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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Photograph at Night

The unique magical qualities of nighttime photography offers endless artistic opportunities to a photographer. As light diminishes from the evening sky, colors stand out and energy is visible across city streets. But without the presence of the sun in the sky, effectively capturing images become much more difficult. So how should you go about taking pictures at night?

1. Remember that the darker it gets, the longer exposure you need to shoot (in order to compensate for the lack of light). Hence, the earlier you photograph, the easier and generally more rewarding your images will be. In my opinion, the best time to shoot is during blue hour, the time period after sunset where the sky is reliably blue no matter what the weather was throughout the day.

2. Its crucial you bring a tripod. Tripods are used to steady cameras which is important when your shutter is open for a long period of time. Make sure to use a self-timer, remote control, or cable release to initiate the photograph or the tripod will become pointless (as you'll shake the camera when you click the shutter). Don't worry, you can get a decent tripod for just $25, although more substantial ones are more pricey. Often times when you don't have access to a tripod, you can improvise by finding some form of a brace or steadying material.

3. Understanding manual exposures is key so you can manipulate any problems that arise with auto exposure (because often times the lack of light confuses your metering). I suggest you shoot in RAW mode so you can fix later issues and aperture priority mode to help control depth of field and sharpness.

4. Bracketing or taking various exposures are key to ensuring you get the best images possible. Bracketing is the altering of various camera settings to assure you got the best image possible and give you options on the final photograph. In the case of nighttime photography, ISO, aperture, and exposure would be the ideal settings to experiment with. Also make sure to take multiple shots in case a shot was too blurry or wrongly exposed (make sure to use your photo histogram).

5. Experiment with unnatural lighting. Often times using flashlights or a detached flash unit creates dramatic results. Remember that when your flash is on your camera it can only illuminate a few feet ahead of its base and dilutes the color of elements beyond its range. Also, consider the fact that the degree of movement a exposure captures is based on the exposures length and the speed of the movement.

-Nighttime Cityscapes- There are two important factors in shooting a cityscape: vantage points and color. Most cities have some form of overlook or skyscraper that provide unique vantage points and dramatic views of the city. These provide perfect locales for you to set up your tripod. Another essential element in taking a powerful cityscape is color. Without color in the sky or on the streets of the city, the camera will expose the image as simply various shades of white. Since lights are nearly always on in a city, all you need is a few seconds' exposure to capture a captivating photograph.

-Star Trails- When shooting star trails, use a shutter release cable (which gives you the ability to keep your shutter open for hours on end) and keep the shutter open for at least an hour (even though minute movements are visible after a few moments). To make for a more interesting image, I often include illuminated foreground subjects that help draw the eye to the skies.

-Fireworks- Fireworks are one of the most colorful and dramatic displays that night skies have to offer, yet they bring some challenges to photographers. I usually shoot fireworks on few seconds' exposures, but it requires plenty of bracketing to get the perfect shot. Remember that incorporating silhouettes, harbors, cityscapes, etc. generally is more captivating than a telephoto shot of colored fireworks alone.

Tom Sawyer's Christmas Tree Farm
-Fireplaces- The orange glow of fire ambers offers unique visual opportunities and adds an atmospheric feeling to your images when they are correctly executed.You can use a few seconds' exposure to capture the blur of the people who stand around the edges of the fire and enable you to take advantage of the glow on their faces.

Images are copyright Chase Guttman and Peter Guttman.

1 comment:

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Chase Guttman is a talented and passionate, award-winning photographer having shot everything from landscapes to wildlife to portraits and events all around the world. Chase Guttman is also an affordable NYC assignment photographer, ready to fulfill your photographic wishes with his distinct style and attention to detail. He also runs this popular photography tips and guide blog, with weekly insights into photography that helps everyone from amateurs to pros better their photographic skill. Visit us at our website:

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