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Night or low light photography can be a challenge, but also exciting for those starting out in photography – and to some extent it is a matter of trial and error. With digital cameras, you are able to take numerous test shots and alter exposures, focus and time frames without having to develop film. However, if you utilize the tips below, and practice them, you will get the best shots possible.
1. The first technique is to use the RAW mode, which will enable you to edit the images. This mode converts the images to the cameras media card instead of JPEG images, thus saving the image files to three or five times the size of normal JPEG. With this option the images retain greater clarity and will be easier to edit.
When you view the images on your computer, it will be easy to notice the differences between JPEG and RAW images, commonly color saturation, contrast, and sharpness. There are several raw-processing software packages available, including Adobe Camera Raw. With this system you can brighten or darken your exposures or change effects such as color temperature months or even years later.
2. A firm steady base is vital for night photography. A good tripod will enable your camera to be completely still during slow shutter speeds. Do not skimp on paying for a good quality tripod, it is an investment worth making. Speeds should be between 1 – 30 seconds, dependent on what effects you are wanting in the finished image.
Anchor the tripod firmly, then hook your camera bag on the center column to weigh it down. To further avoid camera shake, enable the mirror lock-up on your camera. Also, turn off the anti-shake or image stabilization options, which can actually introduce wobbling! And lastly, utilize the self-timer or trigger features instead of manually pressing the button.
3. Before taking a photograph study your composition. Does fading light give you a better image than complete dark with few light sources? Zoom into different areas to view them in detail, either by using the lens zoom or by moving your location. Take several test shots to find the ultimate position and frame for your shot. Be aware of the shapes of objects and buildings, do they need a light source or not? Will there be light trails from moving vehicles? Click your camera to ‘night mode’ if you do not have a SLR camera.
4. Dependent on your camera’s capabilities for long exposure images, over 30 seconds, you can adopt ‘bulb mode’ which enables the shutter to remain open for a very long time. Once you have switched on this option you press the shutter button to begin, and it will remain open until you press it again. Remember: check your battery life before utilizing this!
5. Instead of searching for a suitable subject or location in the darkness, scope it out during the day first. Then visit at night and take some test shots. Take into consideration the weather and activities in the area and ensure the area is safe. For example, a busy traffic junction or cliff edge are not advisable at night. So be aware of where you will stand during your photography session.
6. By utilizing the ‘sweet spot’ in your camera’s range of apertures, usually between f/8 and f/16, you will minimize blurred or unfocused images. The middle range of your cameras range will enable you to get the sharpest images. Again, take test shots to ensure you have the correct setting.
7. Camera settings for night or limited light photography are typical: a narrow aperture (f/16), and having the dial set to the right shutter speed, which is indicated by Exposure Level Mark in the middle of the exposure level indicator. With a couple of test shots you will be able to see if they are underexposed by the image looking too bright. Adjusting the dial a couple of clicks one-way or the other rectifies this.
8. To capture moonlight, it is best to take your images around the full moon, such as two or three days either side rather than at its height. Ensure you have a clear night sky with minimal cloud cover and take the shots two to four hours after moonrise, thus creating shadows and revealing forms better than overhead light. Choose a foreground object to highlight the constellation’s movement during exposure, or introduce a flash or torch light to highlight an object in the front of your composition.
9. If you want to photograph the moon itself, choose your composition carefully and photograph at twilight. This enables you to balance the light sources from the moon and the darkening sky. It will require great timing otherwise you will have a black sky with a light orb in it or too much light, which will diminish the light of the moon in the image. Utilize structures at the foot of the image, such as man-made structures or natural horizons of trees or mountains.