Night Photography

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by gordon_conger, Mar 7, 2009.

  1. Good Evening,
    I have the Canon 30D and have been attempting to do some city skyline type shots at night and am running into problems. I am shooting with the EF70-200 F2.8L IS USM lens.
    The problem that I am experiencing is that when I look at the photo after its been taken it looks fine on the camera LCD but not so good when I look at it after downloading it to the computer. The results I am getting normally are with the building lights and window lights being way out of focus and not sharp at all. I have the camera mounted on a strong tripod, focusing on the buidings in the distance. I normally shoot with an ISO setting of about 100 or 125 with the shutter open about 1 to 2 seconds and sometimes longer. As for the F stop its about a 3.5 or 4.5. I have tried various things but it just seems that I cannot get the sharpness that I know this camera and lens is capable of.
    Any recommendations or assistance is greatly appreciated.
  2. Nice Photo. You could try setting up your camera and focussing while the Sun is still up. Then set the lens to manual focus, so it won't change, and wait for dark.
    It's possible that the fuzziness in the photo is due to atmospheric distortion, caused by air above the still-warm pavement mixing with cooler night air. The marine layer also adds to the distortion.
  3. I think you've got the exposure dialed in nicely, for what it's worth. Auto focus in dim light is a challenge for the camera. I would suggest to bring along a small flashlight and simply set your focus manually. Likely just setting it on infinity would be best for a shot like your posting. Experiment in daylight to see how good your focus is: set right on the infinity mark, or test focus on distant objects and note the position. Also, you could set your f-stop a little higher, increasing your depth of focus, improving overall sharpness, and for insurance on your focus. Of course adjust your shutter speed to compensate.
    When I was a teenager I did a fair bit of nightscapes, and stuff like time exposures of rides at the fair, streams of street traffic, etc. It's a lot of fun and you can get some nice results. Stick with it!
  4. Do you use a cable release or pushing the button on the camera? That will cause a vibration. I always use a cable release.
    Is your lens mounted or the camera? Since the lens is heavier (and long) than the camera, it should be mounted, not the camera. The tripod should be sturdy, and center column minimally extended.
    Your IS should be off.
  5. I generally try for a smaller aperture, 5.6 or 8 with a longer shutter speed which I trip by using the 10 sec time delay. Yes, I agree night focussing is difficult which is one of the reasons I use the smaller F stops, more depth of field. I take several shots if possible, resetting manual focus between each shot, usually at least one is spot on, I delete the rest. There is a problem with these smaller apertures in that strong point sources of light can get exaggerated star patterns, the smaller the aperture the more exaggerated the pattern. You can clone these out in post processing if there are only a few. I hate using tripods but this is the one occasion where they are needed. I generally use lower ISOs, 100, as shutter speed is no longer a concern, only aperture is.
    I have a XTi, the little viewfinder makes this work exacting but it can be done. In short, ISO100, time delay, long shutter speed, small apertures, manual focussing, take several shots redoing focus between each one.
  6. Thank you for all the responses so far. I always mount the lens to the tripod. I do that because like previously mentioned the lens is much heavier than the camera itself.
    I was going back through the manual for the lens and it sounds like it wants me to take the image stabalizer to the off position then prior to adjusting the setting for the focusing distance range that I should move the focus ring to the infinity icon on the lens and then set the focus distance range switch to the 2.5mm - infinity side.
    Does that sound right? Does anyone have this lens that is familiar with this?
    Again, Thank you to every one that has already responded and who may respond yet. I appreciate the information and I am going to continue practicing with this. I take good day shots but want to add night shots and city skylines to my portfolio ( I will only do that once I figure the night photography stuff out first though :)
    Thanks again.
  7. You are using the wrong lens. Try the 50mm 1.8 II. It's about $80. Any time you go from near blowout to zero black in no distance at all you are going to see the diffraction, that is always there. As a general rule, the fewer pieces of glass, the higher the image quality.
