Steven Brokaw Photography

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As you might have noticed from some of my earlier posts I enjoy going out after dark for late night photoshoots. The night brings our all types of images and photo opportunities that you don't see during the day. I've also found the colors generated from ambient light are very intense. Anyway, there's no one around to bug me, which is another benefit.

However, unlike taking photos during the day, shooting at night poses unique challenges. The lack of light and / or the excessive amount of ambient light (i.e. street lights) can make for some difficult decisions. You can get around the low light issue though a number of solutions, or combination of several. The ones I read and see most people (including yours truely) using are:
  • Tripod
  • Flash photography
  • Auto ISO
  • High ISO setting
  • Slow shutter speeds
  • Very fast lenses (with or without VR)
  • Photoshop
I went to downtown Indianapolis this past Saturday (night before the Indianapolis 500 so the downtown was HOPPING) with the goal to take multiple nighttime shots using multiple techniques. Wanted to see what works best, and of course impart upon you - my loyal readers, some tips.

First, a few comments. I am by no means an expert at photography (speaking the obvious), and my equipment is advanced amateur only, but through practice I've been able to capture some really nice images. The key is taking lots of shots testing out multiple settings. You'll ultimately find what works best for you. I think the key is to get at least 1 fast lens (F2.8 or faster) and a good tripod. My secondary recommendation is a good flash unit, although that really depends on the type of shot you want to take. I take lots of motion blur shots and a flash is not needed for this. Want to be a paparazzi, get nice flash.

The first shot was near downtown on Washington Street.
I used a tripod for this shot. For really excellent after dark photography this is your number one friend. You can subsitute the tripod with a uber fast lens with VR (vibration reduction), but your wallet will be much lighter. Don't scrimpt on the tripod. Get a good one. I use a high-quality Manfrotto leg / ball-head combination. More on tripods in a later post.

Camera settings were F/10 (to get depth of field), ISO 100 (to minimize noise), 3 second exposure, Apeture priority & spot metering. I used a Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 lens (see earlier post), a manual cable release, and of course my tripod.

The goal of this shot was to take advantage of the ambient light behind me and over the building. I set my ISO as low as my Nikon D200 would go to minimize noise. I don't think this shot would have been possible without the tripod, slow shutter speed and low ISO. Notice how the colors are very rich and the details tack sharp.

The next shot was without a tripod. I wanted to take a few shots of people walking around town. To do this and avoid motion blur I had to either use flash or high ISO. This photo was of a young lady getting ready to head into a club.
On this shot I set my ISO at 400 and F-stop at F2.8. The larger apeture allowed me to blur the background and get the shot down to 1/45 of a second. Even with this setting I had to boost the levels a tad post processing using Photoshop (I have the older CS version).

The only ambient lighting was from street lights and lights from the club behind me. One note, I did ask if I could take her picture since I didn't want to come off like some kind of late night creep, and she just smiled. I guess that meant it was OK for me to shoot her picture.

I used a Tamron F/2.8 70-200mm lens with Apeture priority and Pattern metering. I took a few extra shots of others walking by with slower speeds and I picked up motion blur. One note, even at ISO 400 I was picking up lots of noise. It would be very hard to blow this picture up or crop it down much without the noise ruining the shot. I understand the higher end Nikons have this little problem (high ISO/low noise) solved. OK, where did I put my Christmas list?

So photo # 2, medium to high ISO, hand held, fast lens and speed just fast enough to avoid motion blur ... and of course, the gentle kiss of Photoshop.

Finally, I whipped out my trusty Nikon SB-600 flash (I know I should break down and get an SB-800 or 900, but remember I do this as a hobby and this is an expensive hobby). I also used my LumiQuest ProMax flash bounce. This time I wanted to take a few shows with higher ISO, faster speed and a flash unit.
This shot of 3 young ladies waiting outside of an Indianapolis 500 party was a good mix of flash photography, low ISO, a fast lens. All without a tripod.
The nice thing about using a flash unit is you can easily focus light and attention on your subject. By using a bounce flash unit with a defuser it avoids flash burns and red eye. No annoying blown out spots on the tips of these young ladies noses or cheeks. If I had used a flash without the LumiQuest (or similar bounce or defuser) this wouldn't have been possible. Also, we were outside on the street so there was no ceiling to bounce the flash off, so I had a defuser over my LumiQuest and the flash unit was straight on. I think it worked out well.

I was using my F/2.8 70-200mm lens at 70 mm. Apeture was set at 5.6 with ISO at 200. I manually set the speed at 1/60 of a second. I used Pattern metering. The combination allowed me to take a nice late night photo without post processing except cropping.

Photos after dark are enjoyable. However, they take practice. Try to avoid auto-ISO if you can. This is a personal preference since I find it creates way too much noice on my camera. I would recommend you get a good tripod and if the situation permits keep your ISO as low as possible. Get yourself a fast lens. A good 50mm F/1.8 is perfect for this and can be yours for under $250, or get yourself a nice flash unit.

Bottomline, practice, practice, practice. Pick up your camera, kiss your sweety goodnight and head out late at night and take some pictures. I do!

Nice Legs!!

F/2.8 At Night