Thursday, September 11, 2008

Photography tips: night photography

Night photography can be very rewarding, especially for romantic subjects and for nicely lit architecture. Famous landmarks may often get an extra dimension on night photos, as do fountains. This article discusses some issues that might be helpful in improving your night pictures.

The obvious thing about night photography is that it comes at low light levels. This can be overcome by higher ISO, larger apertures or longer shutter times. After dusk, you will probably have to rely on all three of them. The most common thing to do with longer shutter times is to use a tripod, but you do not always have to. I shot the picture to the left handheld, while leaning against a sturdy fence. Of course, using a fast (and lightweight) prime makes quite a difference. The links below the article provide some useful alternatives to tripods, that may be very useful when traveling.

I have one tip that may sound silly because it’s so simple. But I know I forgot a couple of times and at those times I can really curse myself for being such a dumbass. So do keep in mind to clean you lens surface. If it is only a bit greasy, all the lights in the picture will become nice glamorous star shapes. However great this effect may be when you are looking for it, it might not be what you want in a night picture.

The moon
And then we have the moon. Be careful with the moon. It depends on the weather and the availability of other light sources whether you want the moon in your picture. If it is only slightly hazy, the moon will become blurry. If the moon is the only noteworthy light source around, it will burn your highlights. In both cases, don’t shoot directly at the moon. In other cases, you can, provided that you manage to strike a balance between the light sources. You may also use the moon as a source of backlight for a well-lit building, or play around with the differences in color temperature between moonlight and artificial light.

Post processing
In post processing, do not adjust your white balance, or at least not too much. The warm colors of artificial light and the cool color of moonlight provide the typical night atmosphere you may be looking for. You might want to darken the blacks in post processing though. The darker parts in your picture may pick up some noise because of the high ISO and/or long shutter time. You can easily reduce this by squeezing the left (dark) end of your histogram a little, while keeping the middle constant. This increase contrast and darkens out most of the noise.

More resources:
String stabilizer (video tutorial)

Other alternatives for tripods

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