What are the best Night Photography Settings and Techniques to get your best shots when it counts? / by Zack Smith

Improve your night photography with these tips and techniques! 

Night photography is beautiful if you shoot it just right and can be truly amazing when you have a great subject. However, because of the darkness and it's contrasting nature to city lights and ambient light, night scenes can be difficult to shoot, especially if you are a beginner in night photography. Over the course of my 20 years shooting low light photography around New Orleans, I have garnered a few tips I want to share with you.

The Crescent City Connection in New Orleans as seen in twilight. ©Zack Smith Photography

The Crescent City Connection in New Orleans as seen in twilight. ©Zack Smith Photography

1. Use a Tripod for Long Exposure Shots

2. Reduce your ISO to decrease sensor noise

3. Always have a subject!

4. Start shooting during Magic Hour and Twilight!

USE A TRIPOD FOR LONG EXPOSURE SHOTS

Long exposure photography, or slow-shutter photography, involves using a long-duration shutter speed to capture stationary elements of a scene while smudging the moving elements. You’ve probably seen images of rolling mountain tops with blurred lights from cars passing by. But I want to bring our focus into the darker more mysterious side of photography: the night.

One of the downsides of using the long exposure method is that the slightest movement could throw off your shot and make the whole thing blurry. Because your camera will, in essence, take a longer time to take the photo, any movement can disrupt the clarity of your subject. Tripods can be pricy, but it will come in handy to every photographer! Invest in a good one.

BLOG THROWBACK: How to Purchase Your Next Tripod (click the link to read!)

PRO TIP: To reduce digital noise (not as cool as "grain" from our film days") shoot at lower ISO's so that your quality will increase, and you are forced to shoot at even longer shutter speeds!

GET CREATIVE WITH FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY

You can use creative flash photography to enhance movement, depth, and action in any low light or night scene.  An off-camera flash can be used to put emphasis on a subject while preserving the darkness in the background. This technique can be trick at first but I suggest setting your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture first, THEN adjusting and adding your flash. I find that shooting my aperture wide open to a larger f-stop (2.8 or so) allows me to get all of the ambient light I need for that "glow". My shutter speed is set to how much "movement" I want in the shot (see the photo below) and my flash power is set to Manual power. I don't want to use TTL because the flash can get confused, so I start at 1/8 power and test. 

I used a flash for this long exposure photograph while marching with the Tulane Green Wave Brass Band during Mardi Gras! 

I used a flash for this long exposure photograph while marching with the Tulane Green Wave Brass Band during Mardi Gras! 

EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT HOURS OF NIGHT

There are a number of “hours” that have the potential to give you a beautiful shot. You can dabble in twilight photography to start. Twilight is the time of day that lies between daylight and darkness. It is great to photograph reflective surfaces during this time to catch the sky in perhaps its most beautiful state. Don't know when twilight is? I currently use a few apps to help me determine when twilight is, anywhere I am!

The Photographers Ephemerus - this great app for iphone tells me when sunset is, civil twilight, and nautical twilight for anywhere...and anytime!

The Twilight Calculator - this is a great website telling me all about the phases of twilight and when and where i can see them! This even tells me more about the Blue Hour...oooohh!

Magic hour photography is also awesome. The golden hour is probably the best known. It is the time shortly after sunrise when the daylight is red but still soft. Magic hour happens just before sunrise or just after sunlight when the light is even and the sun is low on the horizon.

Civil twilight photography occurs when the sun is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. It is the brightest form of twilight when there is enough natural light that outdoor activities can be completed without the help of things like street lights and ambient light from cafes and bars. (We are in New Orleans right?)

Lastly, give blue hour photography a shot. This hour is a period of twilight in the morning and in the evening when the sun is at a significant depth below the horizon. This is just after civil twilight. You’ll likely begin to see street lamps flicker on around this time.

When the Orange Couch coffee shop glows in the twilight, you know it's the perfect time where ambient and artificial combine for the perfect exposure! ©Zack Smith Photography

When the Orange Couch coffee shop glows in the twilight, you know it's the perfect time where ambient and artificial combine for the perfect exposure! ©Zack Smith Photography

Regardless of whatever hour you’re trying to shoot, it is important to plan out your shoot ahead of time. To do this, find an app that can help you calculate and plan your photoshoots. These apps are relatively inexpensive, have versions across all app stores, and can work in any location in the world!

Another way to be prepared is to pack up all of your essentials, including cleaning cloths and a cleaning kit. These will be essential to you. As the temperature drops at night, condensation may begin to form on your equipment. This isn’t a big deal for tripods and camera bags, but if condensation gets on your lens, it could mess up an otherwise perfect shot!

Why not take a Night Photography Workshop in New Orleans?

So you think you got all this? Maybe want to get out there and try it yourself? When in doubt, you can always take a workshop. As you know me, I am always trying to figure out the best way to educate you online, but also in person. On Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 from 5:30 to 10 p.m. I am offering my popular “NOLA @ Night French Quarter and City Park" night photography course! The workshop is hands-on and will help you learn the ropes of shooting the beautiful soft light of a Crescent City night. The workshop is great for photographers of all levels and costs only $175. Take advantage of having me show you the settings as you walk around the French Quarter and City Park!

I’ve been teaching this course for 14 years. First, we will start out in the French Quarter for introductions and a PowerPoint presentation filled with some information. After that, we will head out and begin our night photography expedition.

The French Quarter shooting session will be held from 5:20 to 7:30 p.m. After that, we will meet at Morning Call, a coffee shop in the area, at 8 p.m. and do some City Park shooting from 8 to 10 p.m. 

Be sure to bring the lenses you want to shoot with. Wide angle lenses are great to have when shooting night time photography. You must also bring your tripod, and a cable release and small pen light is recommended. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for walking.

Refunds will be given up to 72 hours before the night of the workshop. A half refund will be given 24 hours before, and no refund will be available the day of the workshop.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP!