After buying my DSLR, night photography has become one of my favourite hobbies, the reason, for me, is that, things look so different in a night shot, it seems to open up another world of dancing lights, great reflections and star trails. So in this short tutorial, I am going to try and explain the techniques I use to create a wonderful night shot.
The main things you need for night photography are:
- A Camera
- A good sturdy tripod
- A remote control
- Gloves & Warm clothing
- A good bright torch.
The above may seem obvious, but if you remember your warm clothes, then things will be much more fun. Winter skies are excellent for stars etc, but the fun can be cut short if you are cold, yes, I am talking with experience.
Whenever I go out on a shoot, it’s always wise to scout the place before it gets dark, as if it’s somewhere you have never been before, there could be hazards that you may miss in the dark, if you have time, you can set your shot up in the day and wait for the night to draw in.
The best times to get night shots are really at dusk, so for example, if you are taking shots of buildings, the dark roofs don’t blend in with the sky, with the lighter nights of summer starting, this is ideal and you have a much longer chance of getting the shots you need.
So setting up the camera, I normally have my camera on ISO 400-800 for night shots, if I am shooting in the middle of nowhere, with very little or no lighting. If shooting in a city centre then I vary between ISO 100-400 depending on light sources, I very very rarely go any higher than ISO 800 to avoid digital noise. Also, have a large aperture to keep the light coming in and remember manual focus is your friend. I have my camera in Full Manual Mode or Aperture Priority depending on what and where I am shooting.
I always shoot my images in RAW format, but when stacking your multiple shots, you may need to convert these images to another format (BMP, TIFF etc).
So what do you need the torches for?
I always take a torch or 3 ;-) especially when I am attempting star trails. Reason being, it’s always wise to have a point of interest on your shot. So if you are shooting say, a monument, you need something to light up your foreground.
If shooting in dark places, with no natural or artificial lighting, trying to focus your camera can be a pain if you can’t see anything through the view finder or on live view. This is where the torch comes in to its own. What you can do is concentrate the beam on your point of interest, and focus onto that part, remember, in these situations, it’s always wise to use manual focus, as autofocus would struggle, and when you take your image, if you are on auto, the camera will scan again for a another focal point.
What’s the remote for then?
A remote is a must if you want to do star trails, depending on which method you choose to do, whether bulb or multiple exposures, we need to avoid any movement on your camera or tripod. There are ways around not having a remote that I will cover shortly. Also, if you camera has the “mirror lock” function, then set this to on, to avoid any other vibrations when shooting.
Here are the main differences between star trails and city scapes:
You need a remote control for these, there’s no ifs or buts about this. The reason is that you will be taking multiple exposures or have your camera on bulb mode. For bulb mode (on my camera anyways), you need to keep the button pressed, so a remote will act as a lock on your button, so you’re not stood in the same position for hours and you aren’t touching the camera causing movement. The same goes for the other technique of multiple shots, you still need a remote control to lock the button down.
City Scapes/One shots:
Again you can use a remote control, or you can use your camera’s timer. If I am doing a shot where there is lighting, I normally put my camera on the 2 second timer, then I do my thing and the camera takes the shot, again a remote can be used but not necessary for one off shots.
The best thing for night shooting?
Experimentation. Some shots, as with all shots will not work out as planned, so experiment, use different lighting, try diffusing the light, but don’t give up and have fun, that’s what it’s all about. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
I haven’t tried bulb mode as I go for the “multiple shot method” then I layer these shots to create my star trails. There are various programs out there for both PC and mac, and are very easy to use.
Here are the links for both windows and mac programs:
Http://www.startrails.de – Windows only.
http://www.markus-enzweiler.de/StarStaX/StarStaX.html - Starstax - Available for Windows, Linux and Mac.
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