Photography at Night

Photography is the recording of photons for posterity. At night, they’re much harder to come by, having mostly gone into illuminating another part of the world (or so I’m told).

Here, then, some tips on night-time photography.

Equipment:

1) Support structures… You’re going to need a tripod. Even better, have two or three, and a monopod (tripod which is missing two legs!). If you’re just going to have one tripod, get the sturdiest thing you can afford (and which you can carry around). On the top of the tripod will be a “head” or mounting point. Most low-end tripods come with a ‘pan-tilt’ head intended for video; maybe that works for you. I use ‘ball heads’ which can be rapidly moved to any position and then locked with a quick twist of a knob.

Another essential as you do more shooting is a quick-release system for mounting your camera(s) on and off supports. I use the Manfrotto RC-2 system although eventually I’ll switch to Arca-Swiss… but for now the RC-2 fits my needs.

2) Cable-release. Also known as a remote-release, this is necessary to keep your platform stable – pressing the shutter release can impart shake to the camera.

3) Lenses – faster is easier (shorter exposure times) but not necessarily better. Most of my memorable night shots are from relatively slow lenses and long exposures. If you’re photographing people you want the widest angle and fastest lens in your collection.

Technique:

1) Patience. It takes time to get this right, and you’ll blow most shots. For most subjects you’ll need to take a series of shots to get the lighting right.

2) Raw mode, and a good converter. Shoot RAW mode with dSLR, and learn to use Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw if you prefer. A good outboard noise reducer is helpful.

3) Did I mention patience?

4) A way to take notes. A lot of shots may be done manual-mode in the Bulb setting; while the file may record f-stop and effective focal length most cameras cannot record shutter time when in Bulb mode. Bulb is necessary if you need a longer exposure than your automatic exposure modes allow. Make notes about what settings you used.
Software:

Uh oh. Here comes the horde to tell me what’s wrong. This is really a matter of personal taste.

Adobe Lightroom: cataloging, sorting, export prep to websites, most printing, RAW conversion, etc. For 90% of my photography, Lightroom is the only post-production software used.

Adobe Photoshop (CS2 and CS3): When I need it, which isn’t very often. Of the more than 2,000 photos online in my main photo site, only 14 have been manipulated in Photoshop.

Imagenomic Noiseware Professional: When you need to reduce noise, this  is it. I have both the standalone processor and the Photoshop plugin.

Photomatix Pro: For High Dynamic Range (HDR) production. There really is nothing anywhere which comes close to this.

Printing and Profiling will be covered in another post.

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One thought on “Photography at Night”

  1. Thanks for the tips…. I find myself drawn to night images, and have even been considering making the move from PC to MAC! Must get wide angle lens…..!

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