Cameras are primarily designed for working in bright light. Hence, snapping photos in subdued light or shooting night scenes is a major challenge for most photographers. Several high-end digital cameras nowadays are equipped with night shooting modes that enable shooting in low light.
However, if you are on a tight budget, you might prefer working with traditional cameras. Nonetheless, even conventional cameras could generate superb night scenes if you learn the secrets of operating a camera in low light conditions.
Increasing the ISO and the shutter speed and using the flash correctly are the common tools used by shutterbugs for capturing decent night images.
To compose a perfect night shot, you need a longer exposure. Exposure is the amount of light that falls on the image sensor or photographic film. It is measured in lux seconds. Long exposure captures enough light, which is necessary for producing clearer and sharper pictures in low light conditions. You can control the exposure by manipulating the shutter speed of the camera. Manual exposure mode could help you to select the right shutter speed. For capturing night scenes, you might opt for 15 or 30 seconds shutter speeds. However, longer shutter speeds are associated with camera shakes, leading to blurry images. To prevent camera jerks owing to long shutter speed, you can use place your camera on a tripod. For better result, you might cancel camera shake by using a shutter release cable along with the tripod.
To deliver sharp night shots, the aperture settings should be accordingly adjusted. By balancing the shutter speed and the aperture, you can produce stunning images in subdued light. To capture static objects in poor light or city lights you can combine a long exposure with a small aperture. A wide aperture would generate sharper night shots by allowing enough low intensity light to reach the image sensor or film when the shutter speed is at a lower level. The aperture also depends upon the depth of the field you would love to capture. For capturing landscapes or wide shots that require less depth of field, you might set the aperture at f/5.6 and above. By experimenting with different aperture settings and shutter speeds you can generate different types of images. With a smaller f-number or by increasing the aperture the lights in a scene become brighter. The f-number should be increased to prevent overexposed shots while capturing moving objects such as car lights.
Always use manual focus for shooting night scenes. Before snapping a picture, you can preview the image on the LCD of your camera and manually adjust the camera focus to produce sharper and brighter pictures. Auto focus might not work properly in poor light.
Use the flash correctly
The flash is an important component of night photography. However, using the flash in a wrong manner would ruin the entire picture. Hence, to generate stunning pictures, you should learn the specific functions of different flash modes. In the automatic mode, the camera flash fires the moment it senses inadequate ambience light. In the Fill Flash or Forced Flash mode, the flash fires regardless of the surrounding light condition. This flash is especially suitable for erasing shadows while shooting outdoors in bright light. For indoor shooting, you might opt for slow sync mode. This mode is most suitable for shooting in subdued light or for capturing night scenes. The flash fires for a longer duration, producing natural looking pictures as seen by the human eyes. If your camera features the Red-Eye Reduction mode, you can use it for snapping portraits in poor light condition. By persistently firing bright light before a shot, the Red-Eye Reduction mode forces the subject to narrow the pupils, which prevents the retina from reflecting the flash light. However, you can always erase the Red-Eye from your portraits with a photo editing software.
You can switch off the automatic flash, and instead control the flash manually to produce some amazing pictures. It is the best way to capture a dominating light source against a dark background such as a fire or candle light. Switch off the flash while shooting distant subjects. The flash could only illuminate subjects three to five meters away from the camera lens. It is ineffective while shooting a starry sky or the moon. Besides draining the battery power of the camera, the camera flash might spoil the photo by producing unwanted reflections.
A high ISO is usually needed for snapping night images. Although a high ISO might reduce blurriness of images, it might make the image grainy.
White Balance setting
We often ignore the White Balance setting of digital cameras. However, by manipulating this important feature of your camera, you can produce outstanding pictures. Usually, by default, a digital camera works in the Auto White Balance mode. It analyses the surrounding ambient light, aperture setting and other features and accordingly adjusts the White Balance. While shooting in subdued light, the portraits and landscapes are illuminated with different sources of artificial light. You can unleash your creativity by composing pictures in different White Balance settings. In the Daylight balanced setting, you can add warm tones to your picture. The Tungsten balanced setting adds cooler tones to your pictures. It makes the night scenes brighter and increases the white shades.
Best time to take night shots
Shooting in total darkness might not produce the best night images. Instead, you might consider shooting in the dusk after the sunset and in the dawn before sunrise. The residual daylight adds more color to the images and reduces contrasts. It also adds more details to the images. You can use a faster shutter speed while shooting in the dusk. Nonetheless, you can even create outstanding night images even while snapping in total darkness by controlling the different settings of the camera.
Photo editing software
To eliminate the imperfections from your photos, you can use a photo editing software. Underexposed night images could be corrected with the Levels tool of your photo editor. It will make your pictures brighter.