I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, I just happen to work in an environment that offers incredible daily opportunities to take photos.
After a year or two of being a guide, I decided to purchase myself a DSLR camera and lens to take the odd picture, as I knew I would kick myself one day for not taking the opportunities that most guides here are presented with daily. But after the novelty of taking a photo of everything that moved had worn off, I wanted to take my photography to the next level; this is when I started taking very tentative steps into the world of night photography.
For the most part in my early photographic days, when the sun went down I turned my camera off and would put it away for the night drive back to the lodge.
That was until I realized the potential there was for taking photos after dark.
After much trial-and-error, today I thought I’d share with you some of the photos I’ve taken after dark over the past few months.
This is more a Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do post. Many mistakes along the way have eventually got me to a point where I can take one or two photos that I am really happy with, and hopefully by the end of the post you might be able improve your night photography by learning from my mistakes and a few simple camera setting suggestions.
Think of this almost as a ‘Dummies guide to night photography, by the Dummy.’ And remember, there is usually more than one way to accomplish something; the settings and advice given here are simply the way I doing things.
If you don’t already take photographs on Manual Mode, you’ll need to turn the dial over now.
This can be a daunting thing to do for the first time, as you now have full control over your camera’s settings. Not that I’m a pilot, but I would imagine it would be like taking the controls of a light aircraft for the first time; so much potential for catastrophe! For night photography however, the more control you have the better, and this is best done in Manual mode.
I’ll run through the below photos in just a second, saying what was done wrong (or right) in each one, but my basic setting suggestions for night photography (with the use of a spotlight) are as follows:
- Lift your ISO above 2000. I often get this wrong and it is either way too high or too low, but I think 2000 ISO is the best starting point.
- Your Shutter speed should be at a minimum of 1/125. If the light source is close and bright you can go higher. Ideally you want to be using some kind of stabilisation as well. The same goes for all photography, but it’s particularly important at night.
- Your f-stop should be the lowest number your lens will go to; this will allow as much light as possible to be let into the lens.
- I find it important to change my white balance to Tungsten. The light from most spotlights is far too warm and your photo will have a very orange look to it if your white balance is too warm.
It is very important to keep reviewing your images after you take them so you can adjust your settings. As I am by no means a professional, I’ve limited myself to merely changing the ISO; if the image is too dark, lift the ISO and vice versa if it’s blown out. There are other ways to do it eg. changing the shutter speed, but this way works for me, and I like to know that my shutter speed is secured.
Take a look through the following photos to see where I went wrong:
Night Photography is a steep learning curve, but pretty soon you’ll find a formula that works for you. Some people stick with aperture priority and then use spot metering, some fix their shutter speeds and leave the rest up to the camera, but as I like to be in control, I stick with Manual mode. This isn’t for everyone, so I suppose this post is only aimed at those who are willing to go with that daunting “M” icon on your camera.
Whichever your choice, persist. Make mistakes. Then make more.
Just make sure that you realise what your mistakes were, and learn from them.