For this assignment, we’re going to explore the magic of night photography. Why night photography?  Well... because, let’s face it, in the bright daylight many of the “locations” you are familiar with in Castro Valley look pretty mundane... we might even say, boring?  But taking photos at night can bring visual interest -even to the most “typical” scenes. Shadows enhance the mood of any image and lights can create atmosphere.  For example, look at these pictures of Las Vegas. 

The before and after views of the Strip couldn’t be more striking.  In the glaring light of day, any concrete, urban (or suburban) car-oriented landscape can feel soul-crushingly bleak.  But add some darkness with some colored lights and suddenly there is a bit of mystery, a slice of interest -and if you’re lucky maybe a little visual magic. So, let’s explore that magic.

What do you need for night photography?

A tripod: Besides your Canon T5i, the only thing you will absolutely need is a tripod. Shooting in the darkness means that your camera needs to use a long shutter speed to gather enough light for a proper exposure. So you need to be able to hold your camera steady, and a tripod is the best choice for that.

A flashlight: This will come in handy in a myriad of ways. It will help you with finding your camera controls in the darkness. It will help you set up your tripod and deal with straps and other attachments. Finally, a flashlight will also help you find things in your camera bag. Just keep a small flashlight handy (or a headlamp –which is infinitely better, because it frees your hands).

The two-second self-timer setting: If you read about night photography online, many websites will tell you that you need to use a remote shutter release for your camera.  Although a remote shutter would be nice, it’s not essential. You don’t need that for standard night photography, instead, you can use your camera’s 2-second self-timer to take the picture -so that you don’t touch the camera during the exposure.  If you are unsure of where that two-second self-timer setting is on your camera, embedded at the bottom of this assignment is the video about the T5i camera settings –scroll to the 3:10min. mark in the video and it explains the two-second self-timer setting.

Exposure settings
The biggest difference between daytime and night photography is the exposure values you will need to use. The darkness changes everything. But don’t worry, once you have your camera on a tripod, it is actually not that difficult to get the proper exposure in most cases.

The Exposure Triangle
Let’s back up and review the exposure basics you already know. Your camera’s exposure is a result of three controls (the exposure triangle) – shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Because of the darkness, you need to let more light into the camera, and you can only do that by changing one of these three controls. We’ll cover how to do that for each of them now.

Shutter Speed
During the day, you typically use shutter speeds that are a small fraction of a second, like 1/125, 1/500 or 1/1000. At night, however, the camera will usually use shutter speeds that are longer than one second –sometimes significantly longer. Think of it this way: because it is dark, the camera shutter needs to be open a longer period of time to gather light for a proper exposure.
When the shutter is open for a longer period of time, the camera needs to be held steady or the picture will move during the exposure process, causing your image to be blurry. That is why a tripod is required equipment at night. You can leave the shutter open as long as you want, as long as the camera is steady.

The aperture is the opening in the lens –the hole that lets light into the camera. The size of the aperture determines how much light is being let into the camera (and it also affects the depth of field).
For the most part, there is no difference between how you will use the aperture at night versus how you use it during the day. The only difference is that the camera will struggle to get enough light for a proper exposure, so a small aperture (like f/11, f/16, f/22) will often require ridiculously long shutter speeds. So usually with night photography, you use a wider aperture like F/3.5, f/4 or f/5.6.

The third exposure control, ISO, is a measurement of the sensitivity to light of your digital sensor. A higher ISO setting make your digital sensor more sensitive to light, which allows you to use a shorter shutter speed or a smaller aperture. How to set the camera ISO setting is explained in the T5i settings video embedded below -scroll to the 2:00min. mark on the video.

But using really high ISOs (1600, 3200 or 6400 ISO) will result in more digital noise in your pictures. Since dark areas of your pictures will tend to show more digital noise than lighter areas, setting your ISO too high can be a problem with night photos. If you can avoid it, resist the temptation to crank up the ISO at night. Since you will be using a tripod, you can usually avoid the need to use a high ISO. In other words, the tripod allows you to use a longer shutter speed, and that long exposure allows more light into the camera so that you don’t need to use a high ISO.