    Shoot 2-3 notches UNDERexposed. Just try it. Don't ask why. You can boost anything, in post, but stuff that's maxing out is very hard to deal with. Use your timer for the exposure. Time doesn't matter, just as long as your hand is not causing shake. Turn your IS off.
    Select an evening when it's cold and NOT humid for the shoot - preferably just after a windy front blows all the car exhaust out. Water and/or particles in the air act as prisms...
    Set your lens wide open. You don't need depth of field, as what you're shooting is far away. Stop the lens down slowly, watching the results. It's handy to have a laptop in the car to see your shots. Do not use high ISO or in-cam noise removal (long exposure).
    ABOVE ALL, don't get knocked in your head and your fancy camera taken. Be aware of what's around you - take a friend on the shoot.
  8. With USM lenses the "infinity focus position" is not at the end of the rotation, and it might be in the middle of the inifinity sign, or maybe not.
    1) Focus on a light source or light area where the camera has an easy time focusing, hear the beep, then turn to Manual Focus
    2) Use remote-cable which you hold in your hand, there is a cord leading to the camera, and once you click it, hold it and don't stretch the cable, so that there is no vibration going to the camera.
    3) Your tripod should be sufficiently sturdy and if you extend the center column, there is a greater chance of vibration during photo takin.
  9. Gordon, You should never have IS on when the camera is mounted on a tripod. This is Canon's recommendation for all IS lenses and I have confirmed that 24-105F4 IS, 70-200F4 IS, and 100-400 IS lenses will blur images when the camera is on a tripod. Especially on a 2 second exposure.

    The focus limiter switch on your lens will not have any effect on your picture. The focus limiter switch is mainly used if there is something close to the lens. In that case the camera may move back and forth between infinity and close focus. You don't have anything close to the camera to caus a problem.

    De Lanzer, night photography is very demanding on lenses, especially if lights are present in the image (as in Gordon's image). While the 50mm 1.8 lens is good, it is by no means the right lens for this application. It has significant vignetting at F1.8 and very soft in the corners. On my 5D the 50mm 1.8 will strongly distort city lights at the corners of the picture. In comparison the 70-200mm in all tests I have looked at out performs the 50mm. It is widely considered one of the best lenses Canon sells. I have a the very similar 70-200F4 IS lens and it has performed very well in low light without any visible distortion or vignetting.

    In your post it appears you are confusing diffraction with exposure. Diffraction will simply not occur on any lens between wide open and F8 and diffraction is not effected by exposure as long as the apature is not stopped down too far. Any over exposed light can blur due to light spilling onto other pixels and bouncing between lens elements. The same thing will also happen on film. While underexposing the image will reduce this if may not be practical in all situations since it could push pixels in dark area into full black. No amount of post processing will recover information in black pixels.
  10. In comparison the 70-200mm in all tests I have looked at out performs the 50mm. It is widely considered one of the best lenses Canon sells.
    It is. I own both, and my keeper rate is much higher with the 70-200--The fifty's a fine lens, but the corner detail and vignetting can be atrocious sometimes.
    Gordon: Silly question... You weren't actually _on_ the water when this was taken, were you? I can't tell if you're in a boat, or not (but it sort of looks like you might be).
    The gentle rocking motion of the water would definitely through a wrench into your sharp night photography plans. :)
    -Paul B. Davis
  11. "Shoot 2-3 notches UNDERexposed. Just try it." - garbage. Try increasing your exposure by 3 stops in your RAW converter and look at the noise in the shadows, regardless of ISO - it will be bad. Nothing wrong with the 70-200mm for these shots, just make sure IS is off or you will get some blur. The shot you posted is very underexposed in my opinion. With such high contrast scenes I would have taken bracketed exposures and merged them in PS. I always have my aperture between F8 to F11 for these types of shots, ISO 100 or 200, remote shutter release or timer.
  12. I've actually done this... Like I said, shoot underexposed, or deal with the blowouts. There's no question of which is easier, or will make the best image.
  13. Or... how about this one...
  14. Or... maybe this one?
  15. <p>De Lenzer, I'm not sure what your point is. Your night time cityscapes are fine but they don't stand out, and I'd prefer them slightly more exposed. If you're selling a 20x30&quot; print for $40, I'm not surprised your images sell well as that is cosiderably less than what most people charge.
  16. One other issue which I don't think anyone mentioned is the vibration of the mirror slap. Usually this is more an issue at 1/10 a second but using mirror lock up, if available on your camera may help as well.
  17. david_henderson


    Shoot 2-3 notches UNDERexposed. Just try it. Don't ask why.​
    I also think this is poor advice. Shooting dark and then recovering it is a recipe for noise. OTOH if you happen to like jet black skies and don't want to restore some of the lost light it works after a fashion. Not what I'd want though.
  18. bms


    here you hear another argument about how to expose... seems like you know how and your question was about sharpness. I do not quite get it. I am sure none of the images are exposed to show a centered histogram. I think you got good advice: close down the lens a bit, IS off, mirror lockup and cable release. Disregard the talk about under-over exposure....
  19. i would like to chime in on de lenzer's advice: i think that he may be right. Matrix or whatever metering canon calls it ( i shoot nikon, sorry) will blow out point highlights like lit windows on a building and strong lights. Matrix metering is not a genius, solve-all algorithm. It will allow highlights to blow and thus de lenzer's advice makes sense to me. I would bracket this and try it out, but i expect he's right on the money. Also, de Lenzer, did you shoot a custom white balance or set your own temperature? Improperly doing this seems to make the red channel blow out so that could save you later, and always the red. Just wondering what your system was for that.
    pretty good advice about a partner on a shoot as well.
  20. also, if you are familiar with the zone system, this makes sense. And further, since the average of the scene will be below 18% middle gray, this also makes sense in this regard. why don't you spend a few frames trying out this advice and see what results it produces...
  21. I certainly don’t know what I’m talking about, but Bryan Peterson seems to. He’d suggest an f stop between f/8 and f/11 for this type of shot, and would recommend that you take your meter reading from the sky instead of from the buildings. I’ve yet to try out his advice, but if it ever stops snowing here I might get the chance…
  22. Good Morning,
    Thank you to everyone for respsonding. I appreciate everyones advice on this. The picture is of the Seattle Washington skyline and was taken on a concrete landing near West Seattle.
    The night the picture was taken it was cold and the water movement was caused by a large container freight ship that passed by closer to the downtown Seattle side. I think the advice given here will give me a very good starting point for the improvement that I am looking for and I will definitely see how it improves the image quality.
    I have started a journal of my photography and the various settings for my better photos so when I experiment with the information provided above I will see what works best. Sorry to have caused the arguments that seem to have developed from above.
  23. Hoping not to get shot for saying this, but for night landscapes, you want to do the following: 1) set ISO to base value (100-200); 2) set aperture to f/8-11 (any lower and you'll get diffraction on a DSLR; 3) adjust shutter speed accordingly, starting at fairly slow speed (like 1 sec.); 4) use tripod and cable release (if possible); 5) turn of IS or VR; 6) use manual focus set to Infinity; 7) meter for the sky; 8) turn high ISO NR off; 9) view result in LCD; 10) repeat until desired effect is obtained.
  24. You could always go back to a manual film camera where you can set f-22 and hyperfocal.That is one of the things I miss most about pre A/F and digital cameras.Now the exact infinity mark is no longer used to corespond to the aperture size.I try to never shoot larger than f-16 when I have an infinity focus that will give all the DOF your lens can give.Of course an 8x10 at f-64 still has top honors for DOF.
  25. Eric Arnold speaks the truth, from my limited experience and reading about this subject on the internets.
  26. One other item to consider is trying to make your image at twlight instead of complete darkness. I always manually focus. HDR could also work if you are blowing out hot spots.
    I just posted three images in my gallery.
  27. You can get a sense of your focus by shooting and then zooming all the way in to check how it looks. I also use point light sources for focusing with my 20D.
    I also wonder if there isn't camera shake involved- the blur looks more like shake and less like a focus issue to me. Are you using a remote release? Are there any vibrations around the camera area? Is your tripod and head stable enough for the lens?
    I also would increase exposure slightly, even if it blows out the lights a bit. If you really want both, bracket under and overexposure and blend with photomatix or manually.
  28. [​IMG]
    Just for the heck of it, the above is a Seattle skyline photograph from West Seattle, a stitch of a half dozen or more 12MP full-frame images, shot on a 5D with a 70-200 zoom.
    A general rule of thumb for most night photography is to shoot with roughly the same settings you might use for a daytime shot for ISO and aperture, and then compensate via exposure time. So I typically shoot at ISO 100 (though with a 5D II 200 seems fine) and my starting point would be f/8 - not a larger aperture which can reduce sharpness for several reasons.
    For focus, try to autofocus on a bright object in the scene. In this photo your 70-200 f/2.8 should be able to AF one of the bright areas along the waterfront or on a building. Then turn AF off.
    Pay little or no attention to how "good" the image looks in the LCD display. Pay a LOT of attention to the histogram display. You may get a bit of blown our highlight on some of the very bright lights - this is often OK if the spots are very small. Underexposure is bad news though - you'll end up with a fair amount of noise and even some banding when you correct in post.
    Shoot in RAW. The dynamic range between the darkest areas and the brightest lights is huge in a scene like this, and you'll gain perhaps a stop or more of dynamic range that you can recover in post.
  29. Good evening,
    I just want to say how much I appreciate everyones advice. I wrote down the information and went out this evening even though it looked as though I would get dumped on with the rain but I didn't.
    I tried several of them and it seems to have improved the shots. I live in Tacoma so I found a spot where I can get a good shot of the city and I can see a big improvement. I am going to go out and try more possibly tomorrow night. Once I get where I think I want to be I will post a new one and see what everyone thinks and any further advice to yet improve it any further.
    Thanks again,
  30. "Shoot 2-3 notches UNDERexposed"
    Just reading through the thread. I do a lot of night photography, including quite a bit of urban photography including city skylines. In fact I was out last night photographing at the old Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the SF Bay Area.
    I print the results, sometimes in versions many feet wide. Underexposing leads to a number of problems, most notably significant noise issues and the potential for banding, especially in the darker areas of the image. I don't post full size version, but I'll see if I can include a few small examples at the end of this post.
    For me, underexposure means that the histogram display is chopped off at the left (dark) side. That is something to AVOID in almost all cases in night photography.
    You are correct that avoiding blowing out the brightest lights in a city shot like that posted above is nearly impossible. But (with some exceptions) it is also unnecessary. There is not real issue with small points of light that blow out in this type of photography, and it is certainly almost always a trivial issue by comparison to the very real problems that happen when you have to try to recover very underexposed areas.
    A good source of information on night photography techniques (and of workshops if you happen to live in the SF Bay Area) is The Nocturnes , the SF Bay Area night photography group.
    (Note: The panoramas are stitched from as many as a dozen or more 12 MP FF originals.)
  31. Dan's advice and his example shots are spot one. Nice stuff!
  32. HDR is eery, G. Dan. Dusk shots and night shots are not the same.
    • Not one of my posted photographs shots uses HDR.
    • Not one of the shots I posted is a "dusk shot." All were taken in full darkness, some with full moon.
    • What you call "blow outs" are specular highlights - for example the "star" around the light atop the Transamerica Pyramid is much more interesting than a small white dot and a noisy, muddy, underexposed image of the buildings.
    • The second to the bottom shot was included in this group, as was every other photo in the group, to show the breadth of the sorts of night photography I do
  33. i really like your photographs. I also thought that the picture with the eerie green glow in the warehouse was HDR, so that seems like you nailed the dynamic range in a single (stitched) exposure, which is an enormous compliment in itself. Really like your night photography, so now i have to go out and try my hand at it again.
