SHOOTING IMAGES
AT NIGHT

POINTS TO CONSIDER

Compiled by Florence W Deems

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After the sun sets or before the sun rises are the times for trying our hands at shooting images at night.

TWILIGHT: This is the period of time when, in the mornings, we can begin to see objects without having to use any lights, up until sunrise, and in the evenings, after the sun sets until we can no longer see any objects clearly. This is usually called Civil Twilight.

CIVIL TWILIGHT: "Civil twilight occurs when the center of the sun is between 6 degrees below the horizon to just at the edge of the horizon. For example, at sunset civil twilight begins as the sun disappears and lasts until the sun's center is 6 degrees below the horizon ... During civil twilight, objects are still easily distinguishable and activities can carry on without artificial light. The brightest stars and planets appear during civil twilight."

Read more at Twilight: Wikipedia.

Usually Civil Twilight lasts about half an hour, both before sunrise and after sunset. The actual time period varies, depending upon where you are located and in which season you are going to be making images. Civil twilight ends when there's not enough light to see objects, unless we use a light or night vision aids. This half hour length of time at the beginning and end of the day is most useful for recording images in which you want to still have some color in the sky and for the most part, when the sky light and the ambient artificial light are balanced.

But if you want to shot only stars or artificial lights, you must do this before Civil Twilight begins in the mornings, or after it ends at night. There are two other types of Twilights: Nautical and Astronomical. You can read about them by going to the link above.

SHOOTING DURING CIVIL TWILIGHT: At sunset, shoot an image and see what setting the camera has chosen for you. From this time on, about every 5 minutes you'll have to change your settings, as the light is falling rapidly. So this means either you'll have to increase the ISO (which can mean more noise), or decrease the shutter speed or open up the lens more. As you open up the lens more and increase the amount of time the shutter is open, you'll be running into problems of camera shake. So you'll need a tripod. Or you'll need to find a fence, rail, table, bench, rock or other firmly planted object upon which to rest your camera. Or just go ahead and try for some interesting blurs!

If you are out before sunrise, the reverse will be true. Starting at the beginning of Civil Twilight, each 5 minutes the light will have increased enough that you'll have to allow less time for the light to reach the film or the digital sensor. Lower the ISO speed (and therefore have less noise) and increase the shutter speed.

You'll also find that your camera's autofocus will not work as well as it does during daytime. So you might have to start focussing manually.

If you have your camera set on Auto-everything for exposures, you may or may not like the results. So it's best to read the manual and learn how to take over control from the camera. Learn how to set for the aperture (lens opening) you want, so set it for Aperture Priority (A or AV on the dial). Then the camera will set the shutter speed (and maybe the ISO, too). Each camera model is different, which is why it's vital to read that manual!

WHITE BALANCE: In addition to ISO, aperture and shutter speed, we also will be dealing with White Balance. Light has a different color to it, depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun. Light color also depends upon the weather. So cameras usually give you a choice of daylight (sunny day), or shade (in the shade on a sunny day), or cloudy, or artificial light. Or you can fall back on Auto White Balance - but sometimes this will not give you the result you want. So again it's vital to know what White Balance settings your camera has.

If you use the wrong White Balance, then your image will show too orangy-red, or too bluish. Sometimes, especially with fluorescent lights, your image can turn out too greenish. But the "wrong" setting also can be used to advantage:

A quote from Craig Tanner:

"...in addition to balanced light [during Civil Twilight], if you shoot at daylight white balance you get beautiful color contrasts of the deep blue of the twilight sky juxtaposed with the warmth of the color of the street lights and car lights"..Craig

I hope this little discussion gives you some food for thought and some tips for getting better images when you shoot at night.

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