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Thread: Night Shots

  1. #1
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    Night Shots

    Have been trying my hand at taking photos at night, quite difficult to master

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    Re: Night Shots

    Have you tried longer exposures?
    Quote Originally Posted by deonwarrington View Post
    Have been trying my hand at taking photos at night, quite difficult to master

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    Re: Night Shots

    Hi Deon,

    I do a fair bit of this. Usually the biggest problem is exposure; the scenes usually have VERY high contrast (bright areas from lights, and dark areas where there's no light) and it's impossible to capture both highlight and shadow detail in a single exposure. The easiest solution is usually to just forget about trying to preserve highlight detail ... just let it blow. Try selecting an exposure that exposes the mid-tones correctly (so that they look correct on your camera's review screen), and the rest usually falls into place with a bit of processing.

    Night Shots

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    Re: Night Shots

    I have been taking some very bad night shots for a while now. The problem always comes down to bad focus. Trying to focus at night when I can barely see the object with the naked eye, let alone through a wee small viewfinder has always beaten me. After the latest %^*#$@%&$# attempt, I put my mind, rather than the camera, to work. I reasoned that the reason the cam can't see the object to be focussed on is because there is insufficient light, so I bought a small laser pointer from the $2dollar shop. Inside, in a dark room, the camera will focus on a wall so long as I point the laser at the wall. Brilliant!! Now, I just have to wait for a dark, dry night to try out my theory in practise. Dark nights are common, but dry ones are rare around here at the moment. Will report back.

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    I have been taking some very bad night shots for a while now. The problem always comes down to bad focus.
    Hi Kit,

    What make / model camera are you using?

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Kit,

    What make / model camera are you using?
    Nikon D80.

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    Nikon D80.
    Ah - I thought it might be a model with LiveView (which makes it a LOT easier to manual focus in low-light situations).

    Other than that, if you're using a tripod, and there's no subject motion, then stopping down the lens to the F11 to F16 region and focusing to infinity (or close to it) will get you a pretty big depth of field, and will hide a lot of focus "error".

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Ah - I thought it might be a model with LiveView (which makes it a LOT easier to manual focus in low-light situations).

    Other than that, if you're using a tripod, and there's no subject motion, then stopping down the lens to the F11 to F16 region and focusing to infinity (or close to it) will get you a pretty big depth of field, and will hide a lot of focus "error".
    Will try that, thanks. I was shooting the other night, a street scene with a building about, say, 25-30 metres away. On the tirpod, not subject movement, used the clicker to shoot. Could NOT nail it, no matter what I tried. But I'll have another go, using your method and the laser method and see what happens.

    The other problem I'm having with night stuff in a built up area is getting the colour right. Those big sodium vapour lights (I think that's what they are - big orange ones) give a colour cast. I tried Googling, and came up with Kelvin of 2100 for them. Where does that fit into the available white balance? Or is that something that pp has to deal with?

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    Re: Night Shots

    Hi Kit,

    If you're shooting RAW (which is pretty essential for nightwork because of the high dynamic range required) then white balance at the time of capture doesn't matter (a RAW file doesn't have any white balancing info) ... what you set the camera to is only used as a starting point by the RAW converter, but you can set it to anything you like. The temp WILL be very low.

    At night it's pretty trick to use AF (for the reasons you mentioned) - also - in dark conditions the AF may well give you a confirmation light, but at the came time be completely wrong ... for that reason I try to focus once when it's still light enough - or use live view - or use a torch - and then just set it to manual and don't touch it.

    I'll show you how when you swing past Nelson

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Kit,

    If you're shooting RAW (which is pretty essential for nightwork because of the high dynamic range required) then white balance at the time of capture doesn't matter (a RAW file doesn't have any white balancing info) ... what you set the camera to is only used as a starting point by the RAW converter, but you can set it to anything you like. The temp WILL be very low.

    At night it's pretty trick to use AF (for the reasons you mentioned) - also - in dark conditions the AF may well give you a confirmation light, but at the came time be completely wrong ... for that reason I try to focus once when it's still light enough - or use live view - or use a torch - and then just set it to manual and don't touch it.
    More good info. I'll have to test that RAW thing, because I have had some odd issues with pp, despite always shooting RAW. I'll do some wee tests soon and show you what I mean - if the problem can be duplicated. Murphy, y'know.


    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    I'll show you how when you swing past Nelson
    You're on!

    More good info. I'll have to test that RAW thing, because I have had some odd issues with pp, despite always shooting RAW. I'll do some wee tests soon and show you what I mean - if the problem can be duplicated. Murphy, y'know.

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    Re: Night Shots

    I have generally not had any problems with focus using my Canon 40D or even my earlier generation 30D camera. It doesn't seem to matter if I am shooting a relatively close image or a distant horizon. Note: I did have some occasional focus problems with my first DSLR (Canon 10D) when shooting night shots.

    I normally use either the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS or the 70-200mm f/4L IS lens. Whenever possible, I will use a tripod but, if a tripod is not available, I will try to brace or rest my camera on or against a sturdy support like a fence or a wall.

    However, if I don't have a tripod and if I cannot use a support, I will kick up my ISO to at least ISO 800 (I would rather have a relatively sharp image with some noise than a fuzzy image) and shoot hand held. I use Topaz adjust DeNoise to reduce image noise. I will generally stick to the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens when shooting hand held at night.

