Snap & Share: Brilliant Photos of Lights

Sep 10, 2012

Snap & Share: Brilliant Photos of Lights

A night sky is a photographer’s dream. The contrast between the black sky and the sparkling lights of a city or a home decorated for the holidays makes for a compelling combination. Here’s how to take the best photographs when the lights go down.

Go Dark

It seems obvious, but don’t forget that the best “nightlight” shots happen when it is very dark and very clear. Wait for the sun to completely set, and ensure that all the lights that are going to be turned on are on. Exercise a little patience before you shoot; it will be rewarded with a better picture. Moonlight will add light (wanted or unwanted) to a scene and can also create shadows you may not want in your photo.

Late-Night Composition

Most cameras will do a pretty good job at nightlight photography, provided the lights are bright enough and you’re close enough to them. You’ll need a semi-pro level camera like the Samsung NX200 to capture good shots of stars, but a good point-and-shoot model can pull off great photos when you’re in the city.
As you begin to take shots at night, make a point of experimenting with a range of vantage points and zoom levels. A shot of Manhattan from Brooklyn is always going to be impressive, but a close-up of the Chrysler Building at night is just as interesting. If you have a telephoto lens, use it liberally: Zoom in on neon signs, spotlights or even star clusters. A tripod will help immensely at keeping shots crisp and blur-free.

Setting Your Camera

Most cameras will automatically turn on the flash when shooting at night, for obvious reasons. However, a flash will do you absolutely no good beyond a range of a few dozen feet, and it will only muddy your shot. Unless you’re working on a closeup, turn off the flash manually so you don’t spoil your shot.
If your camera has a “Night” mode (as the NX200 does), give it a try. “Fireworks” modes are also worth experimenting with, particularly if you’re aiming at far-away neon lights. Use a tripod whenever possible.
If a Night mode isn’t available or if you’d like a bit more control over your shots, start by working with the camera’s ISO settings. Begin with ISO 400 and work up toward 1600. You can also play liberally with your camera’s exposure levels to see how the shot is affected: A longer shutter speed (and higher exposure level) may be required when shooting at night, particularly when shooting stars. One great option for this is using the NX200’s Auto Exposure Bracketing (AE Bracket) system, which captures three consecutive photos, one a step darker and one a step lighter, so you can experiment without having to fiddle with camera settings. Simply select AE Bracket instead of Single in the shooting method menu to turn it on.

More Fun at Night

Set your camera on a tripod, aim it at something lit up and in motion (like cars on a distant highway), and open the shutter for a few seconds (up to 15 or so). So-called “light trails” shots, which capture the movement of the lights while leaving the rest of the scene motionless, can be truly unique and dazzling.

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