Capture Dramatic Night Views

Alpha Tutorial :15 - Capture Dramatic Night Views

Night views while travelling or from scenic locations are very popular scenes to take photographs of. In this chapter, you will learn how to capture a night view beautifully, accurately reproducing the impression you got from the actual scene.

First, set the camera to the P-mode, and try the following tips.

Shooting with a tripod

A tripod is the most effective tool for taking beautiful photographs of night views. When shooting in low-light situations such as night views, the shutter speed slows down to increase the amount of light entering into the camera, and the ISO sensitivity becomes higher. As a result, the image tends to become unclear due to camera shaking, or grainy with the increased noise.

Shutter speed: 3.2 sec

Shutter speed: 3.2 sec

If you secure the camera on the tripod, you can shoot clear photographs without blurring even at slow shutter speeds. At the same time, set the ISO sensitivity to the lowest possible value. Although this will further slow down the shutter speed, you don’t need to worry about blurring because the camera is secured on the tripod. In addition, the low ISO sensitivity can reduce noise. The minimum value of the ISO sensitivity varies depending on the models, but the values from ISO100 to ISO 400 are recommended.

When you use a tripod, disable the SteadyShot function to avoid malfunction. In addition, the vibration of the camera caused by pressing the shutter button may cause blurring. To prevent such blurring, setting the 2-second self-timer is effective.

Focal length: 50 mm / F-number: 10 / Shutter speed: 5 sec / ISO: 200 / White balance: Daylight

Focal length: 50 mm / F-number: 10 / Shutter speed: 5 sec / ISO: 200 / White balance: Daylight

Shot with a tripod, the above photograph is not affected by blurring. With the long exposure time, the light shining on the water looks beautiful, evenly spreading across the surface.

Now, what should you do if you don’t have a tripod?

If you don't have a tripod, support your body against a nearby wall or pole, or place the camera on a handrail or other flat surface to keep the camera steady and reduce blurring.

If you cannot do the above, your first priority is to use faster shutter speeds to reduce camera shaking. If blurring occurs at the shutter speed automatically determined by the camera, increase the ISO sensitivity manually. The available maximum value of the ISO sensitivity varies depending on the models. As the ISO sensitivity is increased to ISO6400, 12800 and above, the shutter speed gets higher, and the image is less affected by blurring. However, the image may suffer from noise and loss of detail.

This photograph was shot with ISO3200.

This photograph was shot with ISO3200. By keeping the faster shutter speed, it succeeded in preventing blurring. However, if you check the enlarged image, you can see it is a little grainy with noise compared with the image shot with the lower ISO sensitivity. Also, in terms of the resolution in detail and the texture of the water surface, the photograph shot with the tripod looks better than this one.

If noise is noticeable like in this case, the "Hand-held Twilight" mode in Scene Selection (shooting mode) is effective. In this mode, 6 images are shot continuously by one press of the shutter button, and these images are combined with high precision while processing noise. This process allows you to shoot night views with noise reduced compared with a normal single shot.

However, as the "Hand-held Twilight" mode in Scene Selection is one of the auto shooting modes, you cannot change the settings of colour and brightness described in the next section.

Adjusting the brightness and colour

If you have learnt to shoot without blurring, adjust the brightness and colour based on your image. The brightness can be adjusted with exposure compensation. The human eye recognises the night sky as "dark", and lights of buildings and illuminations as "bright". However, the camera tries to render all scenes with the same brightness standard, whether they are dark or bright. Therefore, when shooting night views, where dark parts like the night sky and bright parts like building lights are mixed, the exposure determined by the camera may not properly reproduce the brightness detected by the human eye. This makes it difficult to get the desired results when shooting night views, as represented by symptoms like a washed-out night sky or clipped colours of the street illuminations.

In addition, the brightness of the photograph is also affected by the settings of the camera itself such as Creative Style.

First, try shooting without exposure compensation, and adjust the exposure by examining the results.

Adjusting the brightness and colour

Without exposure compensation, this photograph became underexposed due to the strong street lights. The townscape behind the building was blacked out. By setting the exposure to +0.7, the photograph was rendered with appropriate brightness.

Now, let’s move on to the colour adjustment. You can use white balance to adjust the overall colour tone. Auto white balance [AWB], in which the camera automatically determines the colour tone, can reproduce the actual colours faithfully. However, when shooting night views of a town, selecting [Fluorescent: Warm White] will add a bluish tone, which may be more suitable for conveying the characteristics of artificial lights.

Also, the strong lights such as urban buildings and illuminations tend to become whitish in a photograph, and their colours do not look as vivid as expected. In such cases, adjust the saturation to the + side from the option settings in Creative Style, so that the lights will be more vivid and colourful.

Adjusting the brightness and colour

By making such adjustments, you can shoot photographs of night views that can deliver the dramatic impression you feel at the sight of the actual scene.

Like other scenes, the best colour tone for night views can vary depending on your preference and intention. Make full use of the adjustment functions such as exposure compensation, white balance and Creative Style, and find your favourite shot.

Convenient fixed focal length lenses

With small F-numbers (fast maximum apertures), fixed focal length lenses allow a large amount of light to enter into the camera. Therefore, you can shoot night views with reduced blurring and noise, even in low-light situations. In addition, you can shoot portraits or snapshots with backgrounds greatly defocused.

SAL50F14
SAL50F14

This quintessential fast "normal" lens offers outstanding corner-to-corner resolution, while the combination of F1.4 maximum aperture and circular aperture design makes it possible to elicit silky-smooth defocusing effects to enhance image depth and isolate important visual elements. Due to the large aperture, more light is allowed, facilitating easier hand-held shooting, even in low-light situations.

SEL50F18
SEL50F18

This is a mid-range telephoto lens with the 50 mm focal length perfect for portraiture. The large aperture and circular aperture design can produce beautifully defocused backgrounds. Moreover, by working together with the built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation system, it can shoot crisp and clear images under low-light conditions.