Night Photography Tips

13th June 2014

Taking and making images at night is something I like to do, particularly when I'm wild camping in the mountains (it gives me something to do in-between the golden hours!). During the last full moon I decided to stop out above Ullswater in the English Lake District to see what images I could come up with.



This was my lofty camp spot. I ran back into the tent during the exposure to light the inside with my headtorch.


And this was the composition that I'd planned in my head. Moonlight pretty much appears as daylight if exposed long enough. This makes an interesting contrast to the hotel lights along the shore and the town lights of Penrith in the distance.

There must be thousands or hundreds of thousands of Ullswater images online and that means it's not easy creating something original and authentic. By getting to different locations (rather than the same spot everyone else uses); going out in different conditions and at different times (e.g. night) is a good way produce something different.


This is the view looking east from where I was located.

So, I thought I'd share some images from this trip, as well as some taken on previous nights out along with some of the things you might want to take into consideration to help improve your night photography.


A shot taken looking down on the small vilage of Glenridding below.


Subjects

Night photography is great and there's a million and one things you could choose to photograph - just experiment.

The most important thing to stress however is that it's easy to focus on getting the technical side right, then forgetting all about composition! So, all those things that make a good shot during daylight, need to be kept in mind at night time!


A shot taken this year of the Aurora Borealis.


Tripods - keeping it still

At night it gets dark. The darker it gets, the longer the shutter speed you will need to get a good exposure. As the length of shutter speed increases, so does the chance of 'camera shake' which will ruin your image.

So, to eliminate this problem you need some means of keeping the camera still. REALLY still. Usually this means using a sturdy tripod. You could also try a small bean bag to rest you camera on, or some other item to nest your camera as you set it on a wall, the ground etc.


This is an ancient standing stone which I've 'light painted' with my headtorch, having exposed for the milky way in the background.

With a sturdy tripod you can take exposures of seconds, minutes or hours without worrying about camera shake. One thing to be mindful of, particularly in the mountains is shielding your camera and tripod from the wind - even a small gust can cause small movement.

Remote release - Don't touch the camera!
Your camera is now set on the tripod - great. However, if you touch the shutter button at the start of the exposure, you could introduce a slight shake which will show up in the image. There are a few ways to avoid this.

Remote release - This plugs into your camera, or operates wirelessly and means you press the remote, rather than the camera to start the exposure. This is probably the best solution.

Camera Timer - If you don't have a remote release, you can use the timer on your camera, meaning it will initiate the exposure itself, seconds after you last touched the camera and long enough ago that any movement has settled down.

Hand / Object in front of lens - A third option is to hold something (preferably dark / black) in front of the camera as you press the shutter release. After a second or two once things have settled, take the item away and your camera sensor will start to record the scene. At night, the object you used won't record on the exposure.

Mirror lock-up
Even with a timer or remote release, there's still some movement introduced when the mirror slaps up to allow the light to hit the camera sensor. So, if you want to eliminate the possibility of introducing even minor camera shake, using this feature is a good idea. The camera will raise the mirror when you press the shutter button, but will only start to record the exposure once you press the (remote) shutter button again. Worth giving this a go.


Another Aurora shot - in this one the long exposure time has captured the movement of the clouds, adding additional interest.

Focusing (manual)
Once it's dark, you're automatic lens focusing loses the plot. Even if it does focus, there's no guarantee that it's chosen to focus on the spot you intended. So what to do? Just switch to manual focusing and take control yourself. You can use the distance marks on the lens as a guide, or you could try live view if you have it.

Exposure problems
Like focusing, the camera might start to be naughty at night when it's meter struggles to give you a good exposure. Give the camera a chance to work out the exposure then take a shot. If it doesn't turn out as you want then it's probably time to switch to manual mode and start experimenting by increasing the length of the shutter speed. Once the scene needs more than 30 seconds exposure, you'll need to go into 'Bulb' mode in which you press the shutter button to start the exposure, lock this off, then release the shutter button to finish the exposure after the appropriate length of time.



Industrial scenes and buildings can often making striking subjects at night.

Noise reduction Modes
As cameras take long exposures, the sensors start to warm up and you can get digital noise (often bright pixels coloured strangely). To combat this, many camera's have a noise reduction mode - give these a go and see if they work for you.

Personally, I switch this off as using it doubles the length of time needed to take shots and doesn't offer me as much control as reducing any noise afterwards in processing. I shoot RAW and find I can get better, more controllable results without noise reduction.

About the author:
Rod Ireland is a photographer specialising in tuition workshops, landscapes and commercial images (www.rodireland.co.uk). He also runs an outdoor business in the Lake District (www.outtherepeople.co.uk)

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