Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Night Time's The Right Time

Pre-dawn shots when there is a full moon can be challenging but fun. This scene was shot about 2 hours before sunrise when the full moon was hidden behind dark gray clouds. The moon provided enough light to enable me to record the scene with great detail.

Setting up in total darkness is the first challenge. Having a headlamp (a flashlight on a band that snugs around your head) is a great help. It lights your way when walking over uneven ground, and enables you to see your camera settings. Get your camera set up as much as possible the night before, so you will not be fumbling with too many controls once you arrive on-site.

It is also wise to scope out the location in daylight a day or two prior to the shoot.

In such dim light, the easiest thing to do is to take an overall meter reading of the scene, take the shot, and then check the histogram. The histogram will be skewed off to one side since most of the tones are so dark, and that is OK. Just be careful to not underexpose the darks too much.

A sturdy tripod and a rock solid head are crucial in these kinds of shooting conditions. This was a long 30-second exposure, and you do not want anything to move even slightly.

Taking many exposures, and possibly using exposure compensation, is helpful. Give yourself many opportunities to get a good exposure and good sharpness.

Speaking of sharpness, it is possible to use autofocus even in these very dark conditions if you are careful where you focus. Find an edge where a dark area touches a light area. That enables the autofocus mechanism to lock in more easily. If you are comfortable manually focusing, that will work well also. Live View does not work well in darkness.

As the sky begins to lighten, switch gears and prepare to shoot sunrise. This will maximize your time, providing both night shots, as well as sunrise shots. Then treat yourself to a good cup of coffee and a hot breakfast.

Shutter Speed 30 seconds.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 20mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Moonlight is sculpture."  --Nathaniel Hawthorne

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