How to Avoid These 12 Night Photography Mistakes

Posted on: 1st January 2013

Spring and summer are a time of joy and revelry for night photographers because it offers a plethora of image compositions that are worth capturing. But there are many challenges that long exposures present. So here are 12 mistakes in night photography that you should watch out for.

  1. Under-exposure

Set the right ISO so you can get the right exposure for your images. When editing an under-exposed shot in Camera Raw, noise can ruin it. Use high ISO (up to 1600 is fine) to balance the natural and artificial light sources around. You can also opt to make the exposure time longer than a few minutes.

  1. Over-exposure

The right amount of light makes the image more realistic. But if you overexpose your image, you won’t get that dreamy, atmospheric effect you want. It would require a lot of patience and practice so don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it right the first few times.

  1. Too visible light sources

Do not stand behind the camera and try to paint from waist height. The ground at the base of the image would come off as too bright and it would also be too obvious where the light is coming from. Keep yourself invisible. Hide behind any building or even a tree. And wear dark clothes. Lift the torch up and make sure you paint as quickly as possible.

Tip: You can create images with lush bursts of light and mesmerizing glowing structures by coming in really close to the subject – just 1-2 feet away. Keep moving – you and your light – so you won’t show up in the photo.

  1. Lack of focus

If there are elements that are too close in the foreground, do not include them in the composition. When shooting at f/4-5.6 through a wide angle lens, depth of field can be very limited. You can still monitor your results by using your camera’s rear LCD screen. Do the necessary focus adjustments.

  1. Blurred stars

You have to increase the ISO – even up to 1600 – so as not to produce underexposed shots. You will also avoid making the stars appear like short trails of light by shortening the shutter speed. But you also have to be careful with the settings so it won’t produce unnecessary noise.

Tip: Clarity is the key ingredient in an excellent star trail picture. Use long exposure time so that the stars will appear as densely packed lines, as the Earth is rotating on its axis. Make it even more compelling by adding into the composition other recognisable features in the surroundings like a tree or a building.

  1. Long exposure noise

High ISO settings can produce a lot of noise. It is the same problem for long exposure time. You can avoid this by merging multiple shorter exposures.

Shooting the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights

All night photographers dream of capturing the tantalising Aurora Borealis. It is a good thing that DLSRs today can capture such a spectacular phenomenon. You want to give it justice when you take a shot at it. So here are some excellent tips you can follow:

  • Limit your shutter speed to 5-10 seconds so as not to cause motion blur. The goal is to emphasize the aurora’s shape and intensity. You’ll get magnificently burnt highlights when you don’t use long exposure time.
  • Make sure that there is strong moonlight to illuminate the foreground landscape to add interesting contrast to the aurora.
  • Make sure you won’t take back home soft shots just because you’re not watching your tripod.

Trying your hands on astrophotography

Astrophotography is not for the faint of heart. Since there is too little light around, exposure mistakes are easily made and it would require a lot of skill and patience to make great compositions. Then again, if you get it right, this hard-core photography challenge can be most rewarding.

Current camera technology provides high ISO but it would still be a tricky thing to get the right exposure when you’re dealing with astrophotography. You have to find the right balance between ISO levels, noise reduction and even the trails of the stars. But don’t allow camera noise to stop you from experimenting in the shadows. You can push the blacks in Adobe Camera Raw but do so gently. Then, you can zoom into 100% to keep the noise at bay.

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