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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera’s ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
If you missed the last movie, I would like to give you a quick update and let you know that this is not what I normally wear to the beach. But it's the middle of the night and it's still really cold. Now we have lit the scene, just like we did in the last movie. It's actually much darker out here than what you're seeing right now. We've got a splash of light behind so you can kind of see where I am at, and we've got me in a pool of light. My eyes though, when these lights turn off, do great. We are just trying to compensate for the fact that modern video cameras are nowhere near the low- light capability of the eye. We are going to try another picture here.
It's going to be mostly the same kind of problem-solving situation that we used in the last image, except this time we are going to work stars into it, and stars complicate things because they're another decision you have to make; they're another parameter you have to balance. You got to decide, do you want pin pricks of light or do you want trails of light. So what I have got here is, in front of me there is this big impressive punk of rock here. It's very jagged, it's kind of pointy, and behind it in the sky are some nice stars. I can see with my flashlight here. You should be able to see this pretty well.
So I have framed up a shot by eye. I am on my tripod here. I have got my 24 to 105 f/4 on here. And because of the moonlight, I can see pretty well just by eye, but I still need to take a shot and look at it on the screen because it's dark enough, it's hard for me to tell the edges. So I am doing just what I did in the last movie. I am bumping my ISO up to 12,000 so that I can get a very, very quick shutter speed. That will allow me to get a very speedy visualization here.
I just bumped to the camera so I have a feeling I am going to have to adjust this. I am in Program mode, because I don't really care what the exposure is. So guys, could you take out the lights please. So you will probably going to see me disappear here for a moment while I take this shot. And I have got mirror lockup on still, just like I did in the last movie. That will help reduce some vibration. Now I am not worrying about focus on this image at all. We are going to focus separately. And as I take a look at this, it came in at just one and a third second.
So it came up very quickly. This is looking pretty good. Guys, you can hit the lights again. So I am going to lock my tripod down now. I have the pan unlocked there. So I am feeling pretty confident about framing. Now I need to go to focus. I am in manual focus right now because, like I said, I was just trying to get an idea of what the frame looked like. Focus here is going to be much easier than it was in the last movie. I can actually use my auto focus. I just got to jump through one or two little hoops. I am switching the lens over to auto focus, and I am getting my flashlight out again. Now this is a trick we showed you earlier.
I am going to just shine light on this rock, because where there is more light, my auto focus system is going to work better, he says, as his auto focus system doesn't work. So I am not getting anywhere with auto focus when it is set to select a focus point of its own. So I am looking at the rock, trying to see if there is an area of high contrast, and there is right on the edge. Where the edge of the rock buts up against the black sky, that's a really contrasty area. So I am going to pick a focus point manually.
I am going to pick the bottom focus point. And again, this is a case where it's important to know your camera's controls without looking. I know right where the focus point control is, so I picked to the bottom focus point. And now I am going to have to undo my framing. This is just an just an unfortunate reality of night shooting. And I'm going to put that focus point that I selected right on the edge of the rock. I am shining my light on it, and it's still having a little bit of difficulty. I am going to move around until it tells me it's got it, and there it is.
So it's managed to focus. I am now going to switch my lens back to manual focus. That way, if I half-press the shutter button, I won't accidentally undo that focus that I just worked so hard to achieve. I am also going to reframe my shot and lock my tripod down. Now, because I had to adjust my framing, I am going to do another ISO 1200 just quickie take here. Guys, kill the lights please. Just to double-check that my framing is still okay. So very short exposure comes out. It looks like I need to pan a little bit more to the right.
So a tiny little motion and another shot. This is very often the case in night shooting. You've got to just work blind and test your actions with some sample shots. Okay guys, you can turn the lights back on. I am framed, I am focused; now I need to think about exposure. I am going to bump my ISO back down. Now again, I am comfortable enough with, or I am familiar enough with my camera to know what ISOs I find acceptable noise-wise. I feel quite confident with this camera up to ISO 3200.
I am going to put it on 1600 though. Because it's low light, there are going to be long exposures. We are going to be picking up some noise. I have a decision to make now. I want a little bit of depth of field just in case my focus is off, but I also need to think about the stars. Do I want them to be trails or not? I am at a focal length of, well, the notch is just a little bit below 50 mm. So I am somewhere between 45 and 50 mm. There is a formula for determining the longest exposure that will still leave you sharp pinpoint stars, and that is 600 divided by your focal length.
So 600 divided by somewhere between 45 or 50. Let's call that 12 to 13 somewhere. What that means is any shutter speed down to 12 seconds will still leave me sharp stars. Once I go past that, I am going to begin to see little bits of star trails. They are going to be very short, and they probably won't be noticeable until--for quite a bit after that, until they get quite a bit longer. Also, this formula is for full-frame cameras or 35 mm film. If you are using a cropped-frame camera, you're going to hit that blur point a little bit earlier.
You can still use this as a baseline, but because you're zoomed in tighter, you are going to see that a little bit earlier. So I don't want my shutter speed-- I want pin pricks right now. I don't want my shutter speed to drop below 12. I am going to ask the guys to turn the lights off again and I am going to take a meter reading here. Again, I am still in Program mode. At 1600, my camera is saying 10 seconds at f/4. That's pretty good. I was worried about depth of field. I could--I was hoping to be able to go to f/5.6 or f/8, but I am already at 10 seconds.
If I go to 5.6, my shutter speed is going to go to probably 20 seconds, one stop difference, and at that point I am going to be potentially facing star trails. So I am going to hope that my focus is good, give up on that extra depth of field, and take the shot here at 10 seconds. Again, I'm still in mirror lockup mode, so I'm going to just go ahead and take my shot. This is going to be a 10-second exposure. I am being very, very careful as I handle the camera to not vibrate it. A 10-second exposure, you want to be sure that you haven't bumped the camera when you press the shutter button, because even after you take your finger off, it still sits there vibrating and that can impact the sharpness of your scene.
So taking a look at this, that looks pretty good, and it looks pretty sharp, and I have got nice sharp stars. Now just to be safe, I am going to bracket this whole thing and I am going to go ahead and dial my aperture down to 5.6. I will pick up a little bit of extra depth of field that way. I will risk slight trails on the stars, but I think at this point they are going to be so slight that they are not to be visible; in fact, if anything, they might just make the stars brighter.
Stars will be brighter in your images if you're using a longer focal length. A telephoto lens, a longer lens will give you brighter stars than a wide-angle lens. The further stars are from the North Star, the longer the trails that they will leave. So if you have pointed up the North Star, all the stars around it will have very, very short trails if you are doing a long exposure. As you look more towards the south, the trails will get longer. Okay, so comparing these two images, I see that yes, the stars have picked up a tiny little bit of length.
They still look like points, so I am feeling pretty good about that. I think that I've managed to get the depth of field I want and still preserve the stars that I wanted. Now if wanted trails here, I could simply go to a really long shutter speed, and the easiest way to do that would just be to turn my ISO down. Guys, you can turn the lights back on. So, for example, at 1600, I am at eight seconds. If I was to drop to ISO 800, I would go to 16 seconds; 400 will get me to 32 seconds; 200 would get me to a minute; 100 would get me to two minutes.
So simply by dropping the ISO, I can really lengthen my shutter speed and get much longer star trails. So that's just another thing that you need to balance in here is, I am thinking about depth of field, I'm thinking about overall exposure, and if I've got stars in the image, I need to think about whether I want them points were trails, and all of that has to be factored into the same equation. In the next movie, we are going to take a look at one more example that will again include all of these different balancing elements.
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