Night Time Photography

There are plenty of photographic opportunities after the sun sets.

25/10/2013 - 00:00

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With the sun setting sooner it is tempting to pack up your gear and head home a lot sooner than you did a few months ago. However, if you do stay out with your gear well after the sun has set, a wealth of photographic opportunities start to appear.

In cities and towns, street lights as well as the glow of advertisements and shop signs begin to decorate the streets, giving buildings which may have not looked so photogenic in the daytime a chance to shine. The warm glow of interior lights from high-rise buildings, restaurants and pubs can look inviting when captured on a cool autumnal night while traffic flowing through the streets can make long, colourful light trails when captured with longer shutter speeds. One thing worth remembering is if you're taking your images in an area that contains more offices than homes or shops you'll be better off taking your images in the week as lights are less likely to be on at the weekend.

If you're looking to capture shots of bright lights set against a deep blue sky you'll need to start shooting in the hour just after sunset. This time of night produces better backdrops for lights as the detail in the sky is more interesting than a blanket of black. You'll need to work quickly, though, as the optimal time for shooting only lasts around half an hour. After this time you may want to turn away from landscapes and focus on smaller detail or light trails at street level so you can cut most of the black sky out of your images. 

As you'll be using long shutter speeds or Bulb mode, a Pentax DSLR is ideal but that's not to say you can't use a Pentax compact, however, as even these do offer shutter speeds of a few seconds. The WG-3, for example, can capture a 4 second exposure when used in Night Scene mode. Do remember to use the camera's built-in self timer when using a compact as even the slightest movement caused by you pressing the shutter button can result in shake appearing in your shot. For DSLR users, you too can use the self-timer feature or if you have one, use a remote / cable release. 

Don't forget your tripod as you will need a strong, sturdy support when using longer shutter speeds. You can use a wall or another solid structure as a temporary support but none will beat the strong build of a tripod for stability. As tripod legs tend to be made from metal it's worth packing your gloves for carrying it, unless you're strapping it to your bag, as the legs will feel very cold to the touch when out for long periods of time. While we are talking about clothing, you'll need a coat and a flask of something warm won't be out of place either for times when you're waiting for long exposures to complete. 

As you'll be using a tripod you don't have to worry about camera shake which means you can keep ISO levels low. This may mean shutter speeds are slightly longer but you'll be able to capture even more detail in the sky which is a bonus.

When it comes to lens choices, a variety of focal lengths can be used which is why your compact as well as DSLRs can both be used. A standard kit lens will be fine for DSLR users but feel free to pack a longer zoom if you have one. Compact users just have to head out and use whatever focal lengths are covered by their particular camera but with up to 20x zooms offered by the Pentax' compact range now, not having the right amount of reach shouldn't be a problem.

As light levels can change quickly, particularly when you're taking shots during twilight, it's worth bracketing your exposures so you have the opportunity to pick out the best results when home. Spot metering can be useful as this will allow you to take a reading from a brighter area of the scene which should help prevent highlights from burning out. Do still preview your shots, though and keep an eye on your histogram.


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