Last weekend I joined a workshop night photography in Amsterdam, given by Paul Struijk at Imagelab. On my vacation in NY I had some troubles creating good photos of the city in the dark, so I felt this workshop would help me a lot. And it did!
I figured I’m not the only one with this problem, so I decided to write down some tips – hopefully it will help you as well.
Since I don’t own a tripod, I arrived at the workshop without one. I soon realised what I was missing! Without a tripod you really have to be creative and look for steady subjects for you to put the camera on. What to do if you don’t have a tripod (or don’t have it with you)? Use the railing of a bridge, a traffic cone, the floor (of course you’ll have to lie on the floor) but also the seat or handle of a parked bike.
This is a photo I took with my camera on the railing of a bridge:
Here’s one where I used the floor to steady my camera:
It’s important that the object you put your camera on is stable and that it supports the body and the lens of your camera. This prevents an blurred photo when the body of the camera is fixed on an object and you press the button to take a picture and your camera moves.
Keep the ISO-value as low as possible! Preferably set it to 100, 200 or 400 at the most. Any higher and you’ll loose quality in your photo.
Here is an example of a bad picture where the ISO-value was too high (on the left) and a photo where the value was set correctly:
Click on the photos to enlarge it and you’ll see that the sky is a bit grainy in the photo on the left. This is what happens when the ISO-value is set too high.
3. White balance
As long as you’re still working with a bit of sunlight (even if you can’t see the sun anymore but it’s still not fully dark), you should use the white balance setting daylight/natural light. Once it really is fully dark, change the setting to artificial light. Different camera types might have different names for it. Here you have the same shot, first taken with “natural light” and the one on the right with “artificial light”:
Set the aperture as wide as possible. The value in your camera should be lowest available (F1.4 / F2.8 / F4). This ensures that the lens is opened as widely as possible to let sufficient light in. If you use a higher value you’ll have a smaller aperture which means less light.
5. Shutter speed
Now this is where you get creative…start playing with the wheel and find a shutter speed you’re comfortable with. I realised often that with a wide aperture (and no tripod) you’ll need a short shutter speed to get a sharp image. Mine was usually between 1/4 second and a 1.6 second – depending on the shot and the available light. In this shot I had an ISO of 400, aperture of F4 and shutter speed of 1/4 seconds:
I used a Nikon D40 for all photos, no flash and the camera was set to manual.