Photography, to me, is capturing a moment in time, in all its glory and beauty. Anyone is able to hold a camera up to their eye and take a photo; however, photography is more than just taking a photo. Photography is playing around with exposures, looking at what is outside the frame as well as inside. It is exploring how to capture the feelings surrounding you at the time in one single photo.
A couple of days ago, I found myself on the roof of my hotel in Sydney taking photos of the glistening lights of the Sydney skyline. It made me think about how much I take my photography knowledge for granted. I find it natural to set up my tripod, set the timings on my camera before taking single photos of whatever is around me. And so, shooting landscape photos (in particular city skyscrapers) at night are the most challenging but rewarding photos to take. In order for you all to experience the joy of what I get when I take the perfect photo at night, I want to share my top tips with you all on how to take the best photos at night.
1. Use a tripod
When taking photos at night, your camera is going to be more affected by the natural shaking of your hands than when you are taking photos during the day. In order for the lights in your scenery to not come out blurry and shaken, your camera needs to be on a steady platform. If you do not have a tripod, I would suggest using a flat surface that is within your surroundings. This way you will be able to leave your camera to take the photo without having to worry about holding it perfectly still. Also when you are using a tripod or a flat surface, walk away from the camera and press the button from either an external remote that’s connected to your camera, or lean over the back of the camera and press the capture button with one finger only like you normally would. This will also minimise the amount of shaking the camera experiences as it is taking the photo. Even on a tripod, if you hold your camera it will still be affected by your shaking.
2. Focus the camera yourself
With night photography there are so many objects that your camera may try to focus on. By using the manual focus mode you are able to focus the camera to ensure that what you specifically want is in focus and the rest is simply fading out. My best advice for getting a perfectly focused shot is to go either side of what you think is ‘in focus’: this means you will be able to see if there is a better range for focusing your camera or not.
3. Use a longer exposure
Longer exposures allow for the camera to capture the whole scene in all its glory. Using a longer exposure can be tricky though, as you do not want to leave the camera open for too long with a large aperture range or else your photo will come out too light. My best advice would be to follow the guidance on your camera; it should guide you as to what it thinks is best for your particular shot (for example, my camera — Pentax *ist DS — has range from -3.0 to 3.0. This way I know that if the levels are at 0, it should be an okay shot. However, often for night photography, I shoot with the levels at -.5 or -1.) It may sound confusing but I promise you, if you sit down with your camera and look at all the different settings and how your camera works, you will pick it up faster than you think!
4. Adventure into the manual setting
This tip is similar to using a longer exposure. By adventuring into the manual settings on your camera, it allows you to have full control on how your camera is going to work. When comparing photos taken on automatic mode to ones taken on manual mode, I found that the exposure was open for longer, and as a result, the photos taken on manual mode had more depth and character to them.
Polaroids have recently starting coming back into fashion, and I won’t lie, I do enjoy taking photos on my Polaroid, but night photography is not the best setting for them. Digital cameras allow you to have complete control and opportunities to really experiment with how you take your photo. If you mess up the settings or the framing of a photo, you can take as many as you like, whereas with polaroids it’s a lot more risky and they don’t always end up taking the best photo, no matter how hard you try!
6. Shoot in RAW, not JPEG
The most common form of shooting photos is in JPEG: all websites allow you to upload in JPEG and they take up less space on your computer. But for the best results you need to shoot in RAW. It’s an absolute must! Shooting in RAW allows you to get higher quality photos, better detail (which is ideal for night photography) and if you end up wanting to print some of your photos, the prints will turn out better than if you printed them in JPEG form.
7. Don’t be afraid to shoot moving objects
People often think that moving objects are the devil in night photography, and from reading tip one, it can sound like moving the camera or moving objects will ruin a photo. However, taking photos with a road and cars in it often add a certain amount of character as the photo will show you a line of where the car travelled while your camera was taking the photo. It’s spectacular to think that in the moment that you were taking the photo, there was someone driving along a road in front of you, unaware of your presence.
8. For whatever reason, do not use the flash!
This may seem obvious, but some people will forget it. Using the flash will wash out any detail of the lights at night. It will ultimately turn into a mess as parts of the photo will be light and not look like the photo was captured at night at all. So all in all, no matter how tempting it is to turn the flash on, DON’T!
Hopefully with these few tips, your photos will be able to surprise you. Don’t be afraid to venture into new settings with your camera. If you take a photo that doesn’t turn out, learn from it; don’t get downhearted.
All the best with your photography adventures. For any help please contact me — I’ll be more than happy to share more of my knowledge!