1. Welcome to NikonCafe.com—a friendly Nikon camera & photography discussion forum!

    If you are thinking of buying a camera or need help with your photos, you will find our forum members full of advice! Click here to join for free!

Re: Night Photography

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Catz, Aug 10, 2009.

  1. Hi,

    I have been messing with photography for around 5 years or so and it took a while for me to even learn how to shoot manual in daylight but when it comes to night photography, I am terrible.

    Can you explain or suggest some settings for night photography with have me shooting them in no time? I want to so much be able to shoot panos of cities.

    Thanks so much for any advice.
  2. well youll need a fast lens, and adjust your settings like a lower aperture.
  3. garyosborne

    garyosborne Guest

    While i'm no expert, these are some considerations:

    -base iso = less noise = you'll prob need a tripod
    -if you want to stitch panos, definitely a tripod for best results
    -imo some colour in the sky adds a lot of character so around dusk to just after

    the settings will depend on the effect you want to achieve:

    -if you want strong light sources to be stars you need to stop down
    -corresponding long shutter speeds will smear the trafffic etc

    -i found recently at about 10mins to about 1hr after sunset approx 30 secs at f8 gave me best results but i was shooting to reveal the stars with only a few buildings in the frame. if you have a bright cityscape this will be too much.

    Sorry this doesn't probably help much. I guess what i did to nail it down is set the iso to the highest to get a metered shutter speed at set aperture. Then dial the iso back down to base and add the stops to the shutter speed, take a test shot then bracket 1 stop either side take a look at the results and adjust to suit...this only takes a minute or so usually but then you wont be guessing
  4. digipix

    digipix Subscribing Member

    Mar 30, 2006
    I've been playing around with night photography for about a year
    now and it's been fun.

    You don't have to deal with harsh contrast. It's especially nice
    during nights surrounding a full moon. It's amazing how much
    light the moon puts out on a clear evening and illuminates the
    sky to a deep blue.

    I shoot manually and make an initial estimate of the exposure using
    a high ISO, so my shutter speed is relatively quick.

    If I don't like my initial guess, I make an adjustment in the shutter speed
    until I get the exposure I like.

    Once I get the exposure I like, I dial down the ISO and adjust the
    shutter speed to compensate for the decreased sensitivity of the ISO.

    For example, say my initial metering of a scene using ISO 2000 is
    f8 for 5 seconds. If I like the exposure, then I'll dial down the ISO to
    200 and multiply 5 seconds by 10 = 50 seconds.

    Skyline shots that I've seen and made, seem to look best when there's
    still a little light in the sky and building lights are coming on. The balance
    of light between the buildings and sky give great results.

    You'll need a tripod, locking cable release, watch and small flashlight. I like to also
    shoot a raw file so I can make tweaks in my raw processor (ACR). Plus I use
    mirror lockup.

    Another thing, sometimes it's hard to auto focus in low light. If I can, I use
    a flashlight to illuminate my subject so I can auto focus. If I need to manually set the
    focus to infinity, I don't turn the focusing ring all the way to the end, which will
    set the focus beyond the middle of the infinity mark. I manually set it to the
    the middle of the infinity mark.

    I hope this makes sense and helps you out.

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 12, 2009
  5. urban or nature?
    static or moving subjects?

    the 4 combos above require different shooting styles. What kind of shot are you doing? static shots at night in cities is pretty easy for the most part, but if you don't approach it from the easy side, it will be miserable.
  6. Hi,

    City skylines.
  7. What I do is use a tripod, base ISO, check the meter for what I am shooting, and take a test shot and then check to see how it turned out and adjust from there. I am using the timer release on my D3 since I don't have a cable release yet. I have not tried taking a shot with the mirror up, but that will help with camera shake as well. I really don't think there are "magical" settings to get what you want, it is subjective what you will like and what I will like. I have some night shots I have done on my Smugmug site to see what mine turn out like. Best thing to do is get out and try it, pretty much what I did. Good luck!!
  8. Ronnie,

    I like your night gallery, especially the US Customs House and the fountain. Not related to the photo but Smugmug, I would change the photo caption to something interesting or blank, not the filename which is meaningless to an outsider.

    If you look at my Smugmug site, most photos have some caption and all have keywords.
  9. Wileec

    Wileec Guest

    The key is to play - Start with a good tripod, set to base iso, set the mode to manual, then aperture to what you want, likely f/16 or so. At that point it's all about shutter speed and you just try something, then look at it. I use cable release, but using the timer can work well, too. If you are wanting big hunks of real estate sharp, then pick your point of focus carefully, then check the results and change it, so you know you are getting the balance you want. Sometimes, you may take a couple of exposures, one longer one, to get some nice sky color, then the one for the cityscape itself. At the end of the day - it's about you and learning your gear - go play!