  34. <p>Good Morning,<br />I would really like to say that when I first signed up for the that I would be able to get some good advice from fellow photographers who have been at this longer than I. I did take the information out and use it the other night and it did help.<br>
  35. I normally shoot with an ISO setting of about 100 or 125 with the shutter open about 1 to 2 seconds and sometimes longer. As for the F stop its about a 3.5 or 4.5. I have tried various things but it just seems that I cannot get the sharpness that I know this camera and lens is capable of.​
    Anyway, in an effort to get back on track... :)
    Trying to think through all the possible causes of "blur" in a night photograph, including direct causes and some that might amplify a problem:
    1. Tripod - but you say you are using a solid tripod, so I'll more or less rule that out for now. (Though wind can be an issue - even with a solid tripod a bit of breeze can introduce enough camera motion blur over a long exposure. In addition, if you use a long lens this effect can be amplified.)
    2. Mirror lockup (MLU) - Perhaps counter to intuition, this isn't likely the problem in longer exposures. The "mirror slap" issue is more likely to manifest itself in shorter exposures than you'll use at night. With exposures measured in seconds rather than fractions of a second, the duration of the mirror slap vibration is too short to make a difference - though you could see a small effect at the beginning of star trails if they are found in your photo.
    3. Inaccurate focus - Focusing at night can be very difficult. With a city skyline like yours I would probably activate only the center AF point and place it over a bright subject in the scene. The center point should be able to AF on some of the bright lights along the shoreline. Then switch AF off so it won't change, and recompose your image without altering the focus. (With different subjects there are a whole bunch of other "tricks" that may prove useful: shine a bright light on the subject for focusing purposes and then turn it off before exposure; prefocus before the light is completely gone; manually focus; "guess focus" using indications on the lens barrel - best applied at smaller apertures. If your camera has "live view," you can often manage to manually focus in that mode even in very dim light.)
    4. Aperture choice - There are several potential issues here. First, most lenses have sharper and less sharp apertures. For example, the largest aperture of your lens is almost certainly not its sharpest - in fact, on many lenses that are quite sharp stopped down, the image may be noticeably fuzzy wide open. Secondly, if you stop down too far (and this is, in a sense, more critical on a cropped sensor camera) you can lose sharpness to diffraction blur. In general, use the same apertures that would be sharp for a daytime exposure in most cases. Finally, when you use a very large aperture you get a very narrow DOF, and this can amplify any focus problems from difficulty finding focus in the dark.
    5. Post processing (or in-camera post processing settings) - For best image quality (including wider dynamic range and more post-processing options) it is better to shoot in RAW mode. But when you shoot RAW you _must_ sharpen in post - unsharpened RAW images are far from living up to their ability to provide excellent detail and sharpness. If you shoot jpg you should use an appropriate in-camera sharpening setting.
    6. Lens issues - I've forgotten what lens you used for your test shots, but some lenses are just plain sharper than others. If you are not using one of the sharper lenses you won't be able to get past that.
    Good luck.
  36. Thank you to everyone for the advice that has been given. I am going to continue giving them a try and see what works the best.
    I went out the other night and noticed some improvement but due to the weather I had to cut my time short. It doesn't look like the weather is going to cooperate with me tonight either so I will probably wait for a day or so since it is suppose to get nicer as the week goes on.
    Once I can I will then show some of my photos to see what what opinions are and what I can continue to try in order to improve my photography.
    Have a great rest of the day!
  37. I'd also add that if you are having focusing problems, you could put your lens in manual focus mode and set it to infinity yourself.
  38. i read a neat little trick in another thread here as well, if you are focusing on a shorter distance. you can use a laser pointer that shoots a pattern to project an image on a surface giving the AF enough light and contrast to autofocus. probably will never be used, but still a neat idea to rattle around the noggin.
  39. here are some of my pictures and some info... XSi, kit lens 18-55mm IS, tripod, cable release, IS turned off, 10 sec delay, iso 100 or 200, aperture priority, 1,5-2 fstop stoped down from wide open, a bit underexposed, autofocus. the pictures are jpg strait from the camera.
  40. just a quick thought, why do you use the 10 sec self-timer in addition to the cable release?
