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Old 11-07-2009, 05:51 AM   #1
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Default SLR Night Photography

Below is a tutorial that I've typed up in regard to my experiences with night photography since I purchased an SLR nearly a year ago. Hopefully several members who come to the RP forums requesting help on their night photography can benefit from my below post.

First, let's start off with the basic needs for shooting night photography. Obviously, an SLR (not required, but for this tutorial, many of the settings, etc. will require a more advanced camera, such as an SLR). I would also consider bringing along an extra battery, as long exposures will kill the battery rather quickly! A decent sized memory card is always nice as well, but of course, not required. A decent tri-pod is also something I would recommend as a requirement. The slightest camera shake as a result of a poorly designed tri-pod will ruin a photo. Trust me, I am fully aware of this, from my own personal experiences. Also, I would highly suggest investing in a cable release! Depending on what brand you're using, these can generally be found a reasonable price. I bought my RS-60ES for $30 at a local camera store.

For those of you who are not aware of the purpose of a cable release, it is a small object either wired or wireless that allows the photographer to take long exposures (sometimes exceeding 30 minutes) when using the "BULB" setting. The BULB setting can generally be found under "M", or in other words, manual settings on the SLR. In most cases, the average SLR is capable of producing 30 second exposures when a cable release is not being used. When a cable release is present, the exposure will last the life of the battery, thus why I previously suggested bringing along a second battery.

Before I begin explaining various ways of shooting at night, let me first begin my sharing different settings and the purpose of each one. Again, when using manual settings, you will have full control over the camera (at least this is the case with most Canon SLR's that I have worked with). You will be able to adjust the exposure, aperture, ISO, White Balance, and Auto Focus settings. There are additional settings, but we'll start off with the ones I mentioned above.

Exposure- On most SLR's (at least the newer ones), there is a large range of shutter speeds. With my XSi, I am able to go up to a 1/4000" of an exposure and then all the way down to BULB. I generally hang around BULB. I'm one of these people who likes to have full control over the camera.

Aperture- When shooting at night, a decent aperture (Depth of Field) is always nice. A low aperture (an F stop below F5.0) will sometimes give the photo a fuzzy, or out of focus appearance. This why I generally do not shoot below F8.0 at night. The lower the aperture, the more light that is introduced to your shutter, although as previously stated, the lower the aperture, the bigger chance you take of having an out of focus photo. This is why I use a higher aperture, but make it up by doing a longer exposure. For more on aperture, I encourage you to follow the link below.

ISO- When shooting at night, a lower ISO is highly recommended. The higher the ISO, the better chance you have of receiving a noisy/grainy appearance to your image. I would highly suggest not exceeding ISO 200. I generally choose from ISO 100 and ISO 200 (I haven't noticed a considerable difference between the two). For additional information on ISO, please follow the link below.

White Balance- This can be tricky at times, as you will generally have various ambient light sources that will sometimes give the photo an oddish tint. I would suggest playing around a bit with various WB settings. Pick the one that is most comfortable for you. If you're a RAW user (Instead of JPEG), you will be able to adjust the temperature of the photo a lot easier than users who are using a JPEG setting. For users who are using JPEG (such as myself), I would recommend looking into post processing software for the computer such as Adobe Lighroom or the freeware, Rawtherapee, which will allow you adjust the temperature of the photo. As far as on-camera settings are concerned, I generally will switch between "Tungsten" and "Fluorescent" on the White Balance menu. "Tungsten" does a great job of getting rid of the reddish tint often caused by street lights, rail yard lights, and so on. Fluorescent will appear a bit warmer (or in other words, containing a more reddish tint when compared to the tungsten). Either way, regardless of the white balance settings, in most cases, post processing software can correct any tint that the photo may contain, within reason.

If you're interested in purchasing Adobe lightroom, or downloading Rawtherapee, please follow the links below.

Adobe Lightroom:

Raw Therapee:

There are also other methods of correcting an unwanted tint. Photoshop CS2 and CS4 offer a handful of cooling filters which will reduce the rather unappealing, reddish tint.

Auto Focus- This is all a matter of opinion, but many photographers prefer to use Manual Focus when shooting at night. I often switch back and forth from Auto Focus vs. Manual Focus. In order to switch from AF to MF, there should be a small switch on your lens. Obviously, if you're wanting to manual focus, you will switch the lens to MF, and vise versa. I think Nikon has another term for their AF. I'm wanting to think it may be VR? If not, please correct me. Anyhow, when shooting AF at night, the camera will automatically select a focus point (providing there is one). There have been numerous cases where a camera cannot focus in an area that is pitch black. This is why MF can come in handy. Sometimes at night you have to gamble when using MF. It can be quite hard to see if a photo is in focus, so you just basically have to try your best and take a shot in the dark (no pun intended). Sometimes you will have a successful result, but in other cases, not so much.

Please scroll down to the next post to continue reading.
Chase Gunnoe
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