setting it to at least 10 seconds, which allows the vibrations of the body to be attenuated.
Nikon ML-L3 Remote Control
You can also use a remote control, wired or wireless (our preference is for you to use the wireless remote control), and also shoot at least 10 seconds after you stop handling your camera.
Disable your lens stabilization
Stabilized lenses are extremely useful for freehand shooting, allowing us to compensate for our movements and shaking when shooting.
But when used with a tripod, stabilization can be counterproductive.
Indeed, in some cases, the lens will not understand that the scene is already stabilized with a tripod and the tripod will want to fulfill its mission…
by making your image unstable.
For this reason, it is recommended that you disable optical stabilization when shooting at night with a tripod.
This will also save your batteries.
Focusing on a bright enough element
Your camera’s autofocus does not like darkness, and in low light conditions, it is not uncommon for the autofocus to wane and not focus properly on your subject.
That’s why we recommend that you shoot at night during Blue Hours.
At this time of day, the sky still has a beautiful blue and focusing will be easier because the sky continues to light up the scene.
Preferably, choose to focus on something bright and high-contrast enough for your camera to be able to focus.
Use Live View mode to check the focus
Your camera’s Live View mode (the on-screen viewfinder on DSLRs) and focus do not mix well in terms of responsiveness on today’s cameras, although this tends to improve.
On a tripod, however, Live View will be useful for checking focus before shooting.
Switch your camera to Live View mode, and zoom in on the image using the zoom buttons on your body (not the lens) to a point in the area you want sharp.
If you feel that the image is a bit blurry, here’s how to do it: switch your lens to manual focus, and focus yourself (slightly, because the camera has normally already nearly focused) until you get a completely sharp point.
In this way, you’ve relied on autofocus to prepare the focus, but often a little manual help is needed, especially at night.
Do not use your lens at full aperture
You’ve probably already been advised to use your illuminated lens at full aperture at night to gain speed.
But the flip side of the coin is an extremely low sharpness area, so part of your image will be blurred.
Unless that’s what you’re looking for, we recommend shooting at f/8- f/10.
The depth of field will be interesting, and most lenses perform best at these apertures.
At f/22, your picture won’t be any sharper.
On the other hand, you might think that using a very small aperture (e.g. f/22) might allow you to get all the shots sharp.
But unfortunately, this is without counting on the diffraction which will actually make your photo less sharp overall.
It is therefore not advisable to shoot from f/16, unless you want to get a very long exposure time.
A simple point to remember is that our lenses never perform at their best in the extremes (full aperture and very low aperture).
On the other hand, if you want to achieve a starburst effect (like the image on the cover of this article), you should necessarily use a very low aperture (close to f/22).
Best Night Photographers
With these 10 tips, you’re now ready to face the darkness and achieve beautiful, sharp images.
And for those who love blur, here’s a creative idea that works really well, especially with lights: set your camera as we explained above, and switch to manual focus to make your picture completely blurred.
The result is very artistic, don’t you think?