Basic Digital Photograhy: Capturing Night Time Images

by : Christine Peppler

From sparkling city skylines to moonlit rural landscapes, night time scenes can be enchanting. Although digital cameras are capable of capturing more color within a night scene than the human eye is capable of registering, capturing such a view requires some adjustments and special techniques to avoid blurry, underexposed photographs. The following tips will provide a good starting point for beginners as they begin to experiment and practice with night photography.

&bull Many digital cameras have a "night" setting. If it is available, this feature needs to be selected. Although most models of digital cameras can create a reasonable night time image, higher resolution cameras produce higher quality low light photographs.

&bull Turn off the flash function if at all possible. Use of flash for night photography often results in underexposure of the subject. The flash range on any camera is limited to only several feet.

&bull Light is required for night photography, therefore, the best time for shooting tends to be just after sunset or just as the moon is rising.

&bull To get enough light onto the sensor at night time, it is usually necessary to use a slower shutter speed. It is also possible to obtain more light by increasing the aperture. Most digital cameras offer a shutter priority and an aperture priority mode that allow the user to make adjustments manually. Manual mode allows the user to adjust both shutter speed and aperture.

&bull As more light comes into the camera, the sensor can heat up quickly and create thermal "noise". Noise is simply the white spots that distort the image. For this reason it is best to leave the camera off until ready to shoot the picture or to take night shots during cooler weather. Some digital cameras have a noise reduction feature; again this can be quite effective in reducing the effects of noise and should be selected if available.

&bull Camera shake can also distort an image. The risk of camera shake during night time shooting is increased due to the slower shutter speed. Use of a tripod or some other form of stabilization is highly recommended to eliminate camera shake. Most photographers even recommend the use of a remote or manual cable to trigger the shot versus touching the camera to assure that it is stable for the shot. When a remote is not available, use of the self-timer can also allow triggering without touching. Some digital cameras offer a feature that allows the user to lock the mirror which can further assure stability during shooting.

&bull Take multiple shots. Taking good images requires practice, beginners should be prepared to take multiple shots of the same scene, select the best, and delete the remainder. Check the viewfinder for the results of each shot and readjust shutter speed and aperture as needed.

Creating clear images that capture the magical quality of a night time scene requires a small amount of light which can be obtained through shutter and aperture adjustments, stabilization, and a significant amount of practice.