Taking photos in near pitch black isn't the easiest thing to do, but I've got some tips and tricks to help you succeed.
At the time, my "mission" was more to capture the flow of the Yuba after the recent winter storm here in California. It was going to be a quick in and out. Get there, grab some shots of the Yuba River 49 Crossing Bridge from angles that I've photographed before. In addition, get some wide Panos and a few tighter shots with my 70-200 lens.
As the evening went on, I knew by the road work Caltrans was doing right up from the bridge might make for some interesting shots as part of the mountainside was lit up like a Christmas tree. With darkness quickly approaching, I decided to switch to manual focus mode with my wide-angle lens (16-35 Sony GM). With the only available light being that of the mountainside and the occasional passing car, I had to dial in my manual focus quickly, and the only way to do this was by focusing on lit objects that were a distance away (the mountainside). Once dialed in and a test shot was complete, I previewed the image to make sure everything was sharp and in focus. It was.
Once the manual focus ring was in place, I knew not to touch this as I'd use this same focus for the rest of the shots that evening. Composing a shot in near pitch black with just an iPhone flashlight isn't ideal, but I made it work. The real trick is a tripod, a sense of what and how you want to frame up the shot in the dark, and an in-focus lens that will capture the shot once that shutter button is clicked. Viola, that's it, that's pretty much the trick to grabbing those long exposure night shots, pre-FOCUS, and a TRIPOD. In addition to that, settings do matter too. For night stuff / long exposure / astrophotography, I've learned NOT to shoot at lower ISOs (e.g. 100-400) as the noise that the camera produces is just too much and 'red pixel' heat on the images. The trick is cranking up the ISO to 800-2000 and shooting at the highest possible aperture your lens is made for.
Long exposures at night can create some surreal scenes, you never quite know what you'll end up with.
Use the following guidelines to help with your night shots / long exposure / astrophotography:
- A fast lens (Aperture of 2.8 and below)
- Headlamp (don't use while exposing your shot)
- Manual focus your lens on light or a star in the distance, once focused, keep it!
- Shoot with a higher ISO than usual, e.g. 800-1000 works well for me and my Sony A7RIII.
- Post-process in Lightroom or Photoshop, you'll have some noise (grain), use the denoise feature to reduce some of this.
- Have a sense of where you want to take your shots beforehand so when darkness falls, you'll be ready.
- Experiment and have fun!