My first night shoot...didn't go well

rayjay86

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 15, 2011
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So I tried my first ever night shoot yesterday. Took my tripod out around 10pm to Jericho beach in Vancouver to try and get a shot across the bay of the Vancouver skyline. I used a Nikon remote, quite a sturdy tripod and both a 10-20mm Sigma and 70-300 Nikkor for my shots. ISO 200, f/11 and ~8-15s shutter.
The results were sub-optimal.

My shots of the skyline were dark and lacked detail. I think next time I'll have to physically move closer to the skyline. All I see at this point are a bunch of light dots in the darkness. There is no appearance of buildings.

My other issue (see attached) was the moon. There was a beautiful moon out so I figured hey, at the very least I'll get some cool shots because it was peaking behind the exposed branches of a tree. Looked really cool to my eyes. Lame on the computer screen. No detail in the moon, can barely tell there are branches in most shots. Furthermore, what is that green thing? Lens flare? A fingerprint? I took the UV filter off thinking it was some kind of flare and that kind of improved it.

I read Understanding Exposure 3rd ed. and Scott Kelby's Vol. I and II. I guess just more time shooting and practicing to get "the shot"?
 

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LumbermanSVO

macrumors 65816
Mar 15, 2007
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For the skyline shot, try using much longer shutter speeds. This shot was a 60 second exposure at f/11 and ISO 100. Don't be afraid of getting an image that is too bright, you have a pretty big target to hit at night I've found.
 

initialsBB

macrumors 6502a
Oct 18, 2010
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Looked really cool to my eyes. Lame on the computer screen.
You'd have to spot meter the moon to get a good exposure, but seeing as it is relatively much brighter than the rest, the trees would have been very underexposed. In the shot you posted the trees are exposed alright, but that makes the moon blown out. Maybe for this kind of exercise you can try exposure bracketing and then photoshopping the moon in.

That green thing is a lens flare. It's a consequence of the design of the lens.

My shots of the skyline were dark and lacked detail.
Correct focussing is a pain at night time. Did you auto or manual focus ? Did you lock the focus before firing the shot ? Was there any wind at all that may have moved the tripod ever so slightly ? Wider lenses don't show motion movement as much. Did you also do test shots at shorter exposures to check the focus ? You can use your camera's auto mode for this.

Next time you can try closing the aperture a bit more and do longer exposures. Trial and error will get you a long way. Don't give up, go back out there and try again !
 
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Doylem

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Dec 30, 2006
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Wherever I hang my hat...
So I tried my first ever night shoot yesterday.
Slow down! You've only tried it once...

Yes, you'll need 'trial and error'. Patience too, both in terms of the overall learning curve, and how you approach each shoot.

I'd recommend starting earlier. Most good night shots, IMO, are actually evening shots: think about the hour after the sun has set, rather than a completely black sky. This will allow you to play with the ambient light and the artificial light, and see how there comes a time when they're 'in balance'...
 

snberk103

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Oct 22, 2007
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An Island in the Salish Sea
Slow down! You've only tried it once...

Yes, you'll need 'trial and error'. Patience too, both in terms of the overall learning curve, and how you approach each shoot.

I'd recommend starting earlier. Most good night shots, IMO, are actually evening shots: think about the hour after the sun has set, rather than a completely black sky. This will allow you to play with the ambient light and the artificial light, and see how there comes a time when they're 'in balance'...
^^^^
What Doylem said....

Plus.... the two examples you mentioned (lit skyline, and the moon) are approaching the limits of what the human eye can see (in terms of contrast) and are therefore way outside the limits of a camera. Shooting at the suggested times (above) will bring the contrast levels way down.

A few more thoughts:
1) The full moon is much brighter than most people realize... to properly expose the face of the moon you would use nearly the same settings as building on a bright sunny day. The two subjects are being lit by the same source of light, the sun.
2) Would be helpful to see the skyline images... we can be more helpful if we can see the photo.

3) Keep shooting. Don't try to create "wonderful" pictures the 1st time you try something. Your aim should just be to get comfortable with the techniques, and to understand what is happening. Once you get to that stage (doesn't have to take long, if you just spend a few evenings out on the beach trying things) you will start getting the photos you want... or knowing when you can't - and so save your time by not even trying.

I used to live in Vancouver, and the Vancouver skyline in that hour after sunset can become one of the most beautiful sights. Instead of Jericho Beach (ahhh.... fond summer memories..... :) ) try Granville island, or the south shore of False Creek, near the Cambie St bridge.

You can do this, just keep at it - and post examples of what you are doing. Don't get caught in the "equipment" trap. It is about technique, not equipment. Just before Christmas we were back in the Big Smoke, and I was on Granville Island in the evening. There was a photo class as well, and some students were trying to skyline photos. Cursing under their breath, and talking about the new tripod, new lense, new remote triggers they needed. Meanwhile I had my little travel camera sitting on the bench (no remote trigger) and was happily getting the twilight/post-sunset colours being reflected off the buildings.

