1. The 1st thing you need to do Is find somewhere pitch black. This could be a field or a tunnel.
2. Next you need a good light source such as a maglite. If the light it too bright then you will burn parts of the image so try to stick with a slightly dimmer light.
3. You will need a flat and stable surface if a tripod isn’t available however, a tripod is strongly recommended for night photography and these can be picked up for as little as £10.
4. The hardest part is to focus the camera in correctly. Don’t use auto focus or you will lose depth of field. This is when the foreground is in focus but the background looks blurred. I find the easiest way to focus is manual. Zoom your lens as far as possible and focus your camera on the beam of light given off by your torch. Now the camera will be focused so you can zoom out as far as needed.
5. The next part is to get your camera settings right. This involves setting exposure/shutter speed and aperture. All cameras are different and so a bright image on one may appear dim on another. Exposure is represented as a number shown as either a fraction 1/450 meaning you are shooting with below 1second exposure or it’s shown as 5” which represents 5 seconds. Most DSLR cameras will have 30” exposure maximum. For a dark location you should aim to use between 10 and 30 second exposure (or more-we will talk about this later)
The aperture is better known as an f-stop. This is the number on your camera that’s shown as f2.5 for example. This basically shows how much light is picked up by the image sensor. So for dark locations you should keep it low as possible to let as much light in as possible. This will affect your DOF so if at 30” f2.5 your image is too bright then try to increase the f level rather than decrease the exposure.
(Most of my images in these conditions are shot at 30” f5.6)
6. So you now have your focus, exposure and aperture set. The next thing you need to do is set your ISO. The ISO of a camera usually ranges between 100 and 3200 and the higher you go the less quality you get. So you will want your ISO no higher than 200 for this type of photography. However, sometimes when in a really dark location like a train tunnel then the highest exposure and lowest aperture just aren’t enough to light the tunnel. In this case increasing the ISO will give better results but be warned that there will be noise on the image (noise is when the image looks grainy).
7. Now that all your settings are ready you can take the image! The camera will click and start to take the photo. In this time you have x amount of seconds to light your picture. Think of it as painting and everything the light touches will show in the image. Try to keep the light moving and not fixed on one place or you could burn the image and have light and dark patches.
8. You can now view your photo. Does it look blue or orange? This is because of the torch you’re using (LED will appear blue and normal torch and street light will usually appear orange). Now you can change your white balance ‘WB’. There will be loads of different options and different cameras may manage the WB differently so take the photo a number of times until it looks right and then you have the correct white balance set for your light source.
9. You may notice that even with a tripod your images are blurry but the focus seems fine when you set it? This can be because of camera shake made when you push the button to take the picture. The easiest way to overcome this is to set a self timer. These are usually 2 or 10 second. This means the camera will take x amount of seconds from when the button is pressed to when the shutter is released.
10. Finally there is another way to overcome camera shake. You can use a remote with your camera. You will have to make sure the remote you buy is compatible with your make and model of camera. These usually cost between £15 and £40 and will be sold at all good camera stores. This not only prevents camera shake but can also give you a longer exposure. Most Dslr cameras will have a ‘BULB’ setting or remote commander setting. If you set your exposure to these and release the shutter using your remote then you can take a photo until the camera memory runs out or until the picture is complete. At this point you can push the shutter release again to stop the photo.
Things to remember:
Tripod is required
When using remote ensure the camera is correctly set up and is compatible
White balance will affect the colours in your photo.
High ISO mean high noise
F2.8 represents the aperture
30” represents the exposure or shutter speed.