In this series of Travel Photo Tips articles for photo.net, I plan to cover every aspect of travel photography. Hey, I know that is a tall order, but I have been traveling around the world for 30 years, and have photographed just about every subject in every condition in more than 100 countries. What’s more, I’ve made every mistake in the book! Therefore, I am in a good position to help you avoid mistakes and to help you get the most out of your travel photography experience.
I’ll lead off this series focusing on Night Photography—and I’ll lead off this article with one of my favorite nighttime images, a photograph I took just after dusk at Niagara Falls (using the technique I mention below for blurring night lights).
The tips here are in no particular order. If you see a photograph you like, scroll down and grab that tip—and then move on to other photos and tips.
If you like what you read and see, you can learn more about me and my photography in my latest book,
Ready? Let’s go!
Pictures taken at night often take on a more creative and inviting look than daytime pictures due to the creative lighting that illuminates the scene—as illustrated by these two pictures taken of the Ice Hotel near Quebec, Canada. That’s one reason why I like to shoot at night (Images 1 and 2).
When I shoot at night, I always tote a tripod so I can shoot at slow shutter speeds without camera shake, which can cause blurry pictures, I set my ISO to 400 and my White Balance to Daylight (because I like warm tone pictures).
I use my camera’s self-timer, which avoids camera shake that may be caused by pressing the shutter release button.
I also use the camera’s noise-reduction feature, which is a better way to reduce digital noise in a file than reducing noise in the digital darkroom. However, like all in-camera noise-reduction features, it slows down the time between taking pictures, sometimes several seconds. Therefore, I plan my shots carefully.
Night photography, due to the often wide-contrast range, is a time when RAW files are the best choice because they have a wider exposure latitude than JPEG files.
As always, I check my camera’s histogram and overexposure warning indication to make sure I have a good exposure.
One of the cool effects we can create in camera is blurring moving lights at night. Blurring the lights takes some of the reality out of the scene, and when we take out some of the reality, a picture becomes more creative and more artistic.
Here are a few guidelines to follow if you want to create photographs like this one, which I took in Miami’s South Beach (Image 3):
Note: when photographing moving cars, getting the red taillights in the picture will look much better than just getting the white headlights.
Fireworks photographs are not easy to take, mostly because the light level changes, sometimes by a few f-stops, from burst to burst. What’s more, each burst is in a different place in the sky. Another challenge is to capture the burst right at its peak.
Here are my tips for photographing fireworks. Even though I followed them, the three photos you see here are the best out of about 100 that I took at two different fireworks displays (Image 4).
In the digital darkroom, I often like to warm up and cool off the tones in my images. Color Temperature, found on mid-range and high-end digital cameras, lets you get great color and even fine tune color. It’s usually a Custom Function and it lets you set the precise color temperature (my EOS 1Ds Mark III lets me choose from 2500K to 10000K), and even offers White Balance Color Correction (which basically lets you apply a digital color conversion/compensating filter in camera
In this trio of photographs (Image 5), the top photo was taken with no Color Temperature adjustment and with the White Balance set on Automatic. For the middle image I set the Color Temperature to 2500K (cooling off the image). And for the bottom image I set the Color Temperature 10000K (warming up the image).
Sure, you can create the same effect in the digital darkroom using the Color Temperature, Color Balance and Photo Filters, but it’s fun and creative to try to create different in-camera effects—and sometimes essential if you are shooting commercially.
Here’s a well-known photo expression: There is always enough light to take a picture—if you have a tripod.
You need a tripod to steady your shot during what will be a long exposure.
One night when the moon was full, I went over to the Croton Damn in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, which is about five minutes from my house. I mounted my camera on a tripod, set the ISO to 800, set the exposure mode to Av (aperture priority), activated the camera’s self-timer (to prevent camera shake at the time of exposure), and took the shot—the photo you see here with the stars visible in the sky. The other photo, which I include here for comparison, was taken during the day. My exposure was 40 seconds at f/4 (Images 6 and 6a).
The next time the moon is full, pack up your gear and go out and take some moonscapes. Good fun—and good picture opportunities.
I took this photograph on a starry night in Namibia when a full moon was setting behind me. I used a technique called “painting with light” to create the effect (Image 7).
Here’s how you can create the same effect on a night when the moon is bright in the sky—even if you are only photographing a tree in your backyard:
I used a Canon 15mm full-frame fisheye lens on my full-frame Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III to create the curved horizon effect.
Want to use city lights as a backdrop for a nighttime point-and-shoot shot? Then set your camera to the Night Portrait mode. A slow shutter speed is selected to capture the nightlights, and the built-in flash automatically pops up (or you can activate an accessory flash) to light your subject.
This mode is perfect when you want to get a good exposure of both the subject and an illuminated background. That’s the mode I used for these nighttime portraits (Images 8 and 8a).
For more creative control, and to fine-tune your exposure (of the background and the subject), here’s the technique I recommend:
In both situations, you’ll need to hold your camera very steady (because of the slower shutter speed), use a tripod or an image-stabilization lens to steady your camera during the exposure.
Hey, when you are out and about taking pictures at night in a city, look for cool reflections on the hoods, trunks and roofs of cars—which is what I did when photographing in Miami’s South Beach. Include them in your photographs for some creative images (Image 9).
This may sound funny, but the best time to take nighttime pictures may not be at night, but rather at dusk. At dusk, there is still some light in the sky. That light colors the sky a nice shade of blue, rather than black. What’s more, the skylight offers some illuminations on the building, reducing the contrast range between a dark sky, bright lights and the sides of the buildings.
Get on the scene early and begin your nighttime photography adventures while there is still some light in the sky. That’s how I started my nighttime photo shoot in Miami’s South Beach (Image 10).
Enough reading. I think with all the techniques listed above, you have enough ammo to go out and get some great nighttime images. Before you go, however, here is a final and important tip: wear white at night for safety in traffic situations.
Me? I need to start pulling together some photos for the next article in the Travel Photo Tips Series: Photographing Wildlife.
Catch you next time.
Rick Sammon has published 30 books, including his latest three: Rick Sammon’s Secrets to Digital Photography, Exploring the Light—Making the very Best In-Camera Exposure, and Face to Face—The Complete Guide to Photographing People. Rick gives more than a dozen photography workshops (including private workshops) and presentations around the world each year, in addition to presenting at Photoshop World. He hosts five shows on www.kelbytraining.com. He’s also been spotted giving presentations at Apple stores in New York City and in San Francisco. Rick is also the author of the Canon Digital Rebel XT lessons on the Canon Digital Learning Center and is a Canon Explorer of Light.