The 1st really good photo you get with a new technique takes time and work. After that the subsequent photos get easier.

Luck.
 

rayjay86

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 15, 2011
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Thanks guys! I appreciate the support.
Camera, tripod and remote are back in my car and I hope to get out and try again tonight...unless it's as cold as it was last night. I probably somehow shook the floor and caused blur because I was shivering so much! ;)
 

snberk103

macrumors 603
Oct 22, 2007
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An Island in the Salish Sea
Thanks guys! I appreciate the support.
Camera, tripod and remote are back in my car and I hope to get out and try again tonight...unless it's as cold as it was last night. I probably somehow shook the floor and caused blur because I was shivering so much! ;)
Snow is forecast....

Just remembered something too.... 300mm isn't long enough for this shot. I once shot Vancouver skyline from Jericho, just for fun. I ended up putting a x3 on top of a x2, on a 200mm lense - in other words - a I was using a 1200mm lense. This was in days of film, so the image was grainy as hell - and it was, um, soft... (actually, I really liked that image because of the artifacts). My point is that a 300mm is not long enough for that beach. Try to get closer to the skyline. Perhaps one of the little pocket parks along Point Grey. Try Jean Beatty at Waterloo, or Volunteer Park at Macdonald?

Good Luck.

ps Don't tell the rest of Canada how "cold" it was to make you shiver.... trust me, they won't have much sympathy.... (smile)
 
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Vogue Harper

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Nov 16, 2008
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Serenity
Long exposure night photography takes a lot of planning, patience and trial and error at the beginning and very few people get it right the very first time they try it for any one of a number of reasons.

Good skyline shots when the sky is totally dark require quite long exposures, don't be surprised that you need something like a 60+ second exposure. It is also important to work out at what apertures your lenses are sharpest. While it might be tempting to do really, really long exposures and compensate with a ridiculously small aperture e.g. f/18 - f/22 few lenses stay sharp at this small an aperture and the lens refraction becomes very distracting. I usually go for f/8 to f/11 - most skylines are fairly 'flat' so depth of field is not really going to be an issue and f/8 - f/11 will keep the interesting parts of the skyline in focus.

One other thing to consider is to use the 'Mirror Lock-up' function on your camera so that you reduce any camera shake when the mirror flips up.
 

flosseR

macrumors 6502a
Jan 1, 2009
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the cold dark north
Agreed with all of the above. You cannot just go out and shoot at night.. you need to understand exposure properly and PLAN.

For example, the shot below is actually shot at 11pm in near complete darkness. Had to expose for 25 seconds.

Shooting the moon is very difficult at best because it is so much brighter than the rest of the surroundings. Skyline shots are nice and fine but only if you a) expose long enough and b) have a vision what you want and expose accordingly. For example, I shoot 60% of my shots at night and i never use any other mode than manual and set my own exposure .. each and every time through trial an error... by now i know ball park figures but you still need to adjust.
The shot below took 5 shots, 30 minutes setup, each shot ranging from 15-40 second exposures, plus recomposition, moving etc. and all that in -16degrees celisus while standing in the water... it takes patience and loads of trial and error. I agree with doylem that your "one try" is not enough by a long shot... next time concentrate on ONE shot you want to take and work until you have it as you want it..
oh, and for the beginning, I wouldn't try moon shots quite yet...
 

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danahn17

macrumors 6502
Dec 3, 2009
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Agreed with all of the above. Getting the exposure right can be tricky (esp with things like the moon) and you need a lot of practice and planning.

But if you do it right, the results can be stunning (check out Michael Kenna's work if you have time). So keep at it :D

For example, the shot below is actually shot at 11pm in near complete darkness. Had to expose for 25 seconds.
Just wanted to say, love the shot :D
 

rayjay86

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 15, 2011
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Round two

I went out again. Not the best but definitely better results than my first try.

I have to remember to change my aperture. I shot some skyline shots and only when I got home did I realize that I was shooting at f/4 on my wide angle and they weren't as crisp as some of the later shots in the evening that I had shot at f/11 and f/22. Oh well, lesson learned.

Anyways here is a shot of mine that I took overlooking the lions gate bridge from Stanley Park in Vancouver, around 10:30pm. Gonna try the same shot from the Golden Gate in SF when I visit there in two weeks :D
 

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sapporobaby

macrumors 68000
I went out again. Not the best but definitely better results than my first try.

I have to remember to change my aperture. I shot some skyline shots and only when I got home did I realize that I was shooting at f/4 on my wide angle and they weren't as crisp as some of the later shots in the evening that I had shot at f/11 and f/22. Oh well, lesson learned.

