A true photographer sees the potential in shooting any subject and doesn't put his or her camera away when conditions are less than ideal. One subject often overlooked is photography at night. From astrophotography, to city landscapes, sporting events to neon lights, the list is endless. There are some tricks to taking successful pictures after dark.
Camera: Just about any camera that has a bulb setting will work, with the ideal being a 35 mm camera or digital single lens reflex camera. The camera should have a shutter speed setting called bulb, abbreviated B. This setting keeps the shutter open to collect light until the photographer manually closes it.
Tripod: Since holding a camera steady at shutter speeds slower than ½ second is virtually impossible, a tripod is mandatory. Also, use a wide angle or portrait lens; these often have larger f-stops and therefore can gather more light in a shorter amount of time.
Cable release: Use a cable switch or remote release to trip the shutter. This keeps you from moving the camera and blurring the image when touching the shutter button.
Battery: Old rule of thumb--if it can fail, it will. With that in mind, keep as many backup batteries as you can and make sure they are fully charged. Keep them inside a coat and away from the cold, and get a cigarette-lighter adapter to charge batteries in your car.
If the temperatures are low, wear warm clothes. If you get cold, you will want to head in before you get your shot. In the summer, wear loose clothing with long sleeves and pants to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Wear comfortable, practical footwear. Take a flashlight and watch where you are going, avoid tripping or stepping on anything.
Paint With Light
With the camera on a tripod and the shutter open, using a wide angle lens, take out a bright LED flashlight and illuminate certain elements of the scene. You can step into the shot, but if you do, wear dark clothing and keep moving--the film will only pick you up as a blur.
Use high-speed film, 1000 ASA or higher, or set same on a digital camera. This will give the photo a very grainy appearance and, depending on the subject, can lend a mood to the scene.
By using the film and camera to collect light over a period of time, you will create images that are not possible to be seen with the naked eye. Use low film speeds, such as 100 or 200, to keep the blacks inky black. Higher speeds with grain tend to cause blacks to look gray and murky.
Find a good vantage point such as a highway overpass or other location where lights will come and go. Set the aperture one stop short of the widest setting and expose for several seconds or minutes.
Stars and Moon
Stars: When taking long exposures to create star trails, place a black card in front of the lens before you start and stop the exposure. This allows the camera shake to settle without collecting any additional light, which will cause the image to appear blurred if the camera moves.
Work in total darkness and set lens to infinity. If you want circular trails, point the camera toward the North Pole, or South Pole if you are in the southern hemisphere. The stars will form a circle around the center. For long streaks, use any other part of the sky. Set the shutter open for several hours to collect the best image.
Moon: Use a long lens such as a 400 mm. Place the shutter speed closest to the ASA setting and the aperture on F11 or 16. For example, at 100 ASA, the shutter speed should be 1/125. With digital, experiment to see what exposure you like best. If using film, bracket and bracket some more.
Remove UV and sky filters from the lens to avoid internal light reflections.
Star-like Rays: You can use a star filter or set the camera to the smallest aperture you have. It exaggerates the shafts of light radiating from points of light, such as street lights, lanterns or any stationary light source, and makes them appear like twinkling stars.