Posted on September 18th, 2009
When it comes to nighttime photography, there are plenty of surprises to be expected. The primary difference between capturing images in the day time andcapturing images at night is light source. During the day, sunlight will overpower any other light source around, so pictures are more consistently lit. Given, snapping photos closer to dawn or dusk will render various results, but the sun is still your main source of light.
Consider your location when taking pictures at night. Are you near a large amount of artificial light or out in the suburbs with less light pollution? If you’re anywhere near 42nd Street Photo, then you’re in the city that never sleeps, New York City, so there will be light sources from buildings, street lights, cars, and more. All of these light sources play a part in the outcome of your picture.
The key to interesting night photography is exposure. Many professionals will tell you not to use flash most of the time at night, especially in smaller, closed in areas, as this will wash out your subject(s), so you need to consider the amount of light available and adjust the exposure accordingly. Exposure is the amount of time that the lens of the camera stays open while exposing the film or digital sensor to the incoming light. The more time the lens stays open, the brighter the picture. In darker areas, it may be necessary to use a tripod for clearer pictures, since the longer the lens stays open, the more time there will be for the camera to shift and the picture may blur.
Depending on your camera, you may be limited in exposure options. Many point-and-shoot cameras will have fewer choices for exposure times, whether in the maximum time allowed or the increments of exposure times offered, so your best bet will be a manual single lens reflex. Most DSLR’s will have decent exposure options, but you may just have to work with what you have.
Below are some simple questions and answers to get you started, but beyond that, we like to recommend that you experiment a lot to see what works for your needs and what doesn’t:
- What kind of camera are you using? If you’re sporting a POS camera, you may want to focus on better lit areas, as exposure options will be limited. With a DSLR, you will be able to experiment in darker areas.
- Where is the Moon and how many other light sources do you have available? In rural areas, you’ll have softer, cooler light from the moon if it’s out and full. In more urban locations, your pictures will generally be warmer tones, as artificial light sources are generally of yellow and red tones.
- Do you have a tripod? A tripod can always be useful, since hands are not always steady. This is especially important with night photography, and moreso in very dark areas with exposure times that may surpass 10 or 15 seconds. Unless you’re able to keep your hands still for a good amount of time, a tripod will be necessary for crisp, clear photographs.
- Are things moving? If you’ve even seen a picture taken of a highway with a long exposure time, there will be streams of headlights and tail lights drawing lines across the frame. Consider this concept when capturing moving objects. Sometimes, this effect can be neat, but other times, it may compromise the intention for your image.