Thursday, May 24, 2012

Night Photography Tips

Night photography can be quite a challenge. After all, you're chasing light that's barely there, and you have to work your camera in the dark.
By William Sawalich Published in Shooting
Night Photography Tips
Because shutter speed changes only affect ambient light, you can control flash and ambient separately in a single exposure. Imagine you're on the Las Vegas Strip, wanting to photograph a friend against a background of bright neon. (A glowing sunset or the lights of Paris work equally well.) With your subject in relative shade (so the long ambient exposure won't illuminate them too much), you can set your camera for, say, 1?60 sec. at ƒ/5.6, and allow your flash's TTL metering to help create the right flash exposure. If you prefer manual flash control, start with a relatively low power of 1/8th or so. Once you've achieved the appropriate flash power to match a fairly wide aperture, you can proceed to the next step.

With the flash illuminating the subject just right, you'll notice one glaring problem: Your background is totally black. Simply lengthen the shutter speed from 1?60 to 1?30 sec., and you'll notice it gets a bit brighter (while the subject stays the same brightness). Continue lengthening the shutter speed (1?15 sec., 1?8 sec., and so on) until you achieve a background that looks just right. With your camera on a tripod, the background will remain sharp, while handholding can create interestingly abstract blurs in the background, which is good or bad depending on how you see it.


When you get right down to it, there's not much difference between photographing star trails and photographing fireworks. Because the Earth is rotating, you can photograph moving stars throughout the night with nothing more than a tripod, a long exposure and patience.

The most popular way to photograph a star trail is to use your lowest ISO and smallest aperture (say, ISO 100 and ƒ/32) to allow for the longest possible exposure without building up unwanted ambient light from Earth. It really can be as simple as focusing at infinity (again, with a manual setting) and opening the shutter.

To make things a little more interesting, consider a composition that allows for some foreground subject matter—say, tall trees entering the frame or a vantage point that allows you to shoot a landscape with stars all the way to the horizon. This requires not only an open view of the horizon, but it's also helpful if you're in a remote location without much interference from city lights.

Pointing your camera toward the North Star will create star trails that rotate perfectly around this axis, which makes for a stunning composition. And a little flash fill added to foreground subjects is a great way to make a star-filled photograph a little extra-special.

To make star trails, you have to allow plenty of time for those stars to transit the sky. That means exposures in the range of many minutes to several hours—or even all night long. So you want to position your camera carefully in a place where you're comfortable leaving it for the night (protected from humans, animals and the elements) that still provides for a good composition.

There's another way to photograph stars, which is a relatively recent development. Thanks to ultra-low-noise sensors, photographers now can make short one- or two-second exposures at very high ISOs that render stars with pinpoint accuracy and show a star-filled sky in context with earthbound elements. Crank the ISO and keep the shutter speed short to make stars just as sharp as the land.

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