Night photography is pretty much what you would think it is: taking photographs at night.
Photography relies entirely on light, and night is pretty famous for being dark. On that basis, night photography seems a bit counterintuitive. However, humans can see at night because it isn’t entirely dark and there is a lot of artificial light, especially in towns and cities. Also, we’ve seen lots of photographs of things at night, so we know it is possible.
The Aim of the Trip
My camera club organised a trip to London on 20th November, arriving in London just before 3pm. The aim was to take some shots as the sun set looking out for the time when the light from the sun balanced with artificial light. Once light from the sun had completely gone, the aim was to use artificial light and capture light trails from passing vehicles.
We started our photography journey at the South end of the London Millennium Footbridge, walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral where we stayed for some time. We then re-crossed the Millennium Bridge and made our way along the South Bank to Tower Bridge. Then we went home.
What Equipment Do You Need for Night Photography
So let’s start by discussing the equipment required for night photography. The good news is you don’t need a lot of extra gear. Obviously, you need your standard camera and lens, and you absolutely must have a tripod. The lack of light requires your camera to use a long shutter speed to gather enough light meaning that the camera must be held still.
A remote shutter release is helpful because then you don’t need to touch, and possibly shake, your camera. If you don’t have a remote or find yourself without one on occasion, you can use your camera’s timer so a remote shutter release is helpful, but not essential.
There are some additional items to consider, but they’re really not essential:
- A torch (traditional or head-mounted)
- A Lens hood: At night in towns and cities there are lots of bright lights like street lights, vehicles and traffic lights. The lens hood will reduce flare.
- Extra batteries: Long exposures can drain your camera battery and using the screen a lot makes this worse. So does cold weather. Don’t risk it – a dead battery means your night is over.
Camera settings for Night Photography
The darkness changes your exposure values. But if you use a tripod, it is not difficult to get it right. Exposure is a function of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Because of the darkness, there is less light available, so you can only get enough into the camera by adjusting one or more of these three settings.
Day photography usually requires shutter speeds of a fraction of a second. With no other alterations, at night the camera will use shutter speeds that are longer than one second – sometimes significantly longer. Think of it this way: because it is dark, the camera needs a longer period of time to gather enough light.
The shutter will now be open for longer, so the camera needs to be held steady or movement will cause your image to blur. That is why a tripod is a must-have at night.
What Aperture Range for Night Photography
The aperture is literally the hole that allows light into the camera. A larger aperture allows light into the camera more quickly. So a smaller aperture will require longer shutter speeds and, logically, a larger aperture allows shorter shutter speeds.
ISO measures the sensitivity of the digital sensor in your camera. Higher ISO settings mean that the sensor is more sensitive to light; so you would be able to use a shorter shutter speed or a smaller aperture.
However, using a higher ISO setting can result in more digital noise and dark areas show more noise, and that is a problem at night. A tripod will allow you to avoid having to use a high ISO setting because it allows a longer shutter speed, which allows more light into the camera.
What results might we get?
If we have a long shutter speed then things moving in shot might blur. This might seem like a disadvantage, but enables us to capture some excellent effects.
The first is that, counterintuitively, people can become less of a problem. If your shutter speed is about 25 seconds, then people can walk through your shot and, as long as they keep moving, they will have little effect on your shot.
The second is that rather milky appearance of water you may have seen. Rivers and the sea may smooth, and waterfalls take on an unreal appearance.
If clever effects on water aren’t your thing, then capturing light trails as traffic moves through your shot gives a fantastic representation of movement.
If there is enough light to close the aperture to the smallest possible, f22 perhaps, then artificial light may ‘starburst’ where the rays of light surround the bright light source. A bit like a five-year-old’s drawing of the sun.
The results of my night photography trip are below. I think this was a good job, and I learned loads – a really good experience.