I recently was in Shanghai for the first time and had a blast shooting at night. And not long afterwards, I went up to San Francisco with a buddy visiting from Amsterdam to show him the town. I also got the chance to do a lot of night shooting.
There are some things to know that help create better shots at night and there is certain gear that helps get you from a good shot to an incredible shot.
First, obviously, is a tripod. Most night shots without flash are long exposures, and a good tripod is crucial. Next is a cable release, which lets you push a switch on the end of a cable to open your shutter without the need for you to touch the camera. It also keeps the shutter open for as long as you want. You can set your camera for a time period to stay open without a cable release, but I always use a cable release because I want absolutely no camera movement at all.
Having a small flashlight helps, too, to make sure all of your camera settings are correct.
Once I am set up and my composition looks good , I have to decide approximately how long I want my shutter to be open. And also, what kind of depth of field I want for the shot.
In the photo of the Nan-pu Bridge in Shanghai, I had to set everything the way I wanted before I could take my first shot. I wanted the lowest ISO possible, which on my camera was 50 . This will give me the least amount of grain and clearest shot possible. I wanted the long car trails on the freeway from the headlights and tail lights, so I knew I needed a pretty long exposure . I knew it would also let me use a pretty high f/stop for a good amount of depth of field. I used 15 seconds, which let me set my f/stop to f14. I used a 24-105mm lens and shot at 32mm. I shot horizontal and vertical, but I like my vertical ones better.
Much of the glow from the shot comes from the long exposure, which is a bonus. And when you are shooting digitally, you can check in a second to see if you are under or over-exposed. I havenít shot film in over 5 years and donít miss it one bit. Oh, the endless advantages of shooting digital...
For the next shot, also in Shanghai and under the freeway overpass, I shot it almost the same way except I was using a 14mm lens and not a 24-105mm. My shutter didnít need to be open as long so I set it to 4 seconds, although I kept changing the shutter times on different exposures. This is one part of the equation that is totally up to you. My aperture was f11, which gave me plenty of detail, especially with such a wide angle lens. And my ISO was set at 100. One advantage of night photography with a tripod is that you can fine tune your set up until it is perfect. A tripod is worth its weight in gold at times. And night photography is one of those times.
The next shot in Tokyo was shot at the world's busiest intersection in Shibuya, and I have never seen anything like it. About every minute or so the light changes and a million people were walking through the intersection past me and my tripod, knocking into it, on the way into the underground railway. I wanted to shoot all of the amazing neon lights, but also wanted to capture some sense of the people moving swiftly by. I set up on a tripod, and set my camera at 1 second at f13 at ISO 100. I also was using a 14mm wide-angle lens for this shot to give me the maximum wide-angle effect. I knew one second would give me just enough movement of the people and not make them too blurry. But the tripod made the rest of the image tack sharp!
Article by Scott Stulberg. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.