Photography News Issue 51

Photography News | Issue 51 | Technique 47 Camera School Here we lift the lid on all things camera related, showing how to get better results from your CSC or DSLR, and providing all the info you don’t find in the manual. So, stick with us and you’ll soon be wielding your camera like a pro. This month, how to shoot towns and city scenes at night

Words & pictures by Kingsley Singleton


Shooting in towns and cities at night is a tricky thing and will tax your photographic skills to the limit for several reasons. But get it right and results can be wonderful, showing the world in a way that most people can’t capture with their compacts and mobile phones. The first thing to address is that, although a scene may look bright to you, it won’t be by daylight standards. Your eyes have adjusted, and your camera will have to do the same. Of course it depends on what you’re shooting, but the general lack of light means you’ll almost certainly need a tripod when shooting at night, keeping the camera still enough to avoid blur and produce sharp results even when your exposure runs in seconds or minutes. Using your tripod at night Setting up a tripod can be a problem in urban areas: not only can it be an obstruction in busy places, if there are crowds you’ll stand a good chance of vibration or having it knocked, and therefore ending up with an unsharp picture. What’s more, if you’re not careful you can stumble onto private property, where the owners – or their hired goblins – will be well within their rights to ask you to move on. The best bet is to set up in a spot where you’re on public land but well away from footfall or traffic; if you’re not causing a problem, you’re unlikely to be challenged. Exposure in the dark Once your camera is steady, you can think about the exposure. When shooting at night, it’s often better to switch to manual exposure mode (M) where you can control shutter speed, aperture and ISO independently. On screen or through the viewfinder you’ll still find an exposure metering bar or index, giving you a guide, and can then tweak results from there. First set the aperture depending on the amount of depth-of-field youwant in the scene, and how you want the lights to look; smaller apertures will give a starburst look to points of light, whereas larger apertures will look like spots, or discs when defocused. If you’re using a large aperture like f/2.8 and the scene is bright, the required shutter speed may be kept in fractions of a second, but with smaller apertures it will very likely need to be After shooting, check results on screen; but remember that they’ll look brighter to you than they really are because of the ambient gloom. To help, use the histogram view which shows the tones in the image as a chart; it’s the ‘true’ way of seeing how bright the image is. When checking the histogram and adapting your exposure, try to ‘expose to the right’ but without burning out the highlights; a chart that’s clumped away from the shadow areas and contains lots of midtones and highlights will give


as desired, with one press of the shutter release opening the shutter, and another closing it manually. Some cameras also have T (time) mode wherein you can dial in the specific shutter speed you want. Traditional T modes open the shutter on the first click and close it on the second, to end the exposure. In whichever mode you’re shooting, it’s best to use the self-timer, exposure delay mode or remote control to avoid touching the camera at the beginning and end of the exposure, which can cause camera shake and lessen sharpness. What about white-balance? You can leavewhite-balance set to auto, but this may not give the most accurate, or interesting results. The trouble is, the man-made and natural light left in the scene (assuming there stillissome),whichusuallylooksbest,willhave different colour temperatures. Therefore it’s impossible to set both accurately. The best bet is to try a shot in AWB and see if it represents the scene as you want it; if it doesn’t, set the white-balance manually in Kelvin (K) making it look warmer or cooler. A good bet is often to pick a white-balance in between tungsten and daylight, such 4000K. The natural light will then look a bit cooler than in reality, but will form a good contrast with the artificial light. example using manual and bulb modes. Above As you change the aperture you’ll see some interesting effects at night; not only do smaller apertures extend the depth- of-field, points of light will turn from discs into starbursts, giving scenes a twinkle. Left Shooting at night can be a real test of your photographic skills, but it’s also a great way to learn about controlling exposure, for

When to shoot in B (bulb) mode If you have a very specific exposure time in mind, or you want to push the shutter speed beyond themaximumallowed inmanualmode (usually 30secs), use the B (bulb) setting. In this mode, you can start and stop the exposure

in the seconds. Most the time you can simply shoot at the shutter speed required, but if you want a certain amount of movement in the shot, such as to freeze or blur motion, and can’t achieve it at the current speed, simply adjust the ISO up or down.

Dealing with low-light problems

a higher quality image when it comes to editing; as opposed to a picture that’s too dark and needs to be artificially lightened. Another common problem is light pollution. This comes from lights outside your composition and shows as flare, lowered contrast, a colour cast or affecting exposure. To fight against it, shoot with a lens hood attached to block glancing light. You can also use handheld ‘flags’ to block light that’s not taken care of by the lens hood; a piece of matt black card is ideal.


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