the sky will come out a dense black with the lights asburnt out highlights. As a rule of thumb, an hour beforeit gets dark is when you should begin shooting for thebest results.In the days of film, shooting at night was, well, anightmare – the enormous contrast range meant gettingthe exposure right was tricky and unpredictable, and itwasn’t until you picked up the prints you found outwhether you’d been successful or, more commonly, not.Working digitally means you see the resultsimmediately, and on many cameras can fine-tune theexposure to get the balance right. And you canobviously tweak images on the computer later toimprove matters further. What makes night photographyappealing are the bright, vivid lights, and you need tomake sure the camera’s white balance system doesn’tcompensate for them – or the pictures will be flat anduninspiring. If you have a choice, set the controls fordaylight balance, and you’ll capture the vibrant warmthwhich mercury-vapour and tungsten illumination givesto subjects.
Getting the exposures right
In bright street lighting you might just get away withhand-holding, especially if you increase the ISO setting,but the risk of camera-shake is always present. Bracingyourself against a lamppost or resting the camera on awall can help, but if you’re serious about nighttimeshooting a tripod is virtually essential.Overall, a tripod is one of the most useful accessoriesyou can have and we’ll be looking at other ways youmight benefit from owning one in a moment.If you have a ‘compact’ digital camera you don’t needa particularly heavy or sturdy tripod. As long it has stablelegs, isn’t flimsy, and features an adjustable head itshould do just fine. Those fortunate enough to have adigital SLR and longer, heavier lenses should considerinvesting in something a little more robust. Most digitalcameras feature shutter speeds down to at least 1/2second or 1 second, while many go down to 4, 8, 15 oreven 30 seconds – which, as our table shows at the endof this feature, is more than adequate for the vastmajority of nocturnal activity.Only a handful of models feature a ‘B’ setting thatenables you to hold the shutter open for as long as youlike, but this is far from essential unless you really getbitten by the night photography bug. If you want to addanimation to your low-light shots, try including movingcars, whose front and rear lights will streak across thepicture during long exposures.In fact, you can make this the whole point ofwonderful special effects picture by finding a goodvantage point on a flyover and looking down on a busyroad and shooting as traffic passes below – see overleaf.A tripod on its own won’t protect you from shake. If
What makes night photography soappealing are the bright, vivid lights
When capturing what looks like a well-lit area against avast expanse of night sky, you are likely to end up witha small splash of light in a black background. Instead,zoom in on the areas of light so they dominate the finalimage. Most neon lights shine at the same intensity, sotry a standard exposure of 1/15sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.This amusement park ride required a longer exposurethough to get the blurring – about 1sec.