Night Photography Checklist

Posted by Gary Ramey on August 1st, 2011

When taking night photography you should take the following into consideration:

  • A tripod is mandatory. Long exposures require for your camera to be a steady as possible.
  • Bring a jacket. It is amazing how chilly it can feel immediately after sundown.
  • Bring a towel. Condensation can begin to occur immediately after sundown. The towel can be used to separate yourself or your equipment from a slightly wet surface.
  • Bring an umbrella. You’ll be glad you did if it starts to rain. The photoshoot may be over but at least your equipment won’t be ruined.
  • Bring a flashlight. A flashlight can be used to see the dials on your camera, illuminate your subject (light painting), or to assist in focus by illuminating the subject or by putting the flashlight in the scene at the point where you want to focus.
  • Bring spare batteries for your camera or fully charge your camera battery. Night shots are long exposures and, if you turn on the settings in your camera to reduce noise, the processing time for each photograph will be as long as the exposure.
  • Use a remote or set the timer on your camera. Pressing the shutter button can cause camera movement. Most cameras can shoot up to a 30 second exposure. Depending on the amount of light in the scene, you may need a remote that has its own timer. To use that kind of remote, the exposure is set to BULB and the remote controls the shutter. Click on this link to see an inexpensive remote that is compatible with many Canon cameras.
  • Set your white balance to daylight. Auto white balance will become confused by the many different colored light sources that you will encounter at night. Using daylight means that incandescent, fluorescent, xenon, halon, and any other color lights will maintain their actual color. If you shoot in camera RAW, this isn’t as critical.
  • Shoot in camera RAW. RAW files can have the white balance adjusted without any loss of quality. I shoot in RAW + JPEG. That gives me instant gratification.
  • Set your aperture at f/8, f/11, or f/16. Focus is tricky at best at night. Don’t expect auto focus to work at all. By using f/8, f/11, or f/16, the depth of field will be greater and focus will not be as critical.
  • Use ISO 100 for Canon cameras and ISO 200 for Nikons. Long exposures are very noisy so try to keep your ISO in the sweet spot for your camera type. If your subject is too blurry or the blur isn’t what you want, you may need to increase the ISO. It is usually OK to go as high as ISO 800 and you may even be able to get away with ISO 1600. Beyond that, expect a lot of noise.
  • Use a high ISO to compose your shot then switch back to the actual ISO that you need to use for the photograph.
  • Turn on LENR (long-exposure noise reduction).
  • Use the histogram to determine if the photograph is exposed properly. You want the graph for the histogram to almost but not touch or go beyond the right. If it does, the highlights in the scene will be clipped (pure white) and can never be recovered.
  • Lower the intensity of the LCD. If it is too bright, you will think that your photograph is over exposed when it isn’t. Refer to the histogram instead. It will provide a better indicator of the exposure.
  • Remove the UV filter from your lens (optional). I usually try to leave the filter in place, especially at the beach but if I notice flare in my photos, I remove it.
  • Put a lens hood on your lens (optional). A lens hood can reduce flare.
  • If you camera has it, try using Live View instead of using the view finder to compose shots.
  • Use a bubble level on your camera. I often put a bubble level in the hot shoe of my camera and depend on it to keep the horizon line perfectly straight. A bubble level is especially helpful if you can’t even see the horizon because it is too dark.

Click here to find out about painting with light and long exposures.


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