Byron Neslen Southwest Fine Art Photography


Photo Tip 3: Night Photography

Many people feel that photography ends when the sun sets, this however limits you to only photographing one half of the day. Night photography can give you images that are unique and dramatic. This is a perfect time to do long exposures and include some movement in your images. Sometimes you may get a surprise like I did in the above image. Despite some inherent inconveniences night photography is well worth the effort. Three things are needed; a camera that can be placed on manual, a tripod, and a cable release or a self timer on the camera.

Many of my remarks are going to be based on film cameras which have some advantages over digital, specifically if you are doing very long exposures like an hour or longer. If you are using a manual film camera you don't need to worry about batteries. You also don't need to worry about the digital noise that can plague long exposures taken with digital cameras. If you are shooting lightning you don't need to worry as much with the camera getting wet and ruining the electronics as with digital. One definite advantage that digital has is knowing instantly that the scene is exposed correctly. If not you can shoot another one. With film you don't know until you get the film processed which means you may lose the shot entirely. I am going to list a friend of mines website that does night photography. He shoots mainly with a digital camera and I feel that he has pertinent information on shooting at night digitally. His site is Technique Kenn is an excellent photographer and has information on several topics concerning shooting at night so visit his site for more information. Much of what I have to say will work with both film and digital camera.

When you shoot at night with film you need to give the film extra time because film needs more light for long exposures. This is called reciprocity. If I am shooting slide film I double the exposure for any exposure over 30 seconds. For example, if my exposure is two minutes I would then expose the film for four minutes. If my exposure is 15 seconds I expose the film for 24 seconds and anything over a second I start adding time and increase that amount until I am at 30 seconds, at which point I double it. This general rule seems to work for me with almost all films. There are many charts on the internet which will help in exposing slide film correctly. Color negative and black and white I tend to try to over expose the film. I usually rate my 160 iso or 100 iso at 75 iso and then I start doubling my exposures at 10 seconds or more. Many times I will give the film an extra half stop of light when shooting. With negative film it is much better to over expose than under expose the film. You can't print if you don't have information in your shadows. The more you shoot at night the more you get a feel for situation and how long the exposures should be.

With lightning or fireworks you first set the aperture according to your film speed. If you are using 100 iso the aperture needs to be at f 8. For 200 iso the aperture is f 11, and 400 iso it is f 16. I would recommend leaving the shutter open for least 10 seconds with fireworks to get several bursts. Lightning maybe longer to get one to several bursts onto the film. When the moon or the stars are in your image and you don't want star or moon trails because of the earth's rotation keep the exposures less then 10 seconds. This is mainly with the moon because for the most part moon trails are not as interesting as star trails. Star trails can be from 15 minutes to hours using the same aperture as you would if shooting lightning or fireworks. When I am shooting city scenes with people in the scene I try to keep my exposures not longer than two minutes. I have found that if the exposures are longer than that you don't see the movement of the people in the scene and 30 seconds to one minute exposures are great for capturing the movement of the people in the scene. Use shorter exposures if you want to stop more of the movement but you may need a faster film for this. With night photography you need to experiment to see what works best for you. These are some general guidelines that I use when photographing. When I do night photography try to have a light meter that is sensitive to low light. I take with me a Canon A-1 because its light meter goes to ev -2 which is very sensitive to low light. One of my favorite times of the day is at dusk expressly when shooting city scenes. There is approximately a 10 to 15 minute window twice a day when the city light and the sky seem to match up. The sky has royal to dark blue and this time can make for some great images. Best thing to do is to experiment and take notes of what you did so that you can improve on it the next time. If you do a lot of night photography like I do you learn how to get your exposures right because of your experience doing it. Go out and have some fun shooting at night. Any questions you can email me and I will try to answer them.

The page that follows is going to be a slideshow of images. I would recommend that you take control of the slideshow and go at your own pace. Either side of the thumbnails are a - and +. Use those to proceed through the images. Please mouse over the image and a caption will come up about that image. This is also true of the regular gallery pages in the rest of the website. You can go to the photo tips light gallery by the link below or by mousing over the image above. It will rollover and you can click the image to take you to that gallery. Most non gallery images are rollover image links on this website.