Creating beautiful scenes at night can be difficult and sometimes frustrating if you don’t have the experience needed to master your camera settings.
Knowing the correct focus settings, shutter speed, aperture and ISO does take the time to master, so hopefully this article provides you some clear insight into photographing at night or in low light.
To start with you need to understand what type of camera you are using because all cameras perform differently when capturing the same scene. For instance, is the camera a heavy digital SLR, premium compact camera or lightweight rangefinder?
Based on what type of camera you are using many of the same settings apply, however, there will be variances in shooting technique due to the way the camera performs. An example of this can be found between a digital SLR and a rangefinder like the new Fujifilm X-Pro2.
At the Vivid Festival in Sydney, Australia the light instalments attract large crowds and there are plenty of opportunities to photograph in low light. The problem is when there is little light falling on a subject, focusing can become a struggle. This wasn’t the case for the new X-Pro2 rangefinder though. Using one of the advanced features on the X-Pro2 it was easy to overcome the out of focus hurdles that many Digital SLR might have struggled with.
Photograph a low light scene from the festival with a shallow depth of field.
To achieve the shallow depth of field in low light shown in this photo above there were a few settings that needed to be set on the camera. The first was changing the camera to aperture priority and selecting F1.2 as the aperture. This would give a shallow depth of field. The second step was to select manual focus on the front of the X-Pro2.
Now that manual focus was selected the attention turned to the rear of the camera to change the manual focus mode. To select the correct mode simply hold down the rear dial and ensure ‘Focus Peak Highlight’ is selected. If you don’t see this mode when you first hold down the rear dial, continue the process to cycle through the other modes until Focus Peak Highlight appears.
Next, select your desired ISO setting based on the amount of light in the scene. Don’t be afraid to use high ISO likes ISO 2000 through to ISO 5000 or even higher as Fujifilm cameras are famous for their low noise at high ISO’s when photographing in low light scenes.
At this stage make sure you are using the electronic viewfinder on the X-Pro2 as this will provide the huge advantage of being able to see in low light. If you are looking through the viewfinder found on a larger Digital SLR you won’t be able to see in the same lighting conditions because the optical viewfinder will not be able to gather enough light. This is one of the biggest advantages of low light photography on a mirrorless camera like the X-Pro2 over a Digital SLR.
The only way around this on a Digital SLR is to utilise the rear LCD screen as the ‘viewscreen’. This shooting setup almost always leads to a higher chance of capturing an out of focus image or a blurry photo due to the camera missing focus and not being as supported next to the photographer’s’ eye like a rangefinder camera would. Plus, you are bound to get a sore back from holding a heavy camera away from your body all the time!
Finally, while looking through the electronic viewfinder adjust the smooth focus ring on the lens and you will be able to see areas within your frame ‘peaking’ (you can’t do this on a Digital SLR). What is peaking?
It means the camera will automatically add a thin white and black line around every object, and at the sharpest point-of-focus, these lines will suddenly ‘peak’. This peaking area equates to the area of sharpest focus in the frame. Therefore, if you nail the peaking on your subject, you will nail your focus every time!
As shown in the video below, you can also change the colour and contrast of the focus peaking lines to see them more clearly. The viewfinder shown in the video is from the Fujifilm X-T1.
Remember, photographing in low light can be a challenge and we encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new setting. Practice the new setting when there is plenty of light and then master it before you attempt a low light scene. You should know where all your settings are without having to look at your camera. Master this and you will go far.