Last time we learned to meter. This time we talk about light withdrawal and handling the shakes!
Less light means longer shutter-speeds, which means there is more of a chance the camera will catch motion. Sometimes, this is desired, like if you want to catch light rails from traffic. Other times it is not, like when the camera picks up movement from your hand/body. Do you need a tripod for night shooting? Rule of thumb says if your shutter-speed is less than your focal length, yes. So if you have a 50mm lens and are shooting at 1/30, you *might* have an ‘unacceptable’ level of camera shake. The rule of thumb is more of a guideline though and here’s how it’s not that simple.
Modern cameras have great stabilization and you can go beyond the rule of thumb by a stop or two (maybe even more?) as long as you aren’t Shakes the Clown. In addition to relying on modern conveniences, here are some tips if you’re trying to go handheld at night:
- Your left hand should be under the camera body (or lens if it’s huge) as support.
- Pull your left elbow all the way into your body and jam it into the upper part of your hip (or belly) unless there’s a railing or something that you can use to stabilize it.
- If theres a wall nearby, lean against it.
- When you’re ready, take a deep breath, hold it in for a second or two, and gently (but concisely) hit the shutter button.
If you are able to use those techniques, you can easily gain an extra stop or 2 beyond the rule of thumb. If you don’t want to risk it or if you have a tripod that you use, be sure to turn OFF the camera/lens image stabilization to get the sharpest image.
Well, you should now be able to meter confidently at night and reasonably mitigate hand shake, so let’s talk style… and more metering! Depending on the situation, you might want the headlights on. Depending on the situation, you might want them to overpower the scene. Depending on the situation, you might not want them to overpower the scene. Remember how in vol. 1, we noted that bright lights can throw off your exposure at night? That’s right, headlights are bright lights, too!
To see if you want to include headlights or not, play around with different sets of lights to find something you like: parking lights, low beams, high beams, hazards, etc. Next, think about how you want to capture them in relation to the rest of the scene. If you want more detail in the headlights themselves, (like the bulb, etc.) take your meter reading with them on. If you want more detail in the car and surroundings, meter with them off. Remember, if you shoot in aperture or shutter priority mode, mind the exposure lock and adjust your exposure compensation to taste.
Hot tip: If you are directly in front of the car, it’s relatively easy to get lens flare from low/high beams… which can be a good or bad thing depending on your goal.
Well, there you go Dayman. You just increased your odds of defeating the Nightman and becoming a master of karate and friendship for everyone.
Thanks for reading!