Be more sensitive
The D5 offers ISO 3 million, but you can still shoot in the dark with an entry-level D-SLR
As highlighted on the previous page, the smaller maximum aperture of a kit lens can restrict your choice of shutter speed. Nowhere is this more evident than when you’re shooting in low light, where you might not be able to achieve a shutter speed fast enough to reduce the effects of camera shake, let alone freeze the motion of a moving subject. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to stop taking pictures: you can simply increase the ISO on the camera. The ISO amplifies the signal from the sensor; the higher you push it, the less light is required for a correct exposure, so you can use faster shutter speeds.
The trade-off for pumping up the ISO is an increase in noise, some shifts in colour and a loss of dynamic range (the spread of tones from shadows to highlights that a camera can record). Noise is similar to the grain that’s visible in high-ISO film, only much less aesthetically pleasing. Fortunately, Nikon D-SLRs are renowned for their excellent high-ISO performance; picture quality only really drops off at extremely high settings, which makes them suitable for emergencies only. Still, for those once-in-a-lifetime moments, it’s better to have a sharp, noisy picture than no picture at all. You can always activate a camera’s noise reduction
in the Shooting Menu, although the softening it applies to the image reduces the amount of detail too.
If the subject isn’t moving, then an obvious alternative to shooting handheld with a high ISO is to lock the camera onto a tripod. This gives you the freedom to choose lower, cleaner ISO settings and the option to focus manually, should you find that your Nikon is struggling to autofocus in the dark. The trick here is to use Live View to focus rather than the viewfinder, since the backlit display enables you to literally see in the dark, while the Playback zoom button enables you to magnify details and manually adjust the focus with great precision.
Another option is to shoot handheld with a low ISO setting and embrace the slow shutter speed as a way of deliberately using motion blur for creative effect. This technique often works well with a burst of slow-sync flash, which enables a flash-frozen subject and motion blur from the long exposure to be combined within the same frame for dynamic results.
To enable this, you’ll need to shoot in aperture-priority or manual exposure mode, and then manually raise the built-in flash by pressing the flash button on the camera. Keep this button pressed and rotate the command dial until you’ve selected Slow Sync or Rear Curtain + Slow Sync in the flash menu. The latter fires the flash at the end of the exposure, which can be useful if you’re shooting moving subjects. It means that any motion blur recorded during the longer exposure will appear to fall naturally behind the flash-lit subject rather than awkwardly in front of it. The drawback is that it’s harder to predict where the subject will be in the frame when the flash fires.
There’s no substitute for a tripod with night photography. It will enable you to use a low ISO and mid-range aperture, and to fire the camera ‘hands-free’ for pin-sharp results
Knowing the subject is more important than the type of camera you use. For instance, you’ll get more evocative night shots when you shoot at twilight rather than the dead of night, whether you use a D5 or a D3400