Night Lighting In Photography: 5 Tips For Shooting After Sunset

October 10, 2013

Tips For Shooting After SunsetWhen the sun goes down, it’s a great time to test your technical photography skills. Instead of using your camera’s automatic exposure settings, attach an external flash to your camera to learn more about nighttime lighting in photography. Here’s how to make the most of your evening shoots.

If you’re photographing a moving subject, such as a race car, show off the speed of the object. A trail of light behind the taillights can be achieved by setting the external flash unit attached to a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera to the rear-curtain sync or second-sync mode. This means that the flash will emit light at the end of the exposure, not at the start. (Using first-curtain sink would make the taillight streak unnaturally to the front of the car.) To lengthen the streak of light, use a slower shutter speed.

Not all flashes are created equal. External flash units with advanced settings often offer the option to use the flash at less than full power. To avoid a washed-out, too-bright appearance when taking photos of people at night, use an external flash at 1/2 or 1/4 power.

If your flash is a basic model that doesn’t offer variable power output, try placing a diffuser over the flash head (the window where the light comes out) to cut down on the amount of light that reaches your subject.

Working with evening light is a balancing act. Adjusting the exposure, using flash units and changing the film speed can affect the amount of light and visible detail in an image considerably. Experiment with both natural ambient evening light (also known as available light) and flash in your photography.

When working with natural ambient light, try boosting a digital camera’s film speed setting (known as the ISO) to 1600, 3200 or H (high speed). These higher-than-average ISOs allow more light to enter the camera, though they will also create more grainy images than those taken at lower ISO settings. This look is perfect for capturing a portrait of a street-corner musician illuminated by a streetlight or a haunting image of a cemetery under the moonlight. The high ISO will allow you to see the background and surroundings, whereas a flash can be used to gently illuminate a prominent subject in the foreground.

The AV, or aperture, setting on a camera adjusts the size of the aperture ring in your camera lens. When you’re working in the low light of the evening, you need as much light as possible to enter the camera in order to expose the picture.

So open up that aperture! The number system for aperture settings are called f-stops. Although it sounds counterintuitive, the smaller the f-stop number, the wider the opening in the aperture ring. So an aperture of f2.8 is much wider than an aperture of f16. Think small numbers for brighter exposures at night.

The best way to ensure that your evening pictures aren’t blurry-and that your camera can accept the slow shutter speed setting that will allow more light into the lens-is to use a support. In addition to a trusty old tripod, consider using a one-legged monopod for assignments that require you to have more mobility.

For example, when shooting in dim lighting conditions, evening football photographers often use a monopod because it allows them to quickly travel up and down the sidelines but while stabilizing their camera enough to get just the right shot.

How do you work around evening lighting conditions? Share your lighting in photography tips and trick in the comments below.

Image Source: Morguefile