em­brace the night

Night shots are much eas­ier in man­ual, and here’s why

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

Night pho­tog­ra­phy can yield some spec­tac­u­lar im­ages, but it’s un­likely that your cam­era will be able to give you the re­sults you want if it’s left on au­to­matic. This is be­cause the scene will con­tain a much greater bright­ness range than nor­mal day­light. To­day’s Nikon D-SLRs don’t have any trou­ble mea­sur­ing the low light lev­els you get at night, but they do have trou­ble work­ing out which parts of the scene to base the ex­po­sure on.

In reg­u­lar day­light, the light source for the scene (the sun) is usu­ally not vis­i­ble. If it were in the frame it would com­pletely dom­i­nate the ex­po­sure and ev­ery­thing else would come out as a sil­hou­ette.

At night, you don’t get the sun in the frame, but you do get count­less minia­ture light sources, like street­lamps, neon signs and car head­lights. These ‘mini-suns’ are far brighter than their sur­round­ings, and dom­i­nate the cam­era’s ex­po­sure read­ing. Use auto mode and you’ll end up with some bright pin­points of light sur­rounded by dark­ness.

You can use the cam­era’s EV com­pen­sa­tion con­trol to try to ad­just the ex­po­sure, but the only re­ally re­li­able way to get good ex­po­sures at night is to switch to man­ual mode. Once you’ve done this you can use trial and er­ror to ar­rive at a good ex­po­sure for the scene. It might take a cou­ple of at­tempts, but you’ll soon get a feel for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and the kind of ex­po­sure you might need. For ex­am­ple, for a busy city street light by flood­lights and neon signs, you might find that an ex­po­sure of a cou­ple of sec­onds at a medium aper­ture of f/8 is about right, but for darker sub­ur­ban streets you might need to in­crease that to 30 sec­onds or longer.

Don’t use Auto ISO

Your Nikon’s Auto ISO op­tion can be in­valu­able for shoot­ing in low light with the cam­era hand­held, be­cause it will ad­just the ISO au­to­mat­i­cally to give what the cam­era thinks is the right ex­po­sure. How­ever, this means hand­ing con­trol back to the cam­era in a sit­u­a­tion where you know it’s not go­ing to give good re­sults. It’s much bet­ter to put the cam­era on a tri­pod, be­cause then you can use your cam­era’s low­est ISO set­ting for best qual­ity, and it won’t mat­ter how long the ex­po­sure is be­cause the cam­era will be kept

per­fectly still through­out. And the longer the ex­po­sure, the more likely you are to get spec­tac­u­lar traf­fic trails.

The length of the ex­po­sure will de­ter­mine how far ob­jects move through the scene (and the length of the trails they leave). You can ad­just the length of the ex­po­sure by chang­ing the lens aper­ture. A wider aper­ture will let more light through so that you can use a shorter ex­po­sure, while a smaller aper­ture can be used to pro­duce a longer ex­po­sure in very bright con­di­tions.

EX­PO­SURE 13 secs, f/8, ISO100 LENS Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8

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