I will briefly explain the techniques on how to photograph cities, towns, illuminated signs and traffic trails in low light. Night photography is simple, fun and creative, especially at this time of the year as you don’t have to wait long for nightfall.
It is always best to photograph cities, towns and traffic trailing lights when there are still some shades of dark blues, purples, pinks and orange in the sky. The final photograph becomes more interesting with lots of colours rather than a darkened sky in the background. When photographing illuminated signs, it is advisable to shoot them in close-up, therefore the background may not be an issue.
A few points to keep in mind:
Camera settings: Use Aperture Priority mode or Manual mode on cameras. Cameras which do not have the Aperture Priority or Manual mode will often allow selecting different scene settings, such as ‘dusk/dawn’, ‘nightlight’ or ‘sunset’ modes. Please choose which suits you and your camera best.
When using the Aperture Priority mode, set the aperture at f16 (the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed).
For Manual mode, set the aperture at f11or f16 and the shutter speed at 15 seconds. Use this shutter speed as a guide only, as your exposure time may vary depending on the available light. You may either have to increase or decrease the shutter speed depending on the image produced.
If you are using a SLR, there is normally an exposure indicator visible through the viewfinder which looks like -2||||1||||0||||1||||2+. Adjust the shutter speed whilst looking through the viewfinder and ensure the indicator is on 0, as this will give you the correct exposure.
On compact cameras choose ‘Nightlight’, and the camera will adjust aperture and shutter speed accordingly.
Exposure: due to low light, exposures will be long ranging from 10 seconds to 90 seconds. Use a tripod to avoid camera shake, or alternatively change the ISO on your camera to 800 or higher to minimise camera shake.
Composition: It is advisable to frame your shot before you press the shutter release as it avoids ‘unwanted’ objects in your photograph.
Equipment: camera, tripod, watch or a stopwatch to time exposures.
Bracketing: as we will be using a small aperture (f11/f16), it is advisable to over and under expose your image by ½ a stop. When using bracketing, you will have a selection of images with varying degree of exposure. This will allow you to select the desired exposure by duplicating the settings of your preferred image.
Warm clothing: coat, gloves, hat and umbrella.
I have used my SLR and compact camera to take the following photographs. When I used the SLR, I set the camera on fully manual mode mounted on a tripod. As for my compact camera, I used the ‘night landscape’ mode without using a tripod or flash (the camera needed to be handheld very steadily).
Examples of photographs taken using a compact camera set on ‘night landscape’:
Examples of photographs taken using a SLR set on manual mode:
The face in this image was created by laser lights:
Outside a restaurant:
Illuminated huts near the waterfront: