Author Topic: 13 Tips for Amazing Long-Exposure Night Photography  (Read 2014 times)

Reyed Mia (Apprentice, DIU)

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13 Tips for Amazing Long-Exposure Night Photography
« on: May 04, 2017, 12:24:33 AM »
13 Tips for Amazing Long-Exposure Night Photography

1. The key to everything: length of exposure

What makes taking long exposures at night so much fun, is the fact that you are able to portray a scene in a way that is uniquely different from what your eye is able to see in real life.
Most photography consists of freezing a moment in time, by opening and closing the shutter speed in a fraction of a second, so that it capture just the light that was available in that instantaneous moment.

2. What does this mean? It means you need a tripod

To some of you this next tip may seem incredibly obvious, but it needs to be stated loudly: invest in a quality tripod. This is really what will set you apart from simply, playing around to actually trying to capture compelling images. You need a solid, sturdy, mobile platform to place your camera. You need the best tripod for night photography that you can get.

3. Understand sources of light

First thing’s first, you have to be able to read the ambient light in your environment. You have to understand what is the approximate length of time that you will likely have to keep your shutter open in order to get an even exposure. This is how you will lock in your exposure settings.

4. Capture multiple objects in motion

In the above photo that I took in the Marin Headlands, above San Francisco, California, I was able to capture two moving subjects that left light trails. The stacking of multiple 30 second exposures shows both the movement of the stars across the sky, and the movement of a ship as it enters the bay.

5. Position stationary objects in your frame

If you are just starting out with long exposure photography, it can be easy to get carried away. A lot of people go overboard trying to capture movement of light trails. While this can sometimes produce an interesting creative effect, I personally find it much more beneficial to have an element of relate-ability in a scene.

What I mean by this: seeing a streak of car lights, or trails of stars that pass over the sky, is a somewhat distortion of the way that we are normally able to see things. Therefore it is much more pleasing to the viewer to be able to have a strong, still subject that gives context and normalcy to the image.

6. Use a shutter release remote

Do everything in your power to minimize camera shake. What may seem trivial at the time (simply pressing the shutter speed for example), will absolutely cause your image to lose noticeable sharpness. This is why I highly recommend using some sort of shutter release technique that allows you to keep your hands off the camera itself. This could be an intervalometer, a wireless shutter remote, or simply the self-timer feature on your camera. Either way, this is crucial.

7. Stay in manual mode

Digital cameras have come a long way. They are great at reading and metering light to determine what a proper exposure should be – in the day-time. At night however, when the sources of light are very select, the camera has a much harder time. This is why to be able to take a good long exposure at night, you will need to be entirely in manual mode.

8. Keep ISO as low as possible

As a general rule in night photography, the goal is to try and keep your ISO as low as possible, in order to ensure the highest quality possible in your final image. In a lot of situations, you can simply lengthen the shutter speed, or widen your aperture in order to make this happen.

However,  remember that shutter speed is usually the priority in long exposure night photography, so there are times when you may have to increase your ISO in order to accommodate shutter speed limitations. For example, you may want to only capture a partial light trail from a car, and not have it be a giant blur.

9. Always shoot in RAW

This one is another one that may feel basic to a lot of people, and we will elaborate in another post, but has to be stated clearly. Shooting in RAW file format, means that you are capturing all the information in the scene. By Shooting in JPEG, you are letting the camera make decisions about what data it considers to be important by losing all that extra information.

10. Use only manual focus

A major challenge of night photography, is being able to focus in the dark. There are a lot of techniques and work-arounds for how to achieve this; everything from using the live-view mode to focus on a specific source of light, to pre-focusing before dark, and then taping your focusing ring with some Gaffers tape. Whichever technique you choose however, the most important thing to remember is that you are always going to be in manual focus.

11. Bring a headlamp / flashlight

This is a tip that I had to learn the hard way, so I’m including it here to save you from my mistakes: The journey UP to your shooting location is very often done pre-sunset, when there is still light. The journey DOWN from your location however (after you are done shooting), is very often significantly darker, and it is much harder to see where you are going.

12. Take lots and lots of test shots

Long exposure night photography is primarily a game of trial and error. You are going to take a LOT of incorrect exposures before you really nail it. That’s ok. In fact, it’s a huge part of the process, and I encourage you to go out and simply try these techniques in a familiar location, just so you can get an idea of the areas that you may be struggling with.

13. Learn from the pros

It has taken me years and years to develop my night photography skills to where I am today. I taught myself mostly through trial and error, experimenting, and reading the occasional article online like this one. However there is a faster way to learn these tips and start implementing them into your photography, and that is through quality, online courses taught by the best in the industry.

Reyed Mia (Apprentice, DIU)
Asst. Administrative Officer and Apprentice
Daffodil International University
102/1, Shukrabad, Mirpur Road, Dhanmondi, Dhaka-1207.
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