Three essential camera settings for Night Photography
For many photographers, photography ends the second the sun goes down, but for others it just begins right then. There is something magical about the night and therefore about night photography as well.
Something mysterious and fascinating. In order to capture this different atmosphere, you need to first consider that the world around looks totally different. It looks dark with star lights or artificial lights. And, since photography means painting with light, you can easily understand that the rules here are completely different.
It can be intimidating or motivating depending on how you prefer to look at a challenge. It is a challenge because everything that you’ve learned for you daily photography sessions, at night needs to be readjusted.
What does Night Photography offers you?
Night Photography offers you an incredible opportunity to sharpen your abilities as a photographer. It allows you to improve your skills and to express your creativity in a new way.
If you want to learn about Night photography, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and experiment with your camera, with settings, different locations and various kind of lights – or no lights!
Night photography can be practiced in the countryside, where you’ll mostly have landscapes that are lit by the stars and the moon. Or in the city, where you will have artificially lit urban landscapes.
You have various options to choose from and you can interpret the scene in front of you in many ways and capture that unique exceptional night shot.
In this article I want to give you a better understanding of camera settings for night photography so that you will be able to make better decisions, I will also point at some of the best cameras and lenses that you can use for your night photography, mostly night landscape and nature photography.
One of the most interesting (and differentiating) factor about night photography is the timing exposure. Whereas during the day – depending on the light, the subject and the location – you can shoot your image in a fraction of a second, at night this is hardly the case.
To master night photography, the first thing that you need to do is to switch your camera into manual mode. In this way you will be able to configure the appropriate camera settings for night photography: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
These are the three exposure elements and, as you probably know, understanding and handling them correctly is the key to achieve the results you desire as opposed to hope for the best.
For example, let’s say that you are out at night with your camera and you’d like to create an image with a light streak effect and some blur to highlight those lights and your chosen subject is a moving car.
In order to produce that effect, you will need to set up the shutter speed to a few seconds.
Shutter Speed is the amount of time the shutter is open, when the light can enter and hit the sensor. In other words, it’s the speed your camera needs in order to take a picture.
The amount of light that you have available will determine your exposure settings.
If you are out in the country and you want to capture the night sky or a beautiful night landscape photo, you have to ponder how much natural light is available and adjust your settings.
Remember though, if you don’t have a tripod with you, there is no chance of experimenting with night photography. When you need a longer shutter speed to capture an image, you have to make sure the camera is stable and you can’t assure that when it is hand held.
With a tripod, you can leave the shutter open for as long as you want.
Aperture controls the amount of light
The depth of field, and focal length. A small aperture will limit the amount of light allowed into the camera and will result in a deeper depth of field. A wider aperture size allows more light and results in a shallow depth of field.
F-stops is the measure you use to determine aperture and it works as inverse values, small f/numbers correspond to a larger aperture size, large f/numbers result in a smaller aperture size.
Keep in mind that chances are that at night your background will be totally dark and for this reason you won’t have to worry about depth of field that much. Although there are exceptions to that as well.
Start testing until you find the correct aperture you need in any specific instance. One advice I want to share is to use lenses that can open at least as wide as f/2.8, if not wider around f/1.2 – f/1.8. This is a good compromise to adjust depth of field and allow sufficient light into the camera.
ISO is the sensitivity of your camera to light
The higher you set it the more sensitive will the sensor be to the light. When ISO is set too high it can cause digital noise in your pictures.
Usually, you could set your ISO between 200 and 800 which is a range that will allow you to achieve a good exposure without being too extreme.
Given the darkness, with night photography, you need to get more light into the camera, and you can only do so by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
Please find here are some recommendations about the best camera and lens for nature photography that will facilitate your experience with night photography:
Canon EOS 5DS R
Sony a7R III
Sony Alpha a6500
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 G2
Sony 10-18mm f/4 G OSS
Knowing the correct techniques and having the right equipment allows you to be free to experiment with this fascinating art of night photography.
At night, the camera needs a longer period of time to collect enough light for proper exposure, so it is necessary to use shutter speeds longer than day time exposure, sometimes even much longer.
Night photography, whether from the sky outside the city, urban lights, fireworks, a storm over the sea, or any other subject that lends itself, can be a field to explore and learn to master.