    Edit: The same two shot technique is often used for fireworks, also. Get a nice shot of the city with sky, but long enough to have it fairly dark, then add a shot of the fireworks, typically bkgd is black and it's easy to compose the two together to get nice fireworks and a decent cityscape.

  10. Thank you. I enjoy taking shots at night, feel like I am better at that than in the daytime. I never paid attention to the file name coming up with a photo. Thanks for the heads up.
  11. 73Z1


    Sep 15, 2008
    The previous posters have given excellent info. I've just started shooting night shots and my method is just a bit different in some respects.

    1) Before you go out to shoot night images, learn to use well the Bracketing mode of your camera. It isn't hard and will help a LOT in my opinion. Practice with it a bit in the living room. I prefer Aperture priority and Matrix metering for scenes I haven't shot before.
    - When I first get to the shooting site I set ISO to 400 (yes 400) and bracket mode to 7 at 0.7eV ~ 1.0 eV intervals. I point the camera, compose, and fire off 7 exposures. This will give you 3 exposures below the one the camera metering picked as correct and 3 above, with a variance of 2.1 ~ 3.0 stops each way. One of them should be pretty close to what you like. Pick the best one. Now you have an idea of the shutter time required for the aperture that you picked at ISO 400.

    I start my initial test with ISO 400 because the metering will max out at 30 seconds in Aperture mode. For what I shoot, it is hard to find subjects that take longer than 30 seconds for the exposure at ISO 400, unless really stopped down. Based on the test exposure I like best, I modify the aperture and ISO to get the best shot using either Aperture-priority or Manual mode.

    Here is the hard part. You must remember to adjust you settings from ISO 400 to the ISO you want to use and adjust the exposure compensation to match the test shot. Other that that it is as they say, play.

    If you choose to use Aperture-priority mode as I usually do, you dial down the ISO to the value you wish to use, preferably the lowest ISO you can. Then set the exposure compensation value to match the best test shot. You will also need to add 1 more stop for the change to ISO 200, 2 stops for ISO 100. Now reset bracketing to either 3 or 5 images at 0.7eV step and shoot. Assuming that you choose 3 bracketing images at 0.7eV, every series of 3 images should have a shot with an exposure that perfectly meets you preferences +/- 0.3ev. Using 5 images at 0.3eV will take more time and images, but you get the exposure nailed to +/- 0.15eV. The camera will automatically meter pretty well all the rest of your shots as long as the scene type doesn't change drastically. Check the histogram every series just in case.

    I tend to shoot raw with a WB of Daylight so I can batch modify the WB later in PP. Sometimes I will do a Pre-set WB using the scene itself as the WB target if the scene is bright enough. This works well in the D200 ~ D3 bodies, but fails in my D2H, so it may/may not work in the D2X. Generally using daylight WB gives me an image on the LCD that pretty closely represents the colors I'm seeing at night. If I have a scene with lots of sodium vapor or flourescent light in it I can usually shift the colors later in PP with ease if shot raw.

    I bought a tiny LED flashlight for use when changing settings on the camera in the dark. It is attached to a lanyard and hung from my neck or belt.

    Here are a few night images showing mixed lighting. Note the difference that stopping down has on large light sources at night. The light can create a star like pattern the more you stop down.
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  12. This is all good info everyone and I thank you for it. I am printing out these suggestions so that I have something to go on as starters.
  13. SP77


    Jun 4, 2007
    Rockville, MD
    That's easy.


    D40 and 18-55 kit lens on a STURDY tripod at 22mm, stopped down at f/8 (aperture priority) base ISO at 200, and let the shutter speed fall where it may. In this case 6 seconds. Use the delay mode so that any vibrations from hitting the shutter dampen out so that you get a sharp photo. Timing is important. The great light like this where the building lights and the blue sky balanced against each other only lasted for a few minutes. A few minutes before and the sky was still too light, and a few minutes after the sky went completely dark and the photos weren't nearly as exciting. This is pretty much as shot straight off the camera - only minor adjustments.

    Same thing here. D80, 18-55 kit lens, good tripod, longer exposure at base ISO with the aperture closed down. This light lasted about 90 seconds. More PP work done here - it didn't look nearly this good in person. I used a 2-stop gradiated neutral density filter to help balance the brighter sky against the darker foreground and bring out the details on the buildings which were in a shadow.


