IN THE FIELD: Night Photography
For me, night photography in the digital age is really enjoyable due in part to the instant feedback available. For instance, when I’m photographing headlight and taillight trails, I can instantly see whether the exposure is where I want it, and if the composition is working. In the days of film, experimentation, experience, and a good bit of luck, played a major role in creating successful light trail photos.
I took this photo a few weeks ago around 8:30 pm. and it was actually quite dark outside. I was hoping to create an image resembling an evening at dusk with headlight and tail light trails.
Not having a benchmark where to start, I experimented with many different shutter speeds ranging from five seconds up to 25 seconds. As the shutter speeds got progressively longer, the camera’s sensor gathered more light, and each photo resulted in a lighter scene with light trails.
Shutter speeds below 10 seconds still produced the light trails, but the scene looked like it was late at night…completely black except for the points of light and the trails. Shutter speeds beyond the 10 second setting were getting closer to the look I was after. And on this particular evening, the 20 second mark produced the best results. Any more than 25 seconds and the photo was over-exposed.
Digital sensors can be pushed pretty far before the heat generated by the sensor produces digital noise in the image. After taking long exposures of 20 seconds or more, it’s best to let the sensor cool for a minute or two before taking the next shot. And of course, a tripod or other sturdy support should be used to keep the camera steady during such long exposures. Also, a cable release or the camera’s self timer will assist in avoiding movement from tripping the shutter.
Have fun and experiment…the results can be quite rewarding.