Photography Technical Details of Night Scenes

I posted some pictures on the Bund (National Holiday 2007 in Shanghai)

© Jian Shuo Wang

Liping asked:

Jianshou, those pictures are fantastic. I had some difficulty to take sharp images of night scene. How do you take those pictures? Did you use any special settings? Did you use tripod? I have Nikon D50, too.

Posted by: Liping on October 2, 2007 10:42 PM

Let me share my tips of taking the photos. Please note that I am by no means a professional photography, and even didn’t have enough time to think about the technical details. Let me just share what I did, and hopefully it helps.

Technical Details

For the photo shown above, here are the key metrics:

Focal Length: 70.0 mm – this is very long length, the longest in my current lens.

Flash: Not Used – it is completely useless for flash to capture night scene.

Aperture: f/25.0 – very small indeed. This is to ensure the sharp image of the picture. The small it is, the sharper the image is.

Exposure bias: -0.67 – this is very key. Since the auto-exposure meter will take the dark sky into consideration, it makes sense to under-exposure a little bit so the color of the building reveals.

Exposure: Program – this is the [P] mode on the D50 camera.

Exposure time: 8.000s – this is maybe the most important thing. I used exposure time of 8 second. That is after you press the shuttle button, count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. I know, that is very long. This makes it possible for me to use smaller Aperture to get the sharp image.

The Key Challenge – to Hold the Camera Tight

1/60 second is the threshold for most people to hold the camera tight enough. The key challenge for me to take night scenes is to hold the camera tightly as possible, for as long as 8 seconds!

I don’t want to bring a tripod with me. That is huge, and again, I don’t want to be a professional photographer. Even if I do, I don’t want the burden of a tripod ruin my pleasant travel mood.

I always find something, like the pole near the river, or a bench, or even a solid grand. Then put the camera directly onto the solid supporting surface. Then set the exposure to long enough, so even there are some initial small movement of the camera, it won’t impact the imagine too much.

Hope these tips helps.

More Case Study

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang

This one uses:

18.00 mm Focal length

10.000s Exposure time

f/16.0 Aperture

4 Comments

  1. You forgot to mention what the ISO was set to. :)

  2. Sorry to say this but using a tripod has nothing to do with being a ‘professional’ or not. “Hold on tight” is not a good tip to give beginner photographers. If you are too lazy/do not have a tripod, then you’ll have to rest your camera on something stationary. A shutter release cable or remote control will give you more stability and help avoid camera shake from manually pressing the shutter.

    It is virtually impossible to have a take a long exposure photo without a tripod (or resting the camera on something stationary) no matter how steady your hands are.

    As for the second photo, while it is exposed correctly, I didn’t know Shanghai was slanted like that..sorry to say that that’s not a good photo at all…the good news is that it can easily be fixed by rotating the photo in most photo editing software.

  3. ISO setting can be left at 100 (best quality photos with least amount noise) if you have a tripod or put the camera on something stable. if you want to hand hold a low light shot then you’ll have to bump up the ISO as high as you can without hand shaking your photo and you can use noise-reducing software.

  4. Jianshuo, thank you evry much for detailed information.

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