I enjoy night photography very much. There is a lot of freedom to be creative with a camera in subdued lighting, because the images you create don’t always have to resemble what you are seeing with your eyes.

You can use a slow shutter speed, for example, and make vehicle lights look like tracks of light or you can close down the aperture, making the opening in the lens small, until street lights begin to show like star bursts. You can also play with the white balance to create different hues in the lights and shadows.

For a lot of my night photography I use a tripod. On Wednesday night I was under Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, shooting on a moonless night with exposures up to three minutes long. It’s impossible to hold a camera steady for that length of time, so a tripod is necessary.

However, I do a lot of black-and-white night photography, which you can do with any camera and you don’t need a tripod. I really like black and white photography at night. It gives the city a film noir look and even the most mundane subject takes on a special character. I take black and white in the camera rather than convert color shots, but I do not rely on the black-and-white settings supplied by the camera manufacturer as black-and-white with no adjustments has a washed out insipid look.

If you have a point-and-shoot pocket camera and want to take some pictures at night, take a little time to read your manual and get to know how to set some things. I don’t usually recommend people read manuals, because in my experience most never do. However, since you aren’t on one of my workshops and I don’t know your camera, you’ll have to do some studying on your own. First, set your camera to take black and white, sometimes called grayscale. Next, turn the contrast control to maximum. If you have a digital filters feature, turn on a red filter. Turn off any automatic flash as you don’t want the flash to fire. Set your camera to aperture priority and select a low number for a larger lens opening. This is often 3.5 on a small camera. This will allow as much light into the camera as possible and allow faster shutter speeds. Lastly, turn up the ISO to its maximum setting.

Turning up the ISO on your camera increases its sensitivity so that you can capture shots in lower light at a faster shutter speed. This will help reduce camera shake that result in blurred shots. Your camera will still be working with a relatively slow shutter speed, so when you take a picture hold it steady, brace against a wall if possible and hold your breath while you take the shot. Increasing the ISO is like turning up a microphone to pick up quiet sounds. As the microphone is turned up beyond a certain level, you will start to hear electronic noise such as buzzing. The equivalent happens as you turn up the sensitivity of your camera. Eventually, noise creeps into the picture in the form of a snow-like effect. The amount depends on the quality of your camera and how high the ISO is set. In the interest of getting a clear shot at night, we are going to embrace noise as an attribute of night photography. There are noise reduction programs that will help take the noise out of your images, but I am not going to get into them here. Now, put your camera in your pocket and go out at night taking pictures of everyone and everything!

For more about Film Noir Photography see:


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