Contrary to popular belief, there’s much more to making a good photograph than pushing a button on a good camera. While there are many cases when automatic settings or presets can serve the purpose, there are times when you need to take control of the camera and make it collect the data specific to your needs. This post follows a similar theme to my last one, in that it explains some of the things I consider before I take a shot rather than just giving the settings used.
For this purpose, I’ve chosen “Night At The Marina”, a shot I took on a hot summer night in September. I hadn’t really done much in the way of night photography so this one gave me a few challenges I needed to consider.
Focus - Autofocus isn’t an option when you’re photographing at night, and it can be difficult to manually focus by looking through the viewfinder. Because I wanted good detail around the boats, I decided on aperture of f/18 to get a good depth of field, knowing it would give me the added bonus of a star effect on the lights.
Exposure – Back to basics on this one. The exposure triangle is made up of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I already knew I was going with an aperture of f/18 and ISO-100 is my preference whenever I can use it. That left shutter speed. By using a tripod and a cable release, I was able to take camera shake out of the equation. That left subject movement. Conditions were extremely still, so I didn’t need to worry about the boats moving, unless someone happened to be on one of the boats (fortunately that wasn’t the case). With night photography, you also need to consider earth rotation if the sky is to be part of the image. The position of celestial bodies such as the moon and stars actually change fairly quickly. In this case, the sky wasn’t part of the photo, so I wasn’t limited there either. Now I’m just looking for the shutter speed I need to expose to the level I desire.
Cameras will only meter to 30 seconds, so longer exposures can be another test. With the camera on bulb setting, you control the shutter speed by depressing the shutter for the desired amount of time. There are 2 methods of determining the desired shutter speed…experience and trial and error. In my case, I didn’t have the experience to draw from, so I turned to trial and error. For my first attempt, I chose 2 minutes. I knew that if the result was too dark, I would adjust to 2.5 or 3 minutes to brighten it up. If it was too bright, I would go to 1 or 1.5 minutes. I got lucky with 2 minutes, so I didn’t need to go through multiple attempts.
Composition cannot be forgotten. I won’t dwell on the basic rules of composition, as we’ve all heard them many times before. One thing I will mention is that through experience with blue hour shots at this location, there can be some very bright reflections from the downward facing lights. I wasn’t able to avoid all of them, but by careful positioning, I was able to avoid the worst one by having it blocked by the AE Viking. It’s a matter of working with angles, and with a little movement to the side or vertical adjustment on the tripod, you can really improve the final results.
As mentioned in my post from last week, this is just an example of some of the things we think about before pushing the shutter. If you consider your subject and know what you want in your image, understanding the cause and effect of each of your camera settings can help you tackle some of the more difficult situations.