Thursday, November 1, 2007

Five tips for great night shots with or without a tripod


By Anne Violette

It's the magic hour, that half an hour window of time after the sun goes down. The sky turns to dusk. An amazing cobalt-blue colored atmosphere reveals itself in the twilight. Lights twinkle in the city and street lamps flicker on for their evening shift. This may be the time that you think to yourself, "Wow! I wish I could capture this scene with my camera."

Wish no more. Grab your camera, pull over somewhere that inspires you, and get ready to take your own postcard-worthy night pics. In this article, I'm going to show you how this can be done, with or without a tripod.

Is your camera night-worthy?

First of all, you must have a decent camera. Decent means that it should be at least an SLR with shutter or aperture priority capabilities and creative modes. The fact is, of course, that good night shots can be taken with even the least capable cameras, but an SLR will provide you with a lot more options.

If you're a professional photographer, you may be able to master this technique in manual settings with great results. But if you're just an amateur or hobbyist, listen up. While it is partially true that an expensive camera takes better images, a talented photographer can do this regardless of how average their equipment may be.

It's all about timing

Time is of the essence. The magic hour occurs only once each day and only for a short time. Either scope out a scene that galvanizes you in advance, or instantly pull over somewhere that offers you an opportunity to work quickly. You don't have very many precious minutes to waste before the sky turns black. I would suggest, for the purpose of learning, to choose a street scene with any combination of buildings, cars, lamps or significant architectural objects (like bridges). Water is awesome because it provides reflection of light bouncing back. Once you have chosen the subject matter, grab that camera and let's roll.

If you have a tripod, that's great. Bring it along and set it up quickly. Pay attention to your composition. You want to capture just enough of the sky, lighting and street that your image will be interesting. A common mistake is to focus too much on the sky and not enough on the details. Don't worry, your sky will be noticed even if there's only a hint of it in the image, as you can see in Figure A.