Taking Photos in Available Light at Night

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When traveling during holiday season, many people don't want to bring a studio's worth of gear with them. But taking pictures in low light won't always give users the most pleasing results. Here are a couple of workarounds to get better photos while carrying less gear.




Go to the Light!

The right lighting in the right place can help to create better photos. Every city has street lamps that give off copious amounts of soft illumination. It's a good idea to place your subject around the projected cone of light, to fill in shadows on their face. This helps to create a more flattering portrait.

Take note of the color of the light being projected onto your subject, as well. Warmer light renders a different effect than cooler light. You can always fix this in post-production with some tweaking, if you shoot in raw.

Photo by II conte di Luna

If you need extra illumination, I suggest the Gary Fong Puffer to soften your DSLR's flash output. Otherwise, if you have an iPod Touch with you, you'll find it very handy as softbox when the brightness is turned up to the maximum output.

Faster Lenses Can Work Wonders

Photo by GServo

Faster lenses, which have a larger maximum-aperture rating, let more light hit the sensor of the camera. A 50mm F/1.8 lens provides a popular and affordable option. When traveling around at night, a lens with a faster aperture will not force you to raise your ISO setting to an astronomically crazy level.

Most lenses with larger apertures tend to be fixed-focal-length lenses. However, there are a number of zoom lenses with fast apertures. These lenses will combine the zoom range you want with the low-light abilities you'll need.

Editor's Note: If you want to shape your bokeh as in the photo above, we recommend the Bokeh Master's Kit with a fast lens.

Raise the ISO

Photo by Rafakoy

You don't always need to raise the ISO to nuclear core meltdown levels, but do raise it. Consider the story of one tourist from Belgium whom I met one night a while back, while shooting from the Top of the Rock in NYC. He was using a Nikon D700 and a 14-24mm F/2.8 ED without a clue as to how to actually use the combo to achieve better results. He shot in program mode, and was getting two second or longer exposures—handheld! Think of the camera shake!

He asked me to shoot a portrait of him and his wife with his camera. I immediately switched it to manual mode and changed the ISO setting for him from 200 to 1600. He didn't understand why until I told him about how a higher ISO setting gives you more light sensitivity, making it ideal for night photography.

Camera shake can happen, and one way to prevent it is to raise the ISO setting.

Environmental Tripods

Maybe you don't want to raise the ISO.

Potential tripods are everywhere, if your mind is creative. A pile of bricks, the edge of a bench, a railing, etc., can all very quickly become stabilizers. By using these environmental tripods, you can shoot at a slower shutter speed with less camera shake, because of the extra stabilization.

Live View + Live Preview = Photo Preview

Switch your DSLR to Live View—what you see on the LCD screen will be a preview of the photo that you're about to shoot. This will help you fine tune your settings to get the exact image that you want.

Finally, a popular exposure tactic is to overexpose the images, and then bring the exposure level down in post-production.