Night photography: Grab the camera and start doing miracles

Night Photography is by far my favorite kind of photography. The creative possibilities are endless! I always thought night time was beautiful. When you have many different techniques you can use to give your photos a dose of “coolness” it’s even better yet!

Equipment

Night photography is best with the proper equipment. For this style of photography, a camera with manual capabilities is a must. Automatic cameras will not give you the flexibility required. They also usually lack the ability to hold the shutter open long enough.

Manual film cameras are also great. If you have an old camera that doesn’t require batteries it’s even better yet. Battery life can run low quickly in some cameras since we will be holding the shutter open for long periods of time.

You’ll also need a good and sturdy tripod. A remote shutter release and some flashlights are also very useful, but not necessarily required.

Realistic Night Photos

Sometimes you just want to capture what you see exactly as you view it, or at least in a way that it’s a believable scene. The best way to do this is to bracket and make some post processing adjustments. Getting exactly what you want straight out of the camera especially with night photography can be difficult. So post processing is necessary most of the time.

A technique that may be useful is to stack several photos on top of each other one at a time in Photoshop. You then delete parts of that layer that are unrealistic to the way you saw them in the actual scene. It’s really only necessary when you have a lot of areas of really dark and really bright areas.

Pittsburgh-night

Yes, there are easier ways to do this. Yes, there are programs, actions, and similar things that make this process a snap. However, I have yet to see any software or automated action perform better than human judgment. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.

HDR Photography is another route you can take but sometimes the results just aren’t as good especially with night photography.

Another excellent time for night photography is when there is a full moon (or close to it). During a full moon, your exposures don’t have to be quite as long and the moonlight creates a great light source.

Star Trails

Star trails happen when you take a long exposure exposing a lot of the clear night sky and the stars streak across the image as time passes. The longer the exposure, the longer the trails will be. This can be especially cool if you get Polaris (the North Star) in your photo as the stars seemingly rotate around it.

Film cameras are great for this type of photography because you can leave the shutter open as long as you want and depend on what type of film you use, it won’t get overly grainy.

But there is a con. Reciprocity failure. This occurs with the film during long exposures. More time on the exposures is needed to properly expose the shot. Some film suffers worse than others.

Digital cameras or DSLRs aren’t the best for keeping the shutter open for an extended period of time. Why? Hot pixels or dead pixels, and noise shows it’s ugly face during long exposures on many DSLRs.

Some cameras have noise reduction features, and dark frame subtraction built in. But the noise reduction feature usually isn’t designed for an image exposed for 30 minutes.

Dark frame subtraction is when the camera takes a dark frame shot of equal length of the exposure taken. Therefore, if you took a 20-minute star trail photo, you would have to wait another 20 minutes for the camera to take a dark frame. The camera’s software will then remove the hot pixels and dead pixels.

Various software available can be a solution to these problems from noise reduction software, to stacking software.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing to be worried about. It’s still very possible to create stunning star trail photos or long exposures. You just have to use the tools available to work around the issues.

Light Painting

Light painting is when you are taking a photo at night and you use a flashlight, flash, or another source of light to “paint” light into the scene.

A good way to understand how these process works are to think of each picture starting out as a blank and black scene. As the light enters the camera, it creates an exposure on either the film or digital sensor. The brighter areas expose first.

You can even walk around in the scene itself during long exposures and not show up. The reason is that when the shutter is open for say 5 minutes, and you are in an area walking around for a few seconds. That’s not long enough to show up in the picture because you were only there a very small fraction of the total exposure.

If you stood there too long, you might appear as a ghostly image in the picture. Which, could actually be pretty cool.

It takes a lot of practice. But once you get it, it’s a lot of fun.

All these night photography techniques take some time to master. But with some persistence, you can be taking some unique looking images.

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