BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Vincent J. DeSanto
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/12/2007

Night Photography

Please help! Why do my night photographs come out blurry? I use a tripod and I also use the self-timer, yet my shots still come out slightly blurry and not crisp. This is driving me nuts now. I am determined to get good at taking pictures at night, but it is getting frustrating to say the least. I use a Canon Digital Rebel 35mm digital camera. Thanks!

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9/21/2007 6:35:32 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Type of tripod? Shutter speed? The only thing I can think of is "mirror slap" - especially if your exposures are between 1/8th and several secs. Can you post an example? Mirror slap has a definite signature look.

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9/21/2007 6:47:22 PM

W.    What are you trying to take pictures of? The night sky? Moon? Stars? Post one of those pics typical of the problem so that we can see it.
What apertures and shutter times did you use on those blurry exposures? If it's long shutter times: Remember that the earth moves, revolves, 24 hours a day! So the moon and stars change position continuously. You would see that with long shutter times.

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9/21/2007 6:48:49 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Lightweight tripod with heavy lens, standing on a bridge and a car goes by, keeping your hand on the camera, wind - all potential causes of blurriness.

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9/22/2007 12:29:36 AM

W.    And do you use the selftimer on a 2-second or a 10-second delay? With a lightweight tripod and a heavy camera/lens combo, two seconds is simply not long enough to finish the swaying or swinging. Even 10 seconds may not be long enough. Momentum is a considerable force.
Can you lose the tripod and try with a beanbag or pillow? That would effectively dampen any movement.

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9/23/2007 10:33:57 AM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Along with everything else, watch your focus. Autofocus depends on contrast and often does not work well in low-light situations.

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9/24/2007 4:40:46 AM

Johanna S. Billings
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/16/2007
  I'm not sure if I have an answer or just more questions, but I am jumping in hoping to contribute and/or learn something.

I shoot photos of our high school band at night with stadium lighting and no flash. My photos are really more grainy than out of focus. But I might also interpret that as out of focus because they're not sharp when blown up to 100 percent in Photoshop. I push the ISO up to 800, sometimes higher, to get shutter speeds of 1/60 or higher as I am also dealing with subject movement. Action shots at night are tough! I just got a monopod -- many of the football photogs use them -- and I am saving for a nice flash (I just got my DSLR in August).

I'm wondering if what Vincent sees is graininess and a lack fo detail rather than a lack of focus. As I said, when I blow up my grainy photos, they don't look sharp like a still life photo would be. But I don't know that I would call it a lack of focus. Sometimes, thought, because of movement and autofocus, I end up with a clearer focus on the background than the subject (I take multiple shots to help ensure I get good ones).

Any other tips anyone can offer me are also appreciated! :-) I shoot at the highest resolution (low compression). Would it help to shoot in RAW format or TIFF to get more detail to compensate for graininess? (I know that wouldn't help Vincent, I hope he doesn't mind my throwing in another question).

Thanks, everyone.


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10/2/2007 9:56:38 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Vincent said blurry, which could mean movement. And that's how it's usually used for photos.
It's not really a fair comparison to analyze a night time action photo against a still life.
You can have great detail in a photo that has high iso grain. Detail is more a function of optics, quality and focus.
Raw will give you more gradation and it's uncompressed so it'll be better for high iso, but you'll still have grain.

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10/2/2007 2:01:12 PM

Dana Gambill   I use a camera backpack for my gear. For a night shot, or one requiring long exposure, I hang my backpack on the tripod so it weighs it down. My own portable sandbag!

You can also get a basket-type device that straps onto the legs of your tripod and put lenses and/or camera body in there to weigh the tripod down.

Good Luck!

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10/2/2007 2:30:17 PM

Johanna S. Billings
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/16/2007

Not all of us are professionals. Some, like me, do not know all the nuances of meaning behind all the technical terms. I personally won't apologize for still having much to learn. I'm sorry my comparison seemed to offend your photographic sensibilitites. I was not trying to be technical, just explain detail in everyday terms in hopes that Vincent might understand what I was trying to say. Please try to be less condescending in the future.

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10/2/2007 8:22:25 PM

Dana Gambill   Hey Joanna,

I was just reading about your challenges with photographing your high school band at night. Try using a flash - it will freeze the focus on the slowest moving thing. If you don't own a flash, you could maybe rent one... If you're using a monopod, even if you are using the self-timer, and no flash, you will get blurry photos because the monopod would pick up movement. If you were using a monopod AND a flash, then you'd get some movement from the monopod, but not as much at slow shutter speeds (1/15, 1/25) as you'd get if you were hand-holding. For sports photographers, monopods are great because their long lenses are heavy and they're shooting at such fast shutter speeds (1/500 or 1/1000) that the camera is not picking up the movement from the monopod.

If it was me doing your shoot, I'd see what the camera meters at ISO 400 at f8. If 1/30 or above, you could try hand holding, although using a monopod would be great if it doesn't interfere with you getting the shots. For me it would interfere. You could test this out prior to your next shoot by shooting indoors at night or in a mall at night. See what settings work best on your camera. Using the night shot setting on your camera may work better than setting your camera on Manual or Aperature priority. For your flash, I usually use TTL, even at night, but that's me. Regarding the slow shutter speed, yes, your images will have a bit of a motion blur, but the flash will freeze what's in focus and moving slowest. I actually prefer to shoot indoors at night at 1/30 to get the ambient light in. And I hand hold because I'm shooting people. I love the effect I get. But you need to see how powerful those stadium lights show up for you. If there is too much ambient light, let in less ambient light by closing down your shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/60 or 1/125... whatever looks best. If you need more ambient light, go up from ISO 400 to ISO 800.

Once your images come out to your liking, you can play around with different effects for a more fine arty look, like if you purposely used a low ISO and a slow shutter speed (experiment with 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, etc.) using a tripod. You could just use the natural stadium lights for this. Don't pan (follow the action with your camera, like when people are walking) in this example. Well, you could try both ways and see what you like. But what would show up would be blurred streaks of your band members and colors. I hope this helps...

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10/2/2007 10:55:38 PM

Bernard    Johanna
Greg's comment is entertaining, but believe me, your response is even more entertaining, do you have anymore buttons to push. don't worry about it, just sit back and learn.

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10/2/2007 11:26:35 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Who needs more buttons when you have that big one that says "SELF CONCIOUS" right in the middle of her forehead.

Maybe the word gradation was the one that was so technical.

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10/3/2007 11:35:11 AM

Dana Gambill   Now, now.... play nice...

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10/3/2007 11:56:30 AM

Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  I've taken a LOT of night photos and photos in poor lighting conditions. I use TV mode with sometimes up to 30 second exposures. I use my tripod with a backpack or weight holding the tripod still. The ISO should be at 400 or higher, you can check out mirror lockup it you think its that but I've never locked my mirror up to shoot. Oh yeah I also have a 3" remote I bought off EBay for under $20. Got a couple examples in my gallery.

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10/3/2007 12:05:07 PM

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