With today’s modern digital cameras, taking good photos when there is plenty of available light requires little more than setting the camera to automatic mode and firing away. However, taking great pictures at night is a very difficult task regardless of the quality of the camera. But with a little preparation and practice you too can come away with some keepers even when the lighting is poor. Here are a few tips:
- Use a fast lens. While the typical “kit lens” that comes bundled with most DSLRs will do an adequate job most of the time, these lenses tend to perform poorly under low light conditions due to their relatively narrow maximum apertures. When it comes to shooting at night, the wider the aperture the better because you need as much available light making it through the lens and onto the sensor as possible. My personal favorite lens for nighttime photography is a 50mm f/1.4 prime, but a 50mm f/1.8 does an excellent job as well. Regardless of the lens you are using, set the camera to the widest aperture (the lowest f/stop) possible.
- Use the fastest shutter speed that you can get by with because the faster the shutter speed, the less blur you will see in your images. This is especially important when the lighting is poor. To determine the fastest shutter speed that can be used under the prevailing conditions, take a series of test shots at various speeds and see how the photos turn out.
- Turn on Image Stabilization (sometimes referred to as Vibration Reduction) if it is available. Many newer lenses and DSLRs come equipped with an image stabilization feature that reduces the effects of camera shake – which results in sharper images. If you have it available, use it.
- Set the ISO to the highest setting that will allow your images to be virtually noise free. The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor will be to light, which means you can use a faster shutter speed. Just be sure not to set it so high that your photos are littered with noise. Again, it helps to experiment with different settings until you find the one that works best.
- Use a tripod and remote shutter release. Regardless of how steady your hands happen to be, the chances are slim that they’ll be steady enough to capture a sharp image at night. Using a tripod and remote shutter release will greatly improve the quality of your photos because you can slow down the shutter speed as much as you want without having to worry about camera shake.
- If you simply must use a flash, use an external flash such as a speedlight instead of the puny pop-up flash that’s built in to the camera body. A pop-up flash is fine for supplying a little “fill” light during the daylight hours, but it is much too weak to do an adequate job when lighting conditions are extremely poor.
- Shoot in RAW mode and lighten the image later during post processing. The beauty of shooting in RAW mode is the flexibility it gives you when making adjustments such as brightness and color cast. Just open the photo in your favorite image editing software (it must support working with RAW images) and adjust the appropriate slider until you get the results you’re looking for.
Conclusion: Taking great photos at night can be a challenge, but it isn’t at all impossible. The techniques listed above can help you shoot with confidence under any lighting conditions and come away with a memory card full of keepers!
Rick Rouse is the owner of TodaysPhoto.org Photography Blog, the home of the “Picture of the Day“.