Many travelers tuck their camera away after sunset, but there is a wealth of photographic opportunity to discover the beauty of a city at night. Twilight is magical time and cities become bursting with movement, neon lights, starlit skies, and people milling about. Below are few tips to improve your night photos while traveling with a basic DSLR camera.
There are three settings on your camera that will affect the exposure of your night shots: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. If you aren’t familiar with these settings, please refer to my Understanding Exposure post.
Shoot in Aperture Priority (or Manual Mode for more advanced photographers)
Switch the camera out of auto mode and into aperture priority; allowing the camera to determine aperture and shutter speed will leave you with dark images or unwanted movement. Set the aperture for the optimal depth of field that you want. If taking pictures of landscapes, cityscapes, light trails, or water, then set the camera to a small aperture (f/8 and higher) size by picking a large f-stop. If focusing on a subject with a blurry background, set the camera to a larger aperture (f/4 and lower) size by picking a smaller f-stop.
You will also want to set the ISO as low as it goes, generally ISO100, this reduces the noise (graininess of the image). It will also give better color depth in the images.
(Paris | Canon 5DMK2 | 24-70mm | 10s | f/11 | ISO 320)
A long shutter speed allows more light into the camera and is used for low-light settings, while a fast shutter speed freezes motion. Select a long shutter speed (5-15 seconds) and a small aperture (high f-stop). This creates a huge depth of field and makes the image crisp and in focus.
A tripod is crucial in keeping your camera still, but may not have one during your travels because it’s too bulky or left in a hotel room. If that is the case, create a makeshift tripod with your surroundings. Find a ledge, wall, trash can, or a jacket to prop up and stabilize the camera. (Camera was placed on wall with self-timer in photo below.)
Self-Timer or Remote Shutter Control
One of the biggest causes of camera shakes during long exposures is by pressing the shutter release. If you don’t have a shutter release device utilize your camera’s self-timer.
(Toronto, Canada | Canon 5DMK2 | 24-70mm | 30s | f/6.3 | ISO 100)
Composition is important any photo, but can prove challenging at nighttime. Try adding a sense of movement, frame the subject, include a foreground object, or use the rule of thirds (refer to my Better Vacation Photos post).
Light trails add wonderful movement to your images. That being said, ambient light and speed of cars will differ in each setting. Create a long shutter speed (between 10-20 seconds) and small aperture (f/8 and higher).
Starbursts are strikingly beautiful and can make a big impact on your photos. The starburst effect is created by light diffraction and can be achieved by using a small aperture (at least f/14 or above). The smaller the aperture the more pronounced the star will be.
The moon has always been a captivating object to photograph and possibly the only light source at night. But it isn’t always bright, or close enough, to simply shoot a lonesome moon. Frame other objects in front of the moon to give it dimension and a more appealing composition.
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