08/06/11 486 W, 1 I - + 1 - 4 Secrets of Night Photography

Yesterday's photos on Kent Road turned out pretty good. Here's what happened, and how the pictures happened. Canon 40D, auto white balance, semi-spot metering. Shooting mode is Program Shift (P). That's what I always use.

The first set of photos, exterior fire attack in frame 1, started with 1600 ISO. That's the second-highest for my camera. There was too much motion and too little light, however. Only one of that series was a keeper. Then bumped the ISO to the highest setting, 3200.

By frame 4, the camera is facing the side of the structure. Still pretty dark. Still seeing a shutter lag that's longer than desired. The pics are still going to be blurry. (Mind you, this is all ambient light. Flash has been left in the car. Too many reflective surfaces to make that aesthetically effective.)

Next step is changing shooting mode, since the light is still rather low. Switch to Shutter Priority (tV), and begin spinning the dial until the shutter lag seems about right. Then, relocate to the rear corner of the structure (or, rather, the rear corner of the lot as facing the structure). The camera is now pointed toward a light source. This helps greatly. By this time, I have also removed the UV filter from the lens. That second piece of glass adds light specks and other unwelcome artifacts. Notably from all the various beacons and hand lights and any other source. 

Also in the mix is metering. For most of these shots, the first attempt is pointing directly and shooting. If the result is either too bright or too dark, I point at a slightly darker or slightly brighter spot, and press the meter lock button. Then take the picture again. Rinse and repeat, until a properly exposed picture is made. 

Let's see, what else to note? After 10 or 20 minutes, shooting mode was switched back to Program Shift (P). Used a special LED camera light for a couple shots, such as frame 47. Worked okay. Basically, like a sustained flash. For the roof shots, with the firefighter in silhouette, that's my second camera. Rebel XT, with a longer lens. The ISO goes only as high as 1600. But those shots were shooting into the light, the scene lights on the aerial bucket. That's the trick at night scenes. Shoot into the light.

Finally, for the portraits at the end, those are all also using the Rebel XT. They are flash photos, using the camera's pop-up flash. They are shot in close range, and with the camera cropping any reflective surfaces. The flash makes for harsher shadows, and an overall harsher image. But since those are people working at a fire scene, it effect works to the advantage of the image. In my opinion. See the entire set of photos. Ask questions as desired. Or offer tips! Help me take better photos!

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