Night photography settings

 

Is it really that difficult to get good shots at night?

Please note that the images have not been edited in any way, and what you see is a small jpg version of it. This is not usual in this business, however I do trust the Nikon and it will show you more of the real life problems in this topic.

Nikon D800,50mm,f6.3,1/1.3s wb A

Doing shots at night or low light photography do require some techniques and understanding of the camera, lens and situation.

Let me guide you through some of the preparations and decisions that needs to be worked out before the picture is taken.

CLEAN EQUIPMENT:

Not many think about this area when going out to take pictures, and not a lot of workshops even mention it. But this is really the key for everything to work.

Before going outside in the dark take a soft cloth and wipe of all lenses for the journey. Use a cleaning solution that will vaporise to remove anything that may affect the image. Sometimes it may take a few wipes since grease from fingers etc. may create even more stripes on the first clean.

When wiping make sure to also wipe the threads for filter and the lens cover with a separate wipe. Do the same with the lens mount both on camera and lens.

If the lens is not cleaned properly the light measurement and the way light travels into the camera/light sensor will be affected.

CHARGE THE BATTERY:

Low light photo/night photo do in most cases require long exposure and this increases battery consumption. Both by keeping shutter and mirror active for long period and more time to process the image (depending on chosen shutter speed) will also drain the battery. Going in sub zero temperatures may require you to bring spare batteries, however this is highly depending on number of shots you expect to make.

 

Nikon D800, 50mm, f5, 1osec, ISO 800

 

ISO:

How high ISO you may choose is a highly equipment-based topic since everything depends mainly on the camera. I would alway try out a few shots to see where the noise (Red and green “grains” that show up) starts to show in the picture. And this you can not see on the camera screen but on a computer screen they do show. If uncertain do a print to check out the final result as the print will give even more details and reveal the noise even better.

The expensive cameras may have limits of ISO in the 25600 range or more, the lowest price ones may start to show changes at 640, with clear noise at 800ISO.

 

FOCUS

When the night is dark and the shot may not have to many contrasts for the autofocus to grab, it will need manual focus and it will take some training. If I have to go manual and it is a shot like the ones showed earlier in the blog, I will try to make the AF do the job and then set the focus in Manual. The reason is that more than likely the AF will start to chase a new focus point if it is left in Auto, however since the camera is on a tripod it will not require another focus. So using the Manual trick may save some time.

If the case is that it is simply to dark you may try one of two things. If the camera is equiped with a zoom lens try to zoom in on something as far as you can, find a good spot to manually decide when it is in focus. Turn back the zoom to frame the picture as wanted and shoot.

A second option is to have a flashlight with a fairly powerfull concentrated beam and point it where the focus should be. Then focus on the light area, put AF to Manual and shoot the pictures.

Using a flashlight will however require that your eyes might have to re-adjust to the darkness surrounding you.

APERTURE:

You should really try to use the best part of your lens and I would recommend F7.1-16 for most lenses. The higher number the better regarding depth of field and increase chances of getting the focus area crisp and clear.

SHUTTER:

I always try to use a slow shutter instead of high ISO if possible due to the chances of grain/noise in the image. Some cameras may limit this option to around 30 seconds while others also have a “B” setting which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as needed. Having a remote control on the camera will really improve the chances of a good picture. A tripod is required anyways, however touching the camera will very likely cause to much shaking and mess up the image.

TRIPOD:

This is a must, or very very highly recommended. To hold the camera by hand will be impossible and using a steady base of some kind limits where and how a picture can be taken.

FLASH:

Flash photography is a completely different topic, however in some cases a flash may be used to creates an effect or light up areas in the image. Shooting flash during long exposure is a skill that requires quite a bit of trial and error to make a wanted advantage in photography.

 

Nikon D800, 50mm, f5, 15Sec, ISO800

 

Please leave a comment if there is anything I can provide to make your knowledge better around products and/or tricks to improve.

 

Brgs. Hans Kr.

4 thoughts on “Night photography settings

  1. I really love taking night photography. Personally I find it one of the most rewarding types of photography especially when you visit countries that have auroras. Truthfully I am a Canon user however I really like the Nikons, and I find all your tips are still relevant. Recently my tripod has broken which is really annoying, do you have any that you can recommend for a DSLR?

    1. Thank you for the comment. Tripod options are vast, but mainly depends on equipment weight, budget and travel or no travel due to weight limits when flying. I would however this Benro or this 3POD should set you off to a good chance of Aurora images.

  2. Hi Hans,

    I’m not a photographer, but I thoroughly enjoy seeing good photos, especially photos of nature. I think night shots are interesting and have often wondered how photogrqphers get such good night photos–especially of colorful streaks expressing movement. Is there such a thing as night cameras like the military uses at night?

    There’s so much to learn by reading posts like yours. I’m impressed with all the knowledge that is necessary for good photography. I think it is truly an art form.

    1. Hi Marty. There are IR DSLR camera, Fujifilm X-T1 however there are heavy restrictions on buying it, you may install a filter to get IR effect if this is what you are looking for.

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