Article: How to Take Better Night Photos
Here is an article I published on my website about night photography. I hope it'll be useful to some of you in this forum.
How to Take Better Night Photos
by Gary Hendricks
Do you like to take photos at night? I know I do. There's something magical about them - pictures of the moonlight sky and dazzling neon lights convey a special something that daytime photos can't.
When I started out taking digital photos at night, boy, did I have problems! The issue is that many digital cameras do not perform very well under low-light conditions. To take good night photos, there are some tricks you need to remember - so here are a few of them.
Tip 1: Use Long Exposures
The key to successful night photography lies in a long exposure. Weíre talking about exposures measured in seconds. When a long exposure is used, more light is allowed into the camera, allowing the details in your night photo to be captured.
The problem with using long exposures is that you may shake the camera, resulting in poor pictures. The way around this is to use a tripod. I prefer to install a tripod with a shutter-release cable to ensure that I donít jolt the camera at all.
Tip 2: Take Control Shots
One problem with digital cameras is that there are always some pixels on the image sensor which are bad. When taking day photos, these defects are not discernible. However, they are pretty obvious in night photos. How do we correct these? Hereís a simple way Ė take a control shot, then use image editing to subtract out those bad pixels.
This is how it works. The next time youíre out to take night photos, go ahead and snap a picture of Scene A, as you normally would. Then, when itís convenient, take a photo of the exact same Scene A again, but with the lens cap on.
Now you will have two images, one night shot and one control shot (with the hot pixels). Load them up in say, Paint Shop Pro. Switch to the control shot and select Edit and Copy from the menu. Next, switch to the night shot and paste the copied image as a new layer. Then, select the new layer and change the Blend Mode to Difference and click OK. Youíll get the correct night shot with the hot spots subtracted out.
Tip 3: Try to Capture Motion
With a long exposure, you have many creative options when it comes to photography. This includes capturing motion. For example, have you ever wondered how those professional photographers shoot pictures of trails of car lights as they zoom down the highway at night? Itís all due to long exposures. Try to keep this in mind the next time youíre taking a night photo Ė you donít have to restrict yourself to still images.
Tip 4: Play with the Aperture
In addition to shutter speed (which determines exposure time), you can play around with the aperture size of your digital camera. There are two scenarios here. If you set a long exposure, try to use a small aperture to avoid overexposing any stationary lights. in the picture. On the other hand, if you set a short exposure, try using a larger aperture to avoid any motion in your shot.
Tip 5: How to Use the Flash
As a general rule, I turn the flash off when taking night photos. There are some exceptions though Ė one specific example I can think of is trying to shoot a subject in the foreground, with motion trails of car lights in the background. In this case, bring along an external flash unit and shine it on your subject manually. Set a long exposure, then have your subject wait until the picture is taken.
Tip 6: When to Take Night Photos
Whenís the best time to take night photos? I usually like to take them during dusk when colors and details are easier to capture. Iíd recommend that you do some research on the evening before the photo shoot. Decide on the location, then come back the next day to take the photo at dusk.
Hopefully, this article has taught you some tips on taking better night photos. The important concept to remember is that a long exposure is need for good night photos. This means you need to keep you digital camera really, really still. Once you understand that, the quality of your night photos will definitely improve.
Last edited by gary_hendricks; 02-20-2005 at 02:07 AM.
Gary - that's really good stuff - thanks for posting it.
I stuck on one of my Night/dusk shots a while back inthe Digital chat Forum about 3 pages back now (General Digital Photography Chat London Night Shot) There are a couple of other shots in there as well.
I haven't taken many digital night shots yet but so far I am quite happy - my old SLR Olympus OM2n used to take great night shots so my little C-740 has a lot to live up to. I am hoping to take Croydon's Concert Halls - The Fairfield Halls at night soon - it's tricky I keep looking for a good angel and really I need a wider lens - so I might wait until I have bought my new Wide Zoom camera.
Certainly the time of night makes a huge difference - early/dusk seems to reward with nicer skys. Otherwise the long exposures can give a horibble orange tinge if you live in town.
Keep up the good work - I will keep dipping into your site now I have found it.
Geoff Chandler. UK/England/Surrey
NIKON D90 / D80. Nikon 16 - 85 VR, Tamron 28-200,
Sigma 70-300APO, Tokina 100 AT-X Pro D.
SB600 flash. Panasonic DMC-TZ25
Oh yes ... Croydon's Concert Halls. That'll be a spectacular shot! Let me know how it turns out.
Originally Posted by Geoff Chandler
hi gary. i am a relative newbie to digital photography. i was going over your tips and regarding the part on taking a control shot: one takes this shot with the lens cap on? please explain. i dont quite understand that...
Yes, you take it with the lens cap on. This is to reveal the hot pixels in the camera. If you subtract this image from the actual night shot you take, you can get a night shot without those hot spots.
Originally Posted by junji98
Gary, thanks for this posting, it's fabulous. I have a question about the night photos though, or ones in dark lighting. Most of the time if I am just taking scenery at night then I do set a slow shutter speed and open the aperture to capture the light. It comes out great. But how do photographers capture the same effect and lighting with people and movement clearly? People dancing or action at night without the harsh flash? Thanks!
I don't understand how one would "subtract" the hot pixels. I know how it would work in principle, but I don't know how to do it in CS2! Can anyone help?
Canon Rebel XT
No decent glass... yet
RE: Tip 2: Take Control Shots
I have a question, I just tried Tip2, take a photo with lens cap, and I'm not sure what I'm looking for. I'm used to Computer LCDs where dead pixels can be seen.
Since you stated "One problem with digital cameras is that there are always some pixels on the image sensor which are bad." so I tried it.
Is it the "background noise"?
Could you take a look and tell me where the dead pixels are? The image you see is a 5MB Fine jpg from a Finepix s5200 with lense cap closed and set to Auto. I also tried it in RAW and it looked the same but it's a bit big for posting.
Warning, file is 2592x1944 2.3MB! NOT ANYMORE, this file does not have any dead pixels, see below. I compressed it to save bandwith but left it on my server for completeness.
Last edited by Skylinux; 12-24-2005 at 08:33 PM.
Photo taken in night time with f = 6.3 and exposure time = 10 sec.
Skylinux, I looked at your EXIF data and the exposure is only 1/4s. Stuck pixels usually only appear in long exposures. A stuck pixel looks like a tiny random white dot, and there are usually only a few of them (unlike noise, which is a grain pattern that is everywhere in the picture). Can you manually set your camera to take, say, a 3 s exposure and try it again?
Originally Posted by Skylinux
My Nikon D80 gallery
My Fujifilm FinePix F30 and F10 galleries
SLR stuff: Nikon D80 | Nikon F80 | Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom | Nikkor AF 24mm f/2.8D | Nikkor AF 35mm f/2D | Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8 | Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM | Tamron SP AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) | Tamron SP AF 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AD Aspherical (IF) | Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
P&S stuff: Fujifilm FinePix F30 | Fujifilm FinePix F10
Accessories: Slik Sprint Pro GM tripod