The sun has just set, and you are ready to snap your picture of the city skyline. You take the picture only to find it looks nothing like a city skyline at night. You’ve captured a dark and blurry image. You are not alone in having difficulties with night photography. Night photography presents many challenges to a photographer. However, there are a few basic techniques you can use to ensure your nighttime shot properly captures the image you desire.
Digital vs. Film: If you are using film for your night photography, you will want to choose a film with a high-speed. High-speed film is considered to be any film with an ASA over 400. High-speed film will capture more light, but it can also create more grain in the image. If you don’t want a grainy night photograph, you may want to shoot on digital film. Shooting on digital film at a high-speed will give you a less grainy image, but may cause noise in the picture. Noise is the name for light distortion in the pixels. To minimize digital noise, you may need to adjust your digital night photo in a software program such as Photoshop.
Shutter Speed: When shooting at night, do not use a flash. A flash will blow out your image and only light the foreground. To shoot at night, you will need a slow shutter speed. A slow shutter speed will give you a long exposure. A long exposure allows more light to be captured. For the best results, use a “timed” or “bulb” setting on your shutter. A “timed” or “bulb” setting, distinguished by a “T” or “B” on your camera, will allow you to open your shutter for as long as you desire. Time your exposure from anywhere to 20 seconds to a full minute or longer. The longer you keep your shutter open, the brighter your image will become. If there is any movement of the light in your photo, it will create a light streak effect. Keep in mind that you will need to keep your camera steady on a tripod for all of your night photography. Any shaky camera during a long exposure will blur the image.
F-Stop: To achieve a long exposure, you will also need a wide aperture. The lower your F-stop number, the wider your aperture will open. An F-stop of 2.5 will give you a wide aperture and will brighten your image.
ISO: ISO controls the speed of your film or digital image. Like your F-Stop, a low ISO will allow in more light and create a brighter image. For night photography, you will want to set your ISO to around 200.
Night Photography Subjects: Try to capture lit subjects with a lot motion for an interesting streak effect, or capture still images to accurately recreate the night setting. Capturing a moving line of cars with a long exposure will create interesting light streaks in your photo. Capturing a still object with a long exposure, like architecture, will more accurately capture what you see.