Anyways here is a shot of mine that I took overlooking the lions gate bridge from Stanley Park in Vancouver, around 10:30pm. Gonna try the same shot from the Golden Gate in SF when I visit there in two weeks :D
Actually it is a nice shot. A tiny bit slanted towards the right. Look at the bridge and you will see what I mean. If you are shooting f/11 or f22, you will really have to set a very long exposure time. At f/22 you are basically saying: "don't let in much light" to the camera, in a short amount of time. I would try again with the same apertures but longer exposure times.
 

flosseR

macrumors 6502a
Jan 1, 2009
746
0
the cold dark north
I went out again. Not the best but definitely better results than my first try.

I have to remember to change my aperture. I shot some skyline shots and only when I got home did I realize that I was shooting at f/4 on my wide angle and they weren't as crisp as some of the later shots in the evening that I had shot at f/11 and f/22. Oh well, lesson learned.

Anyways here is a shot of mine that I took overlooking the lions gate bridge from Stanley Park in Vancouver, around 10:30pm. Gonna try the same shot from the Golden Gate in SF when I visit there in two weeks :D
Long exposure is an art and it will take time. I never shoot f22.. as a matter of fact i never go past f11. Bob Atkins has an old but very good write up and explanation: http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/technical/diffraction.html

good job on the second outing though.. :)
 

snberk103

macrumors 603
Oct 22, 2007
5,503
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An Island in the Salish Sea
I went out again. Not the best but definitely better results than my first try.
.....
Much better! It just takes practice....

Re: The lions gate shot... Did you bracket this exposure at all?

If I had shot this, when I analyzed the image I would have asked myself "I wonder how much more I could have exposed it?" The two lions, and then the lights from Grouse Mt are the details that, imho, needed to be brought out a bit more to make this image distinctive of Vancouver, and not just another tail-lights on a bridge image.

In general, I try to expose my photos as much as possible without clipping the highlights. In the old days it was called "exposing for the shadows". Nowadays it's called "Expose to the right (of the histogram)". You can always push the exposure back down later in post production.

In your bridge photo, increasing the exposure until the lights start to clip would give this image more detail in the lions at the base of the bridge, and then the Grouse Mt lights at the top. With a little post production to bring those out and to push some of the signs back down you could then create a triangle of interesting points for the eye to follow, laid over the very strong geometry of the bridge itself. You may be able to do this in post production anyway - depends on the file.

I like this image, and I hope you will continue exploring the nights in Vancouver.
 

maflynn

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May 3, 2009
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It took me a few tries and reading some articles about night photography to help get enough information to get some decent shots.

Don't forget the moon is really a bright object and you need to treat it as such :)
 

rayjay86

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 15, 2011
279
17
Thanks for the encouragement guys!
Yeah the photo is slanted. I thought I could fix that in post. My tripod wasn't tall enough to view completely over the wall do I ha to angle it to keep it steady.

Thanks for the tip on bracketing, I'll haveto try that out next time. Do you combine them HDR style in post processing then?

This shot was exposed for 25 seconds, I use manual mode and adjusted till 25s indicated a correct exposure. I just tried to follow te advice in Understanding Exposure, 3rd Ed.

This has motivated me toget out and try again. I'm
Pumped now!!
 

snberk103

macrumors 603
Oct 22, 2007
5,503
87
An Island in the Salish Sea
Thanks for the encouragement guys!
Yeah the photo is slanted. I thought I could fix that in post. My tripod wasn't tall enough to view completely over the wall do I ha to angle it to keep it steady.
What are you using for post? Photoshop has some good tools for fixing slants. They are under "Transform" or "Free Transform" - sorry, not at my PS computer at the moment. Read the 'Help' files as each one does something slightly different.... but the result is a perfectly straight image. Also, I like to drag guidelines into an image I'm straightening up.
Thanks for the tip on bracketing, I'll haveto try that out next time. Do you combine them HDR style in post processing then?
Wasn't thinking about HDR... just whether you had an images with different exposures to see if pulling the lions and Grouse lights made a difference.
...
This has motivated me toget out and try again. I'm
Pumped now!!
:) :) :)
 

Vogue Harper

macrumors 6502
Nov 16, 2008
410
23
Serenity
This is a much better result.

One tip about shooting roads and traffic at night - time how long it takes a vehicle to move all the way through the frame. Your shutter speed should, wherever possible, be longer than this time to allow one continuous unbroken light trail through the frame. In your photo, there are a series of broken light trails which takes away from flow of the photo.

What aperture was the photo taken at? I would guess, looking at the refraction from the lights, that it was one of your f/22 shots. Try and avoid such a small aperture unless you need it to balance the shutter speed. As a previous poster has said, f/11 should be as high as you should go. And as I said earlier, lens sharpness falls away the smaller the aperture.

Finally, it looks like the photo is a little out of focus. On night photography it might be an idea to try manual focusing as the camera may struggle to auto focus in low light. However, this out of focus might also be because the camera was not completely steady on its tripod or you had stabilisation turned on - if the camera is on a tripod you should turn any camera/lens stabilisation off for sharper shots.
 
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