5 Don’ts for Great Nighttime Photography

Some of the coolest pictures are taken at night without a flash. But these photos aren’t the easiest to capture without being intentional. When taking a picture at night, many people find that the picture is too dark so they use the on camera flash. The problem with this approach is that most of the time, the on camera flash wont light up the subject because it isn’t powerful enough. If it does reach it, there are shadows created that aren’t desirable. Here are 5 Don’ts for Great Nighttime Photography.

1. Don’t Hold Your Camera

That’s right. Don’t try to do it while holding your camera. To get a great night shot, you’ll want to use a tripod or find a place to set the camera so you aren’t holding it. Instead of using a flash, capture the light of the natural setting by using a slow shutter speed. In good light during the day, a rule of thumb that I use is to not shoot below 1/80th of a second. Sometimes I can get a crisp shot at a slower speed than that but it just isn’t worth risking an out of focus shot. At night, without the sunlight, you only have a couple options: Use artificial light, boost the ISO to some ungodly number, or slow down your shutter speed to give more time for the light that is there to get into the camera. The longer you leave your shutter open, the more light will get in.

2. Don’t Press The Shutter Button

Okay, so this might be a trick one. If you are using a slow shutter speed, you can’t afford to have the camera move at all. Once you press the button, and the shutter opens, lifting your finger off the shutter button will slightly shift the camera. You can hook up a remote and trigger the shutter that way or set it to a timed release so that it doesn’t open the shutter until a few seconds after you hit the button.

3. Don’t Raise the ISO

One of the early troubleshoots people use to brighten up a picture in dark settings is to raise the ISO. This works in some settings but you won’t want to do it in this instance. You will usually struggle with grain when shooting at a high ISO. Since you will be using a slow shutter speed, you don’t need that. Cameras process blacks differently. If you can get that ISO down to under 1,000, you’ll be happier with how those blacks look in the final shot. I try to keep it at 400 or less if it works.

4. Don’t Use a Large Aperture

Trick number two for low light situations is go for the smallest number on the f-stop. I love my 1.4, 1.8, and 2.8 lenses but this isn’t the time to use them for that feature. The higher that number is the more elements in your picture will be in focus. If you use a larger aperture like a 2.8, the depth of field will be greater and fewer elements of the shot will be in focus.

5. Don’t Always Follow the Rules

Now that you know some of the general basics of shooting at night, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Just break them intentionally. Play with the different settings and find new ways to shoot at night. Be artistic by choice, not by chance.

The above photo is a shot of Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts and was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EF24-70 f/2.8 L USM lens. The shutter stayed open for 25 seconds at f/8.0 and the ISO was set to 100. I used a timed release and found a flat rock down by the water to rest the camera on.

What do you think? Have you done some night shooting? Share some comments about your experiences in the comment section below. If you don’t already follow this blog, sign up at the top right. You can also follow me on Twitter @scrapper24


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