Monday, January 22, 2007
10 Tips For Better Night Photography
The secrets to getting great shots at night are revealed
6. Noise 2—Use Your Camera's Processing
Many cameras have added in-camera noise processing available as a menu choice. All cameras apply some sort of noise reduction to the image at points between the camera and the computer. What I'm describing is in addition to that. The menu-set noise reduction will help night scenes. It will add significant processing time to your photo (some cameras add this automatically with long exposures), so you don't want to use it all the time. But as soon as your exposures get much longer than a second, you'll usually find the in-camera noise reduction to be helpful.
7. Noise 3—Use Software
Sometimes, no matter what you do, noise creeps into the photograph. There are a number of good software programs out on the market to help reduce noise without hurting image quality significantly. Photoshop CS2 and Camera Raw have noise reduction tools, but frankly, I don't often find them all that useful. For noise issues, I'd recommend checking Noise Ninja (a complex, though effective program with a lot of controls, necessitating a big learning curve), Kodak Digital GEM (a simple, yet effective program that works well with little effort), Imagenomic Noiseware (complex, but effective) and Nik Software DFine (a complete program that can look for noise in specific tones and colors, but is also complex).
8. Try Many Second Exposures
With the combination of high ISO settings and wide-open ƒ-stops on your lens, you may find you can get moderate shutter speeds (even handholdable in some conditions). Sometimes, though, you should set that ISO lower and use a small ƒ-stop so you get a long, many-second exposure. This will do a number of things:
• The long exposure will blend any moving lights together in fascinating streaks and patterns
• Moving water (such as fountains) gains an ethereal, flowing look
• Small ƒ-stops will cause light diffraction around bright lights, creating interesting starburst patterns
9. Use Support
Most night photos will require shutter-speed settings that can't be handheld without causing blurs. A tripod is ideal (and a necessity for long, many-second exposures), but it can be awkward to use on a night-lit city street. Look at the small tabletop tripods (most manufacturers include them) or beanbags. Either can be used to support a camera on a car, post, parking meter or even a wall. I especially like to carry a beanbag called The Pod (from Bogen) because it has a tripod screw, which makes the camera much easier to support in odd positions.
10. Balance A Flash
Try turning on your flash at night, but check your exposure to be certain the night light is balancing with the light from the flash. Many cameras have auto programs specifically designed to put the right amount of light onto a foreground subject while still giving enough exposure to reveal the background, too. Most digital SLRs automatically allow you to balance the ambient light (the night light existing at your scene) with flash by using certain modes, such as Aperture or Program priority. Check your camera's manual to see what works because manufacturers have never standardized this control.
You can also play around with first-curtain and second-curtain flash sync on many digital SLRs (these are usually set in the menus). Both work to balance flash and ambient light, but deal differently with the timing of the flash. The result is that each gives different looks with moving objects (though the same look comes from nonmoving subjects).
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