The number one rule for photographers is that light is their best friend. It can be terrifying when you’re still out for a shoot and the light starts to fade. In this situation many photographers simply pack up their stuff and go home. However, it is when light fades that real magic starts to happen. It is true that you will need some practice before successfully shooting photos in the dark, but with a few basic tools and tricks you will make it in no time. Just think about all the dramatic images you can take.
Recommended Read: Make the Most from Your Camera Exposure (ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture
1. The Golden Hour
The golden hour (or the golden 15 minutes, according to several photographers) describes the first and last hours of sunlight. There is something about the way that light behaves during that time, when light builds up over long exposures, that will create stunning photography. The sky receives incredible colors in the Golden Hour, from purple to orange to yellow and burnt colors. You should definitely take advantage of the Golden hour if you are passionate about night photography.
2. Tools Needed for Night Photography
A handy man is nothing without his handy tools. So before we share any tips, here are a few things that you absolutely need to prepare. Having the right equipment beforehand will significantly increase the quality of the image, and ease your efforts.
- Cable Release: for longer exposures you need a very still camera. With a cable release you can minimize camera shake when you trigger the shutter (you can also use the timer option instead of a cable release).
- Tripod: it is impossible to take night-time images with a shaky camera. A tripod will be your best friend on your adventure. With it you can get exactly the angle you want, without trying too hard. A tripod is a definite must-have.
- Flashlight and External Flash: You need a flashlight to avoid accidents, or highlight dimly light areas that require focus. The external flash can be a great source for fill light when you trigger the off-camera manually. For long exposures, objects that aren’t illuminated don’t show in the end. Only objects with light are seen in the capture.
- Wide lens: lastly, you will need a wide lens (a good pick would be a 10-22 used for architectural images or landscapes). Wider lenses work better in the dark.
3. Tricks to Help You with your Night Photography
- Plan your compositions: Before you start shooting you should definitely get an idea of which angles and vantage points you want to leverage. Take a few rough photos before getting in the trouble of setting up your tripod and tools.
- Use High ISO: If you are not a fan of long exposures, you can take photos with higher ISO. Naturally, high ISO is a must when taking night-time images. Although there might be noise in the final result, you can reduce it with post-processing editing software. Just make sure you don’t go over 6400 ISO because this will make noise nearly impossible to get rid of.
- Motion Blurs: not all blurs are bad, some are actually interesting. You can experiment with your shots by moving the camera or capturing moving objects. Zooming while the shutter is open can also add an interesting forward-motion effect.
- Shoot for HDR (high dynamic range): Place your camera on a tripod and take three identical shots, only with different exposures (dark, average and light). Load your images into Photoshop and create HDR file out of them. You can now apply tone mapping to your HDR image to reveal more details.
- Setting your Aperture & Shutter Speed: Getting the right exposure for a dim-light scene is incredibly difficult. For this step you simply need experience and intuition. The more you shoot at night, the easier it will become. Deny the urge of bumping up your ISO to astronomical levels and opening your aperture. Try to close it down, and shoot at a longer exposure. You will need exposures of 10-30 seconds. Another rule of thumb would be to keep the aperture closed as much as possible, and the ISO to 100-500 (to reduce noise). This will enable you to create moody low-light images that you can later edit in Photoshop.