Capturing scenes in low light remains one of the most challenging aspects of photography, yet the results when executed well can be truly captivating. Whether it’s an energetic cityscape or ethereal seascape the possibilities are endless. Here are a few essentials points to consider before you begin.
1. It’s a good idea to formulate a plan of attack before the twilight hour so scout out a position while there is another available light and grab a few set up shots to make sure your scene works and will be free from distracting objects. Cityscapes are best viewed from a distance, whereas seascapes are more dramatic nearer to the shoreline. Consider compositional elements to add scale, interest and context. When twilight occurs you’ll only have around 20-30 minutes of optimum shooting time so be ready for all eventualities.
2.The best time to shoot a low light scene starts just half an hour before the sunsets until an half an hour or so after wards as this will produce beautiful colouration in the sky; resonating in a display of pinks, purples, reds, oranges eventually fading into an enigmatic blue. This shade of sky is more useful than the night sky as exposure times can be reduced if and helps to define the subjects within the scene.
3.The key to flawless low light shots is long exposure which means slow shutter speeds so a sturdy tripod is unquestionably your most vital accessory. Manfrotto and Gitzo produce solid but light products which are ideal for landscape shooters. However, the ever portable and incredibly flexible gorillapod can be a great boon when creative angles or positions are desired. By supporting your camera you will be able to lower the sensitivity and decrease noise but leave the shutter open for as long as necessary without the worry of blur.
4.If you are without a tripod but can’t resist a capture then look around for some other form of support, be it the top of a wall, the top of a rubbish bin, a fence, the ground, your rucksack or even your shoe – there are many ways to get around this problem. If there are literally no objects to support your kit from underneath, try leaning against a building or strong structure instead and press the camera into it and support it as calmly as possible with your hand underneath.
5.So start by setting your camera upon a solid tripod and switching the unit to manual or shutter priority if you are wish. Lower the ISO to 100 (for some DSLRs you may need to access a sub menu to find this value) and dial in a shutter speed of 15 to 20 seconds (this will take some trial and error to find the optimum value). In terms of aperture you are going to want capture a longer depth of field to ensure far off elements within your scene remain in focus so try varying from f9 to f14.
6.In relation to lenses the faster the better and a healthy wide angle will draw the whole scene in, something like a 12-24mm or a 10.5 fisheye can produce exciting results. However a zoom lens can be of benefit when shooting a city scene to pull in sections of the skyline or play with perspective.