Taking pictures at night can be quite challenging for beginners. It requires you to manipulate ISO, aperture, and shutter speed among many other things. One technique that is particularly effective in night photography is long exposure, which essentially means you know how to manipulate shutter speed.
Long exposure means the camera’s shutter is open for an extended period of time, usually several seconds or even minutes.
This allows light to enter the camera for a longer period of time, creating a brighter and more detailed image. In night photography, this can be used to capture the movement as well as ambient light in cityscapes or other less illuminated locations.
Despite its many benefits, using long exposure does have some challenges; since the shutter is open for a longer period of time, you will inevitably have camera shake, which can occur if the camera is not held steady during the exposure.
This will result in a blurry or distorted image. And if it’s not something you’re aiming for when experimenting, you will want to support your camera.
So how should you set up your camera settings then ?
1. Shutter speed
Long exposures typically require a slower shutter speed and you’d have to experiment to know which is the right one for your circumstances.
For example, if you’re photographing a waterfall, a slower shutter speed will create a smooth, silky effect of the water. If on the other hand you’re photographing a busy street, a faster shutter speed can freeze the movement of cars and people.
To shoot colorful trails, you can set your camera to low shutter speeds (from 1/30 down to 30 seconds). Just keep in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the longer the light trails.
2. Aperture and ISO
Start at about 400, which is high enough that you won’t have to use an extremely long shutter speed. At the same time, most cameras can shoot at ISO 400 without digital noise becoming a problem.
Using the widest aperture setting for long exposures isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the combination of really slow shutter speeds and wide aperture can overexpose an image. You’d be surprised how much light your camera gathers even in dimly lit environments. You’ll see that it can be as small as f/22 for an exposure of a few seconds long. Depending on which lens you decide to choose, you’ll have more aperture range to play with.
A wider aperture like f/2.8 will allow more light in, while a narrower aperture like f/22 will let less light in. The ISO controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. A low ISO 100 is only better for low light situations, when you’re looking to avoid any excess noice in your image.
3. Use a tripod
Long exposures can be affected by even the slightest movement, which is why it’s important to use a tripod or other stabilizing device. This will help to keep the camera steady and prevent any blur from camera shake.
Get one that can handle a heavy camera, preferably made of aluminum (or carbon fiber if you’re not on a budget) since it’s both light and durable.
Preventing blur while having long exposure
The only way to prevent any type of blur in your images is just by making sure there is no movement what so ever. When using long exposure, you have to have the shutter open for a longer period of time, which will inevitably cause motion in the picture.
4. Using flash
Here we’ll have a simple concept that combines long exposure with flash photography. There are two types of slow-sync flash available to us, and they will each produce their own unique results.
The two types are front curtain or rear curtain. Either method can be used in an environment where everything is still with little difference in the outcome, not forgetting that a tripod would still be necessary in most cases. However, if you’re trying to capture any kind of movement within the scene, it’s important to choose the technique that will provide you with the desired result.
Front-curtain: The flash is fired at the start of the shot – right when the shutter opens. The flash will illuminate the subject and foreground, and the shutter will remain open for the remainder of the shot – long enough to capture everything else in the background.
Rear-curtain: Basically the opposite of the above. The shutter is opened for as long as necessary – long enough to capture the background, and then at the very last minute, the flash will fire to illuminate the subject and foreground.
5. Shooting RAW
JPEG is the perfect file format for most casual photographers since they don’t take up too much space on your memory card. JPEG files can also be uploaded without being converted into another file.
However, this file format also compresses your image files drastically, making it problematic when you’re shooting scenes with high dynamic range.
When shooting at night, switch your image files to RAW in your camera’s menu. RAW files take up a lot of space on your memory card, and your images need to be edited afterward, but at least the quality of each image is preserved.
The key takeaways from this article include the importance of proper planning and preparation, understanding your camera settings and how to use them effectively, and experimenting with different light sources and compositions.