    This one was handheld with a fisheye lens. The location made this shot. This light came and went in just a few minutes also. Pretty much straight off the camera aside from a little converter plug-in for the fisheye lens.


    You want to use the lowest ISO that you can so that you have maximum dynamic range and image quality, and also the lowest noise possible. You want to use a smaller aperture so that you have maximum depth of field. I also like the effects of lights from cars streaking by so I like the long exposures of several seconds as a result. Even stabilized lenses aren't this good so you need a tripod of some sort. And you need to figure out how to use the delay mode on your camera, unless you have some sort of wireless or cable release. Otherwise if it starts the exposure as soon as you hit the shutter release on the camera while it's on the tripod you'll get a blurred shot from the vibration caused by your hand hitting the shutter.

    When I do photos like these I specifically bring the lightest camera body and lens that I can, because it lets me get away with a cheap and crappy but also highly portable and convenient tripod that's easy to carry around. Big pro body with a big pro lens requires way too big and annoying or a tripod to want to bring with me anywhere, so I specifically use lighter D40/D80 type bodies and the ultra-light but good 18-55 kit lens (or similar) for these photos since they minimize the support requirements. They're perfectly sharp all over stopped down at f/8 anyways so a bigger lens wouldn't buy you much. I don't mess around with bracketing modes. Just watch your LCD and RGB histograms and adjust your exposure as needed. If you get the timing right as far as lighting and color and have your camera set properly, there's no reason at all you shouldn't be able to get great shots straight off the camera. Assuming you're lucky you'll get the timing just right and you'll have beautiful lighting and won't need to do a thing after the shot. Without as much luck things might look a bit bland, in which case just do some basic editing and you can liven things up quite a bit. :smile:
  14. SP77


    Jun 4, 2007
    Rockville, MD
    I just saw you're from Virginia Beach. My wife and I love going there. I proposed to her on the beach there. :smile:

    Not a skyline shot, but same exact technique. Stopped down a bit, base ISO, longer exposure, 2-stop grad ND filter to balance the sky against the beach, and this one I did a fair amount of PP work on to liven up a bit since the colors didn't look this good during the actual sunrise. Actual settings were f/11, ISO 100, and 1/3s on a good tripod with a wireless shutter release. I tried to time the photos to get some nice wave action.

    Virginia Beach :smile:
  15. 73Z1


    Sep 15, 2008
    Superb images SP77!
  16. Thanks Steve for all the info. Appreciate it a lot.

    Your work is awesome. Hopefully down the road, this will be second nature to me.
  17. for your D2x, I reccomend

    qual RAW
    iso 100
    wb 2500 - 3000 K
    M exposure mode
    aperture 8~5.6

    shutter speed will vary from 5~8 sec for big cities with overcast to 20~30 seconds for small cities with no back lighting.

    for small cities, shoot a short while after sun down to hold some color in the sky.
    for big cities, you can go deep into the night if there is a high overcast as a backdrop.
    partly cloudy conditions are good for streaking clouds with stars in the open patches.

    most of the time I use wide lenses but sometimes longer lenses are needed to leverage various compositional elements so don't leave too much at home.

    of course use the best tripod you can steal from anywhere. use cable release and mirror lock. find stable ground to set up on and don't walk around the tripod during the exposure if possible. lightly hold on to the strap if you are not alone in case someone knocks the rig over.

    in raw process, put a short steep section in the top right corner to temper the highlights then let it flatten out a bit till it gets down to where the rest of the histogram sits. play with the WB and hue to look for something that looks groovy.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  18. garyosborne

    garyosborne Guest

    I read another tip in Hot Shoe Diaries.... Joe McNally says that while a city skline will incoparate all types of light, flourescent dominates therefore he mounted a magenta filter...in the age of digital we don't need to do that just set WB to Flouro...or better yet shoot RAW and sort it out later, even if the green tint isn't prominent setting to flouro will give a magenta edge to the shot which may really add to sunrise/sunset situation. Isn't this fun?
  19. doing a magenta pull is very easy in raw process and I did that in the second example shot. pulling to the blue end is much harder because Si is much more sensitive to red than blue. if you are going to carry a filter, make it a blue one to help balance out the channels in addition to digital processing.
  20. bellasdad


    Apr 25, 2008
    Fairfax, VA
    LOVE your shots! The one above is just mesmerizing! Bravo!!!

    I'm originally from Va Bch also. Me and my wifes families are there. We currently live in Northern VA (Fairfax).
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.