DSLR NIGHT TIME PHOTOGRAPHY

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Some amazing images have been captured at night time, however, there are many factors to be considered before attempting to shoot when it’s dark outside. Some of these factors include subject, lighting, stabilization, and of course shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Below you can view a couple of images that I shot at night.

Example – Bogue Inlet Pier
Bogue Inlet Pier
Summer of 2011 @ 12:30AM

Example – New Year’s Eve Stars
Stars
New Years Eve 2011/2012 @ 11:45PM

Whereas these aren’t spectacular images, they are good examples of what can be photographed at night without expensive gear. These were both shot with a Canon T2i and it’s simple kit lens the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6. The pier is Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, NC and the shutter was open for 5 seconds to capture that image. For the image of the stars, I had to leave the shutter open for 30 seconds to capture all of the light information. There were nowhere near that many stars visible to the naked eye that night. If you are interested in getting well exposed images during the night time, please consider the points below before shooting.

Lighting
In most situations shooting photos at night, you will not have the ideal amount of lighting for your subject. In this case, you may need to bring your own lights to set up a scene just the way you want it, or adjust settings on your camera to compensate for the low light conditions. Optimal low light settings include a wide open aperture, slow shutter speed, and moderate to high ISO (and of course for different effects/subjects this will vary).

Shutter Speed
In general, for low light settings you want to keep the shutter speed as slow as you can. If you are handheld, about the lowest you can get away with without streaking in your image is about 1/60. If your camera is completely still, you can leave the shutter open for much longer. Be sure to have a tripod, other stabilization device, or somewhere to set your camera where it will be perfectly still. Letting it expose for longer periods of time will allow the sensor to capture more information, ultimately producing a more defined image. See what some people have done with slow shutter speeds and “light writing.”
Flickr Group – Light Junkies

Aperture
The optimal setting for your aperture in a low light setting is always going to be wide open. So if you have a lens that can go down to f1.4 that can let in a significant amount of light compared to a lens that will only go down to f3.5. This makes your depth of field shallower while allowing for a properly exposed image.

ISO
ISO is a setting on DSLRs that mimics the sensitivity of film. Basically, the higher your ISO is, the more sensitive your sensor becomes to light and your image will appear brighter. This comes at a cost however. With higher ISO settings, your image gets grainer due to digital noise. It’s really a matter of finding that happy medium when shooting in low light conditions that allows for you to get a properly exposed looking image, but still keeping the digital noise down.

Subject
Be it a landscape, a portrait of someone, a car, an animal, or anything, you need to know the limitations a subject will provide before you photograph it. If shooting a landscape at night, chances are you may not have enough available lighting for it. A landscape however is not a moving image, so you can slow your shutter speed down to let your camera expose the scene longer, taking in more light and producing a good image. Be sure your camera is completely still when shooting with slow shutter speeds.

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