All Night Long

We all know that the quality of our photographs is directly related to the quality of light, right? Oh, you didn’t? Well. It does.

You ever look at your pictures and think- God, I suck? Yeah, me too. And, of course, there are a lot of factors that go into making a good picture, but one of the primary things that will make or break a photo is the quality of light. And by that, I mean time of day during which your take your pictures. We have all heard of the magic hour, but were you aware that there are more than two of them (sunrise and sunset)? There are, like, a lot more.

I’m talking about nighttime shooting, of course. The light (moonlight/starlight/ambient light) will be even and diffuse. Things take on an entirely different quality: spooky sometimes, lovely at others. You can shoot the same scene day and night and they will be radically different. Whenever I’m in a creative funk, I head out at night. and here’s the best part- shooting at night is easy! At least the technical side of it is. Let’s look at these examples:

Not bad, right? Well the truth is, these shots were super easy to get. You just need to, you know, get to these places, and you have to have a halfway-decent camera and a working knowledge of it’s functions. The composition is pretty forgiving at night- just pick an interesting landscape and get a focal point and then just shoot.

So here is what you need to do, in a few short steps:

1) Turn up your ISO. Something to the order of 1,200-3,600 depending on the available light.

2) Open up your aperture. f-2.8 is pretty standard.

3) Set your focus to infinity if you have a fancy fancy lens. if not, a trick I’ve learned is to focus on something way off in the distance. Stars will work, and then (this is important) turn off autofocus. Your camera will focus for eternity in the dark otherwise. Because your camera is pretty dumb. But you? You’re smart.

4) Now, you’ll have to manually adjust your shutter speed. Because you need to open up the shutter for a long time to let more light in, anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. When you see a fraction (1/60; 1/10), it’s too short. You want to see whole numbers (3”; 10”).

Now, of course, you’ll need a good tripod to hold the camera steady. And also, if it’s cold, something warm to drink like, say, twelve beers.

So there you go! Now, you’ll need to spend time adjusting your various controls until you get the results you want, but it’s so much fun, you won’t even notice that you’ve got hypothermia. That’s what the twelve beers are for.

Questions? Fire away below!