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Thread: Struggling with Night Photography

  1. #1
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    Struggling with Night Photography

    Hey Guys/Gals

    New member of the forum here from Scotland! I was wondering if you'd be able to give me some tips/ pointers on taking good scenic night photos. Completely new to photography and have been doing as much as I can to learn all the technicalities!

    I've taken my Canon 600D out for a spin and I've taken a few decent night shots while in the centre of town, however getting shots of the landscape and stars I've found to be very difficult, and so far I'm not satisfied with my attempts.

    For example I tried taking pictures of my town from a hill, and despite being a clear night, I got horrific glow from the horrible orange streetlights and not enough of the stars.

    A few things I might be doing wrong:

    1) I'm taking these pictures at like midnight, when there is very little or even no natural light
    2) I don't know if I'm using the correct lens, I've been using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens and a telephoto zoom lens f/ 4 - 5.6

    Any pointers welcome!

    Stephen

  2. #2
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Hi Stephen,

    The best way to start would be to show some examples, check the tutorials, and keep practicing. Try a few shots right after sunset.

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Struggling with Night Photography

    I think in this picture the lights are a bit annoying, they seem to 'star' and I'm not sure how to fix that.

    Struggling with Night Photography

    The one above I tried to get lots of stars above the church but only a few seem to show

    Struggling with Night Photography

    I took this one from a sand dune looking over at the town, the orange glow was quite bad and seems to obstruct my view.


    Thanks for taking the time to look at these, tips are very very much appreciated!

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    I notice that the first photo was shot at f/22. I think that is responsible for the star effect with the bright point-sources, but I'm sure more knowledgeable folks here can give a more definitive answer.

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Hello Stephen
    Image #1
    The star affect of the lighting is created by a small aperture setting (the larger the aperture #, the smaller the aperture opening). Some people, including myself sometimes shoot just for that affect. The image on the whole is not terrible. Are you using a tripod? These images make it very difficult to catch both the buildings/lights and the stars. Also, if you do not like the orange cast from the lights, fiddle with the White Balance (WB) to see if another setting is more agreeable to you.
    Image # 2
    Basically the same, it is difficult to capture the building and stars at the same setting on your camera.
    Image#3
    The orange glow may have been the result of a hazy night.

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Stephen

    Have you studied the tutorial on the subject here on CiC? That's as good a starting point for learning as you will find.

    You don't tell us if you are shooting in RAW. Hopefully you are. That, of course, is not to suggest that post-processing can rescue poorly captures images. You should always strive to master the use of the camera so that you absolutely nail such things as exposure, at the point of capture. However, shooting in RAW does open up the post-processing opportuntities that are required to finish good images. As I am probably noted for repeating like a mantra, pressing the shutter is the end of the first part of making an image. The second part starts when you begin processing in the darkroom (if you're shooting film) or on computer (if you're shooting digitally.

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Hi Stephen,

    I see from the EXIF the first shot was 30 seconds at f/22.

    As an exercise, you might want to try shooting it throughout your aperture range for the same expsoure to see what that does result in for star points, etc.

    e.g. f/16 at 15 seconds, f/11 at 7.5 seconds and so on.

    By the time you get to wide open (f/3.5 at 18mm?), the stars (on lights) will have gone (hopefully the others will remain).

    I'm afraid I have little experience night shooting myself, having only tried recently with a P&S for some city scenes (handheld )

    Good luck,

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Hi Stephen,

    I see from the EXIF the first shot was 30 seconds at f/22.

    As an exercise, you might want to try shooting it throughout your aperture range for the same expsoure to see what that does result in for star points, etc.

    e.g. f/16 at 15 seconds, f/11 at 7.5 seconds and so on.

    By the time you get to wide open (f/3.5 at 18mm?), the stars (on lights) will have gone (hopefully the others will remain).

    I'm afraid I have little experience night shooting myself, having only tried recently with a P&S for some city scenes (handheld )

    Good luck,
    Thanks for the advice! I'll go out sometime next week and give it a go. The weather up here is a bit temperamental so once I get a clear night I'll try

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    A few things that you might consider...

