Night Photography - This is a question that almost always comes up on safari, especially in destinations where night drives are permitted.
There have been numerous times when I have been out on safari, the light starts to fade and the photographers start to pack their gear away. In terms of a photographic portfolio, this is a great chance to expand on your portfolio - pick up your camera and try. Why? Because if you can push yourself, leave your comfort zone and experiment, the results can be quite spectacular. This blog isn't just about night photography but also about - Have you ever tried rim light photography?
80% of my wildlife photography, I shoot in Aperture Mode. There is no right or wrong way to do it, it just comes down to personal preference and what mode you feel most comfortable in. The key in that sentence is the word ''Comfortable". Early morning or late afternoon, I generally still shoot on Aperture priority but may change my metering mode to spot metering instead of matrix or evaluative metering. The reason for this is so that I can use spot metering to correctly expose for my subject in touch light. To create a faster shutter speed, I will often play with exposure compensation, this may result in a slightly darker image, but making do with the best of the situation, you can always lighten it up after the fact. Just remember - an image is always savable, as long as you don't burn out the dark areas or wash out the bright areas. This also comes down to the conditions you're shooting in and the result that you are after.
I don't want to get sidetracked, but there are two very good ways to capture images using a spotlight.
Easiest way is to stay on Aperture Priority mode, switch to spot metering and UNDER expose by two full stops. This will keep the dark areas dark, keeping a fast shutter speed and expose correctly for the subject. Have a look at the two images below...
Both images were taken with a spotlight on Aperture priority mode. I think we can all agree now that once the light starts to fade and the spotlight comes out, it is definitely not the time to put the camera down.
The second method that we can use is to shoot on full manual. This allows us to control every single setting on our camera. It can be difficult but the more knowledge you have on shooting in manual the easier it becomes.
Normally, once the spotlight comes out, I ALWAYS switch to manual. Why? That's just what I feel comfortable shooting in. I like to be able to manage my ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, all depending on how far the subject is to me, whether it's moving and how strong the spotlight is that we are using.
My go-to settings as a starting point on manual are as follows.
ISO - 3200
Aperture - F2.8(if available) if not, then as low as my lens can go, remember we want to allow as much light through the lens as possible.
Shutter speed: If the subject is stationary, I start with about 1/160 of a second. If my subject is on the move, I work out a distance in my mind of where I want to capture the subject and set my shutter to about 1/320 or 1/400 of a second knowing that being in manual I have one chance to get the shot I'm after. This is another reason why I love shooting in Manual, it forces me to think about the image I want to create a bit more. Shooting on aperture priority, your camera will constantly adjust the shutter speed automatically as your subject approaches you and with the settings above, they will give you great results.
Talking about night photography and Rim lighting. What do I mean by Rim lighting? This isn't always possible, but if you are in a sighting with another vehicle, allowing the other vehicle to park (or repositioning yourself) at a 90 degree angle to you or even directly opposite you creates this very mysterious feeling about your subject. With rim light photography, you are not looking for any detail in the face or body, you are looking to highlight key features, an animal's nose, ears or main. If the subject isn't completely backlit, it allows you to then be more creative and capture some catch light in your subjects eye which also adds to the mood of the picture.
Take a look at these images below to get an idea of what I am talking about...
I really do hope that you find the above helpful and that you can use either of the methods I used to better your night photography and build on your photographic portfolio.
Most importantly, this kind of photography can be frustrating if your subject is moving around, but what you need to remember is that it should be fun! Play around, push your boundaries and enjoy being out in the field.
Until next time,