Shooting at Night

Shooting at Night

Night photography is sometimes the only way to get a decent photo here in Xi’an. More often than not, we just don’t get the clear skies needed for decent sunsets. Although I must confess that it has been improving recently due to a drop in pollution levels, it’s still lacking somewhat.

Anyway, enough rambling and back to the tutorial. With modern cameras, it’s no longer essential to use a tripod when shooting in low light. Huge improvements in sensor capabilities have allowed photographers to set their ISO beyond 1600 and still capture relatively clean, noise free images that are also devoid of camera shake. This high ISO level allows photographers to shoot with a faster shutter speed and hence create blur-free photos. It’s been a massive game changer and means pretty much anyone with a modern camera can take on-the-go photos of cities at night.

Does it remove the need for a tripod altogether? Absolutely not. There are times when a tripod is a must. Take the two photos below. Sure, they’re different compositions of the same subject but they’re also clearly taken via different techniques. The first was a grab-shot at ISO 1600, an aperture of f2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second. The second (same camera and lens) was at ISO100, an aperture of f16 and a shutter speed of 2 seconds. The overall IQ is better in the second image due to the lower ISO but more importantly is the ability to create light trails from the car lights. A shutter speed of 2 seconds is plenty of time to create the light trails and it adds a more ‘involved’ feeling to the image.


Bell Tower shot at f2.8, 1/80 second and ISO1600.

Another difference is the creation of ‘twinklies’ that would be almost impossible without a tripod. If you look at the streetlamp of the left side of image two, you’ll see a starburst effect. This is possible with many lenses at f16 and above. As f16 is such a small aperture, you’re going to need to use a tripod to record a sharp exposure.


Bell Tower shot at f16, 2 seconds and ISO100.

1 Comment

  1. Larry


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