    Streetlights are normally brighter than the stars, so it is difficult to get the correct exposure for stars and streetlights in one image. Perhaps a multi-exposure HDR image might help.

    As far as nailing down the exposure in night images; I use this simple method. I have the camera in auto exposure bracketing mode (AEB) usually with a one stop variance in the various exposures. I select a -1 stop exposure compensation. I have the camera in burst mode. That way I get the following three exposures: First: as the meter reads, Second: 1-stp below the meter reading Third: 2-stops below the meter reading. I find that the major problem in night exposures is over, not under-exposure. Using the -1 stop exposure compensation will counteract that tendency. Usually, you will get one decently exposed image out of the 3-bracketed images. You also may be able to combine the images into an HDR image. Don't be fooled into using the night portrait mode, it won't work well...

    Often, long exposures will show a glow in the sky - this is from light polution! The awful color of the street lights is due to the type of illumination; here is a humorous blog on that subject...
    http://shesnotfromyorkshire.wordpres...reepy-b-movie/

  10. #10
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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Hi Stephen

    A few thoughts from me : -

    I don't think you'd really need to use an aperture any smaller than about f/11 (unless you are after some special diffraction effects as mentioned above). Also I use an ISO setting of 100 almost exclusively for night shots - generally you will need to use a tripod so shutter speed is not important. The lower the ISO setting, the lower the noise and the better the dynamic range of the image.

    Timing is important. I feel the best time is about 15-30 mins after sunset although this may depend on where you are in the world (ie what latitude). With this sort of time, there is still enough residual light in the sky to give a nice deep blue colour and also to give a bit more definition to the edges of the buildings etc. (If there is no sky in the shot then this is not important)

    I usually arrive around sunset and set up the tripod and camera - frame the shot and even do a bit of a test shot - while you can still see what you are doing ! Incidentally always take a torch (or should I say flashlight for our US friends).

    After that I take a set of shots every 5 mins or so. In each set try a few different exposures.

    Use manual focus. In live view mode, enlarge the screen view and shift the viewing point with the cursor keys until you are looking at a suitable point to focus on. eg building edge.

    Use a remote control shutter release.

    Exposure is usually a compromise - if you get the bright lights nicely exposed, the rest of the image is probably under-exposed too much. You can tolerate a bit of over-exposure of the bright lights provided that you don't go too far until blooming occurs - where the brightness extends to neighbouring pixels.

    Shoot raw and work in 16 bit in ACR and CS5 (if you have these apps).

    That's about all I can think of for now - it's all about practise practise practise.

    Incidentally I also use a 600D. You can see some of my night shots in the Brisbane gallery on my PBase site.

    Dave
    Last edited by dje; 29th February 2012 at 06:43 AM.

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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by tclune View Post
    I notice that the first photo was shot at f/22. I think that is responsible for the star effect with the bright point-sources, but I'm sure more knowledgeable folks here can give a more definitive answer.
    You are correct on the aperture but some people actually like the star effect. Steven can probably tone it done during post processing or decrease your shutter speed and as you say stop down the aperture if you want to totally remove it.

  12. #12
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    Re: Struggling with Night Photography

    Hello Stephen.

    The orange glow in your third photo is simply light pollution. I don't know, but have heard there are some filters that will reduce light pollution, but they expensive and generally there is not much you can do about it. Camera sensors are, unfortunately, quite brilliant at picking up light pollution.

    Given that it seems the church in your second shot is illuminated, I think getting any stars is pretty good.

    If you want star photos you need dark skies. If you want star trails then just experiment with different length exposures (though I have heard that long exposures, ie several minutes, can overheat some sensors).

    If you want stars as points of light then the 600 rule is a good place to start. Divide 600 by the effective focal length of the lens you are using. The answer is approximately the longest exposure in seconds you can use that will show stars as points rather than trails. Effective means what the lens would be on a full frame 35mm, so an 18mm lens on a DSLR with a 1.5 crop factor has an effective focal length of 27mm.

    Whether you get trails or not depends on where in the sky you are photographing and latitude, but the 600 rule is a reasonable starting point.

    Dave

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