Photographers have a whole new world to explore when the sun sets. The darkness allows you to get creative with light in many interesting new ways.
The Slow Shutter
Lots of creative nighttime photography takes advantage of a slow shutter and a tripod. A slow shutter allows the little light at night to “build up” into something brighter. City lights and fields can become brighter, and fireworks, stars, or passing cars can create beautiful blurs.
The image above was taken with a three second shutter. Over three seconds the camera captured the light from the firework shooting upward, exploding, and blasting into many different directions. This motion blur creates a beautiful effect, while the surrounding scenery looks sharp and creatively lit. (It’s very important to mount the camera on a tripod when attempting to capture motion blur of a single object – otherwise your whole frame would be blurred.)
The aperture for the shot is f/4.5 (a relatively large aperture opening to let in a large amount of light for this relatively small time period in darkness), and the ISO for the shot is 400 (to try to reduce grain that would be visible on the dark sky and at close crops, while maintaining a well-exposed shot. An ISO of 200 could also be used for this shot, but at the current settings the image would come out very dark. To compensate, exposure time would either need to be increased or the aperture opening would need to be larger.)
ISO, shutter speed, and aperture are responsible for keeping a balance in order to get well-exposed shots. If you want to get a clear shot of something moving in dim light, you’ll have to increase the ISO and open up the aperture while decreasing the shutter speed. If you want to zoom in on an object, your aperture will become smaller and you’ll need to compensate for that by either using a longer shutter speed or higher ISO. If you want to capture more motion blur with a very slow shutter, you’ll catch yourself using smaller and smaller aperture settings. Everything becomes a tradeoff, but manual settings allow you to capture some very cool photos.
Cool Photos with Controlled Lighting
Now that you’ve learned how to capture light, it you can begin experimenting with controlled lighting. One technique that has been gaining popularity recently is painting with light. Painting with light involves a long exposure shot where a person “paints” with a bright object such as a flashlight or sparkler.
In the image above, Paula uses a flashlight to draw a star. The photo was taken with an eight second shutter speed, f/4 aperture, and ISO 100. The girl painted the star in darkness, and was then exposed with a single quick flash coming from the right; this illuminates the subject and keeps the painted star well-exposed since it was drawn out over eight seconds. Since no light was shone on Paula’s body while the star was being painted, and only a brief flash illuminated her, no blur is seen.