    As far as exposure goes, I have had some success by using aperture priority at a -1 stop exposure compensation and then shooting a burst of three exposures using auto exposure bracketing of +1, 0 and -1 stop. That way I end up with exposures of -2, -1 and plus or minus 0 stops of what the camera's meter has indicated. Without the initial -1 stop exposure compensation, my trio of shots will tend toward over exposure.

    I usually nail the exposure at the 0 bracketing (which gives me -1 stop less than the camera's reading) but, often need to use one of my other exposures. Additionally, when hand holding, a burst of three shots will often give the steadiest hold at the middle shot because the motion or pressing and releasing the shutter button is dampened.

    The IS capability of the 17-55mm lens and the constant f/2.8 aperture allows a lot of freedom in exposure as indicated by this hand-held night shot of Hong Kong from the Kowloon side of Hong Kong Harbor which I exposed at 1/20 second @ f/2.8 using ISO 800 and with the lens on auto focus. This was the first time I attempted to shoot night city scapes hand-held and I was pleased at the results. The wonderful aspect of digital photography is that I feel free to experiment and to shoot loads of images at no cost. I did not feel this way when shooting film, there was always a cash register working in my head and getting in the way of creativity.

    Night Shots
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 10th June 2010 at 03:28 PM.

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    <snip>
    The other problem I'm having with night stuff in a built up area is getting the colour right. Those big sodium vapour lights (I think that's what they are - big orange ones) give a colour cast. I tried Googling, and came up with Kelvin of 2100 for them. Where does that fit into the available white balance? Or is that something that pp has to deal with?
    If you really have to deal with sodium lights, you have a problem with the colours whatever you do:
    The most common sodium lamps give off almost monochromatic yellow light (not quite, but there are two narrow bands close together). Result: NO colour but yellow... (try looking at a colour chart under one of those)

    Those lights strictly speaking do not (and cannot) have a colour temperature, as they don't have a continous spectrum.

    So, in a scene with sodium light you'll have a yellow cast, if you have only sodium light you'll have black&yellow photos.

    There's one advantage with those lamps: no problems with chromatic aberation

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    More good info. I'll have to test that RAW thing, because I have had some odd issues with pp, despite always shooting RAW.
    Take one RAW, correctly focussed with correctly exposed midtones - send it to me (I use www.sendthisfile.com) - and I bet I can get you a good result

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    Re: Night Shots

    I have a few things that might be obvious but could help if you've not tried them. I use a much worse camera than you especially where night shots are considered but methods should still translate to d80 well enough.

    Focusing in urban environment isn't too hard since there is often some light source at a close-ish distance to the range you're after I find so focus lock on them and recompose. I usually find a streetlight or some kind of lighting close enough distance and use af on it then knock it into manual focus and lock focus so don't accidentally move it.

    Then with focus set I just mess with exposure until I get it right although not much room on my fuji 5600 as have 15sec max shutter so you will have much more flexibility and your sensor is bigger so in your favour again.

    Since I have no option of using a remote shutter release and you may not have one you can set timer so your hands are off tripod/camera when shutter opens. I tried with 2 sec timer but found best results on 10sec (as suggested by dave humphries) timer as although it means shots take 10 sec longer it means most the vibrations (I use lightweight velbon tripod) have damped down somewhat.

    Also on light tripods it's helpful to weight it down somewhat, obviously not needed with nice heavy one like Colins gitzo. I usually just use a bag with strap clipped through bottom of supports but there is often hook (or could make one) on bottom of tube that accomodates the central column. Speaking of which try and keep central column wound down and not extended on tripods of that style since I find it introduces too much instability and more prone to vibration so only extend it when really really necessary.

    I prefer to go as low on the iso as I can get away with and have wider aperature to deal with noise but my sensor is prone to noise so the lowest iso is not essential in your case but it's still pretty good rule when possible. Thing to consider in your case which affects me much less is you have shallower dof at wide aperatures due to camera difference to my small sensor point ans shoot so fastest f stop is not going to be the best in your case so range more like Colin suggested is probably more appropriate. I think d80 has mirror lock up too (can't remeber but have used a friends before now) but prob waste for long exposure since the vibes from mirror slap wont last long enough to be visible in even the shortest exposure you will be using for nigth shots.

    Lastly as far as whitebalance goes raw makes it easier to work with but often I have either custom or tungsten wb set in camera to give me rough preview in camera whilst I'm out there still of what pics look like with no (or muted at least) sodium pollution. This wb will be added as simple tag to the file but it's not set like in jpeg, just a suggestion for auto wb if you have your software set to chose the same wb setting "as shot". Obviously make no difference to actual data captured but I personally find helpful for sake of a rough quick at the time preview (same for b&w and so on). You might have been doing all this anyway but just in case, hope it helps.
    Last edited by Davey; 10th June 2010 at 10:41 PM.

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    Re: Night Shots

    OK Colin & Davey. I will take your suggestions on board. Might have to be in a bit though as my days and evenings are suddenly up to here with work. #Indicates neck level#

    Looks like our departure to the South Island may be put off yet again.

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    Re: Night Shots

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    Looks like our departure to the South Island may be put off yet again.
    No worries Kit - we'll still be here, unless someone cuts the cable and you North Islanders float away from the mainland

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    Re: Night Shots

    Oi. I am a Mainlander.

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