Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Night Photography Tips: Taking Photos of People and Monuments

Learning night photography tips can be far more exciting than practicing in the clear sunlight. The mood of the world changes at night, there are additional light sources everywhere – and opportunities to capture images of people and monuments wherever you may be.

Night time is not as dark, black and boring as you think! When everyone else goes home, the night photographers come out to work their magic. You’ll need to remember some fundamental photography techniques when taking photos at night – but if you do it properly, you can truly create some masterful images. The next time you’re away on holiday somewhere, remember these great night photography tips.

A haunting photo of the Colosseum by photographer David Wilmot

Preparing For Your Night Shoot

A lot of night photography is about spontaneity, but first you have to come prepared to be spontaneous! Always bring along a tripod, so that you can take the sharpest images possible and eliminate any kind of vibration that would interfere with the clarity of your image. Because you’ll be photographing moving people, and still buildings or monuments (bridges, statues etc) you need to prepare for both.

Your light sources are going to come from the things around you, not from the sun. Always be aware of all ambient light in each image you frame. Professional photographers will tell you one of the best night photography tips they ever received was to – know their equipment. You’ll be out at night shooting, and no one has time to try and figure out a particular setting before they do. Learn all you can about your DSLR camera before you go.

The Finer Points of Night Photography

The first thing you need to know about shooting at night is that you need longer exposure times, with average ISO settings of between 100 and 400. There is the constant danger of camera shake, which happens when you press the capture button – and the only real way to solve that problem is with a remote or cable release. Because your shutter will be open for longer, the risk of motion blur from ambient light is extremely high.

When you find a scene you enjoy, and have chosen the right angle and frame – you’ll need to set up for a timed exposure. This works best on monuments because they don’t move. People tend to make slow shutter speeds difficult, and you’re bound to come up with some blurred images in the end. Shooting through live view, and not your view finder – will make the process easier.

Keep in mind that if there is almost no light (or no real light sources) in your image, your ISO settings will have to increase, so that you can get proper exposure out of your photo. For well lit areas, however – this just isn’t necessary. Let’s get into the intricacies of photographing people and monuments at night.

People and Night Photography

Here are some night photography tips that matter! Always shoot in RAW mode when capturing images of people at night. Check to see if your DSLR camera has a ‘night mode’ - it usually activates the flash when framing portraits in the evening. Without the flash your subjects might come out very dark, depending on the light sources in the area. Beware of underexposure! It’s a night photography tip you can count on happening.

Great use of depth of field by photographer Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Your goal is to ensure that your subject is well lit, but that you also capture any ambient light in the background. You’ll constantly be readjusting your settings to try and match this evening light, with the artificial daylight that allows your subject to be seen. Though you’re shooting people, you should always be aware of your background. If it’s too busy, just use depth of field and blur it out to enhance your subject.

Use your landscape to add light to an image if there isn’t enough, or if you’re looking for a more dramatic element in your photo. Water at night casts beautiful reflections of light from cityscapes – and they can make for breathtaking portrait backgrounds. Night photography tips like these will help you recognize photo opportunities as you move through the city, or area that you’re shooting in.

Monuments and Night Photography

Unlike people, monuments give you all the time you need to position, compose and frame your shot. Keep your flash off, and depending on your exposure time – make the necessary adjustments to your ISO, and aperture settings. A monument photo with a 15 second exposure time for example, needs a narrow aperture for greater depth of field. Shoot in RAW mode to get the most out of color and light in your images.

Carefully assess your position, and take a variety of shots from different perspectives and locations. Use symmetry, or other buildings to frame your image, but remember to pick a foreground image for depth and focus. If your sole goal is to shoot a single monument and it’s huge – go for simplicity, focus and clarity. There are very few creative shots of bridges, but there are also few perfect shots of them.

Night Photography Round Up

At the end of the day, after you’re armed with your settings – it’s just you and an unlimited source of subjects, perspectives and creative opportunities. What makes night photography so challenging, is learning to identify prime subjects and interesting spots - and then shooting them before they change. Take this to heart, and you’ll become a well-rounded photographer.

You’ll have far more failed photos than good ones, but don’t be discouraged – that’s just the process that needs to happen. It all becomes worth it when several of your batch turn out to be exquisite. Keep learning more night photography tips and expand your knowledge on the subject. It will only help you improve your skills! 

Also, check out this night photography video on YouTube for more knowledge!

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