  41. picture looks great, but two critiques:
    make sure to level it as shoot, or later in post. also, the reflections look great, but composition-wise, is that horizon best in the center? otherwise that is an absolutely great picture.
  42. about the ten second delay, that doesn't delay the mirror flip up, so it doesn't reduce that slap vibration, only finger pushing the shutter release blur, if i'm not mistaken, which you've already mitigated with teh cable release.
    And i bring up the horizon placement, not actually disagreeing with where it is in your photograph, just to remind that composition is deliberate, and there shouldn't be a default position for it. otherwise, great results and happy shooting
  43. Good answers. Glad to see we can all get along!
  44. thanks dan ! i am well aware that the compozition of my pictures is far from perfect. that was a quick answer to the problem raised by gordon, sharpnes of his pictures. quick look to the pictures and is obvious that at least the tehnique i use is better. i use the 10 sec delay to eliminate the vibration on the tripod i use, caused by the pushing on buttons to set the camera. even without mirror lookup, his gear (30D+70-200mm f2,8 IS USm L) will weight around 2200g vs 700g (XSI+18-55mm IS) , so the slam from the mirror should have almost no impact on picture sharpness.
  45. If you are "pushing buttons on the camera" when doing the long exposures, using the timer is an OK solution, but it would be better to get a remote release if you can.
    The vibration from mirror slap is said to have little effect on very long exposures where if lasts a very short percentage of the full exposure time. The effect would be more significant on exposures whose duration is about the same as that of the mirror vibration.
    In any case, this would create a "motion blur" effect rather than an "out of focus" effect.
  46. either way looks good. but i'm still confused, if you use a cable release like you said (unless i'm mistaken) you don't need the 10 sec delay on top of that as you aren't touching the camera at the time of shutter actuation to begin with. oh well, keep it up because it looks like you have a good technique down that will give you the tools to get the exposures that you want.
  47. Protect the setup from wind and use a big hood or shade the lens to avoid flare from closeby light sources if required.
  48. One other thing I didn't mention, but since it came up earlier in this thread I will now.
    While it isn't exactly related to the sharpness issue, DO use long exposure noise reduction when you do night photography with a DSLR. Do to the nature of digital sensors, at longer exposures you will otherwise see amplified noise and "hot pixels" that are pure red, blue, or green. The effect is not a good one.
    The long exposure noise reduction feature makes a second "dark frame" exposure after the "real" exposure. Yes, this does double the time it takes to capture each photograph. The dark frame contains only the noise/hot pixel data against a black background. The camera analyzes this and uses the information to subtract these artifacts from the final image.
  49. oh. is that what it does? i was so surprised/confused why it took so long to do that when i left it on. i turned it off assuming NX2 will do a better job post if i need it. is this actually not true? Can NX2 or ACR/photoshop do this noise reduction as well as the camera with that active information?
  50. No, the software cannot do this in post. It does not have access to the pixel map from the dark frame exposure.
    Definitely use this feature in-camera for long night exposures!
  51. dan sutton , Mar 10, 2009; 05:35 p.m.
    either way looks good. but i'm still confused, if you use a cable release like you said (unless i'm mistaken) you don't need the 10 sec delay on top of that as you aren't touching the camera at the time of shutter actuation to begin with. oh well, keep it up because it looks like you have a good technique down that will give you the tools to get the exposures that you want.​
    i do use a cable release but the tripod i use is not what i call a solid one. then, i usually take 1, 2 test shots and then adjust the camera to my taste; shutter, aperture, compozition,etc. doing that on the camera mounted on tripod....guess you get the point.
    buttom line. this is what i have (XSI + kit lens), this is how i use it (my previous post) this is what i get. hope this will help gordon.
  52. To bad you don't have live view, this would be a great opportunity to use it.
  53. ahhh, thanks g dan. never thought about it
  54. Regarding live view... it can be a very powerful tool for night photography. I've been using it recently and I found that I can manually focus using live view in situations where the camera cannot auto-focus and I cannot accurately focus using the viewfinder.
  55. hello
    i have some images
    found on dpreview
  56. nano forum wrote: "hello"

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