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Digital Night Photography

Take Spectacular Nighttime Photos with Your Digital Camera Part I

SUMMARY: First of a three-part series on taking digital photos at nighttime; this part is aimed towards beginners.



(12/18/2004)
- Andrew Malek

[ If you've already read part I, skip ahead to digital night photography tips part II ]


Night photographs express a special something that cannot be seen in normal daytime photography. Whether it is a photograph of a moon and starlit sky over a windy deserted beach, the excitement of a downtown cityscape when the lights go on, or just a picture of you and some friends in front of a favorite hangout, nighttime photos, when done right, are sure to attract attention.

However, even for experienced photographers, nighttime photography can be a tricky situation. Photos often look unfocused, blurry, or lacking crucial details, and many may not come out at all. There are some tricks, though, to taking spectacular nighttime photos with your digital camera, tricks that can be explained yet only completely learned through practice.

This first part of a three-part series on nighttime photography will cover tricks not necessarily related to digital camera settings, but tricks nonetheless that can result in better photographs or a more pleasing photo-taking experience.

* Although more expensive digital cameras do not necessarily result in better photos, realize that the cheapest cameras may not be capable of taking great photographs at night. It requires more work, both on your's and the camera's part, to take spectacular shots in very low-light situations. Though you don't have to spend over a thousand dollars for night photography, don't expect too much out of a sub-two hundred-dollar camera, either.

* Especially if you are not completely familiar with your camera's settings to enhance nighttime photography, consider first taking some photographs around dusk, when the sun has not yet completely left the sky. Dusk photos can sometimes be even more dramatic than those taken in the pitch-black sky, as the added light helps illuminate details easily missed in a completely dark environment Check your local newspaper where you are shooting photographs or a website such as http://www.weather.com/ for sunrise/sunset times, and be ready to shoot around a 20-30 minute window for best results.

* Plan your photos before you shoot! While it is always a good idea to study an area first, this is crucial if you are planning on snapping photographs around dusk! You will not have much time to plan, and if you spend five or ten minutes just getting a perfect angle or framing the perfect shot, the overall lighting will change as the sun slowly sets. And of course, remember when composing your photos that the sun sets in the west.


* Be prepared for the environment. If you're heading out by yourself, especially in a semi-deserted wilderness area, always carry a map so you remember how to get to your home, camp, or hotel. Check the weather before you go and wear a poncho or coat if necessary. Carry a flashlight, or, in the most extreme environments, a flare, to help others find you if you become lost. Also, bring along a WELL-CHARGED cell phone in case of emergency! You're taking photos at night to have fun and create spectacular results. Be prepared for unexpected situations so they don't ruin your experience.

While the results can be outstanding, night photography presents its own unique benefits and hazards. Not just any digital camera will do; lower-end models may not have the capability of taking spectacular shots. Timing is crucial, especially when taking pictures in the brief time between dusk and total darkness. And, the environment and weather can play havoc with your plans. By purchasing the correct equipment, studying the subject area before nighttime falls, and dealing with unexpected situations with the correct nighttime gear, you can be better prepared to take amazing nighttime photos.

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The MalekTips website was created in 1998 by Andrew Malek of Envision Programming. The page's goal is to freely disperse computer-related tips, hints, and informative articles. Tips are organized to be easy to find, and are presented clearly, in easy-to-understand language. MalekTips also provides information and links to public-domain, open source, freeware, shareware, and commercial software available for download.