Every scene is different with an infinite number of variables, so it’s crazy for me to even try to give you night photography exposure settings, but here are some general settings to get you started.

Exposure Mode •Use "AV"
Put your camera on “AV” –which is Aperture Priority mode, (on the Canon t5i camera that is the “AV” setting, on Nikon cameras it is the “A” exposure mode setting). Using the “AV” (or “A” mode on Nikon) means that you set the aperture, and the camera will set the shutter speed for you. For a refresher on how to set your camera on the "AV" mode, scroll to the 5:50min mark on the T5i settings video below...

Set Your Aperture to f/5.6
Next, while in AV/A mode, set your aperture to f/5.6, which is a fairly moderate choice.  Using f/5.6 will let in a healthy amount of light. It won’t give you as much depth of field as you might like, but with night photography, you typically don’t need deep depth of field, because the background will be black

ISO Setting •Start with ISO 400
Next, set your camera’s ISO. It’s good to start at about ISO 400, which is high enough that you won’t have to use an extremely long shutter speed. At the same time, most cameras can shoot at ISO 400 without digital noise becoming a problem.

Evaluate your exposure and adjust settings as needed
After that, just look at the camera’s shutter speed reading when you line up your shot. Depending on the available light in your scene, your shutter speed will vary -from a fraction of a second to 1sec. or longer. Most likely, the shutter speed is going to be long – probably a few seconds, but by choosing AV f/5.6 and ISO 400, you won’t be standing in one spot for a minute or more while the camera creates the exposure.  But, again it depends upon the light in your scene. Remember, these settings are just a starting point. (For example, if you want more streaks of light in your photo, dial the aperture to f/8 –this is a smaller hole in the lens, and to compensate, the camera will use a longer shutter speed -which equals more blurring of lights).

Use the Exposure Compensation Button
After you have taken your first image, review your results. Sometimes, the combination of bright lights and dark backgrounds will fool your camera, and the image will be either too dark or too light.  This is when you can use the exposure compensation button.  To review, that is the little AV+/- button on the back of the camera.  To change that setting, push that button and HOLD IT DOWN while you dial the command dial on the top of the camera.  The exposure compensation button is also covered in the t5i camera settings video I posted.  Scroll to the 9:48 mark on the video below to review that setting.

Final reminder •Use the 2-second self-timer setting on your camera...
Setting your camera “drive” mode to the 2 second self-timer will eliminate shutter induced camera shake. (The drive mode the little button on the back of the camera that looks like a clock/deck of cards). Push the shutter button to take the photo, then take your hand off the camera. The “pause” created by the 2-second self-timer will eliminate the camera shake that’s created when you press the shutter button. Again, as mentioned above -if you are unsure of where that two-second self-timer setting is on your camera, –scroll to the 3:10min. mark in the T5i camera settings video below and it explains the two-second self-timer setting.

Pick a scene that is visually interesting -one with interesting light. In the accompanying example slides you will see a variety of subjects: public buildings, streetlights, car-light trails, reflections, overlooks, vistas, water with lights... Try a variety of subjects & compositions. You never know how your composition is going to look until you give it a try. But remember, this isn't abut just shooting an assignment. This is about trying to create really interesting looking images... photos that you will want to show your friends or post online. Other than that, there really are no rules, except
be aware of your surroundings, be safe and do not put yourself in harms way -this is especially important when shooting after the sun goes down. If unsure about a location, think about your safety first. Bring somebody with you, or pick another location where you feel safe.

Shoot a minimum of 20 images of
two different night scenes -submit the 20 images as a proofsheet.
From those 20 photos, pick your two favorites.
Crop and adjust the tonality, lighten or darken, and burn or dodge as needed.
Submit those two favorites along with your 20 image proofsheet into the nighttime photo assignment folder in Google Classroom.



Full disclosure -this Nightime Photography assignment was adapted & modified from The Ultimate Guide to Night Photography, by Jim Hamel -from the Digital Photography School.