Sunday, September 26, 2010

Photography at Night

Not that long ago, I purchased a used Nikon d50 digital SLR camera, and only recently started really playing around with the features. The feature that most interested me about this camera was the ability to take long exposure photographs - especially after I saw the northern lights a couple of times in Iqaluit - I wanted pictures.

Alaska Photo Graphics has a good page describing how to set up your camera (and yourself) to photograph the northern lights, but the online manual (and probably the non-online version) for my camera sucks. It happily describes the relationship between sensitivity, exposure, and aperture, but is terrible at describing HOW TO CHANGE THESE ON THE CAMERA. Isn't that the point?

There are some good online resources for digital photography, including the Digital Photography School.

A few things are key to photographing at night. The main one is long exposure. The max for my camera without getting a shutter release attachment is 30 seconds. The problem with long exposures is you need to keep the camera still. And I didn't have a tripod - so my images depended greatly on where I could find a stable surface on which to rest my camera...

Long exposure of lights, with a jittery hand...

Also, when you're in the city, it's hard to get the exposure just right. My images often turned out a little too bright, but it made for some neat effects.

Iqaluit at night

The second problem with photographing in the dark is FOCUS. The only trick I know for photographing the sky at night is to auto focus on something distant during the day, then switch your focus to manual and wait for night WITHOUT TOUCHING THE FOCUS. Not an easy task, and some of my photos could have had better focus.

Poorly focused image of boat.

All in all, it was a fun exercise. I never did get to see the northern lights after I figured out how to use my camera, but it probably would have been tough to take photos of the sky without a tripod anyhow... But I did learn a lot about my camera, and that next time I go north, I should bring my tripod. The rest of my photos are on my Picasa Web Album.

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