Case Study: Night Shot

Our first case study was submitted by our regular visitor Dennis, who lives in Singapore. Here is the description of his problem:

Hi Nasim, I have tried night shots using 35mm f/1.8G. It is a landscape shot with river reflecting street lamps. I do it handheld, aperture mode, f1.8, shutter 1/5sec, ISO 1600. Strangely despite a dark black sky, the shot came out reddish sky and the center focus point have some reflected light that shouldn’t be there. I tried to shoot other night shots on sky, it appeared to have this reflected light. The pattern is random, depends on what I shoot. I don’t understand why. Do I have to take out the UV filter attached on it? I have read through these tips, but couldn’t understand what causes this to happen. Yours look sharp!

Dennis sent me the following picture as an example, which was taken in a public park in Singapore:

Case Study: Night Shot

Case Study: Night Shot

Here are my comments on the photo, along with the solution to the problem:

  1. Since the image was shot at 1/5th of a second @ ISO 1600 (I looked at the EXIF Data), there are clear signs of camera shake and noise when the image is viewed at 100%. Photographing scenes like this hand-held is not recommended, because you not only introduce camera shake, but also unnecessary noise due to high ISO. The camera shake happened because the hand-holding rule was not followed. If you put your camera on a tripod or some other stationary object, you could have used ISO 200 and a very slow shutter speed without introducing camera shake.
  2. Another problem is that you shot the scene at f/1.8 or “wide open”. It is understandable that there was not enough light, but when you take a picture of a scene like this at maximum aperture, due to the small depth of field, your nearby objects will all appear out of focus.
  3. In a night scenery like this, it is tough for the camera to guess what the right white balance is, due to a mixture of natural and artificial lights. If you shoot in RAW, you can change white balance in Lightroom later.
  4. The image is not leveled. When you take images of straight objects or horizon/reflections hand-held, always try to align the horizontal grid inside the viewfinder with the horizon or straight line. Although it is easy to level an image in Lightroom, you would lose a significant portion of the image, because Lightroom would have to cut off from all sides to properly level the image.
  5. The spots you are seeing in the sky and in the water are lens ghosting/flare. This might have also been due to a filter that you have in front of the lens. Did you buy a quality filter? Is it an MRC (multi-coated) filter? Try a test next time, go to a similar location with lots of light, take a picture and if you see ghosting like this, remove the filter and take another picture. Then compare the two to see if it is the filter causing it. In this case, it is very simple to remove the ghosting spots in Lightroom, but I bet you do not want to deal with it. Unfortunately, many lenses suffer from ghosting/flare and it is quite normal to have these kinds of issues when shooting against bright spots of light. Only the expensive, ultra wide-angle lenses are capable of producing images with minimum flare…
  6. So, what would I have done if I took the same scene with your camera? I would have either put the camera on a tripod (ideally), or put it on something that does not move, then set ISO to 200 (Auto ISO: Off), set aperture to f/8 or f/10 and shot in RAW. If flare spots were caused by the lens, I would have to deal with them in post-processing. Removing those spots in Lightroom does not take much time…

Comments

  1. 1
    ) sm
    April 6, 2010 at 8:17 am

    hi Nasim,

    Great tip as always. I love this segment format. Hope everyone in your family gets well soon.

    • April 7, 2010 at 1:54 am

      SM, thank you! I will be posting more case studies later this week.

      Do you have something you would like to ask/post as a case study?

  2. 2
    ) Pasquier
    April 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Great idea Nasim to host a Tech Tip section – like it very much.
    Hope the family gets well soon. P.

    • April 7, 2010 at 1:55 am

      Thank you Pasquier! I just wish I had more time to post more in the Tech section of the blog…

  3. 5
    ) Christophe
    April 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    I agree, great idea to start a “case study” section. I also agree that for such a shot a tripod is a must. This being said I am not a fan of shooting RAW and modifying my file in Lightroom or any other software. Maybe I am old school but I like to make sure my parameters are just right to get directly out of camera the shot I want. In this particular case I think I would have shot the scene in Manual mode with my camera on a tripod. Then I would have set my aperture to f/8 or f/10 as recommended by Nasim. Then I would have pointed my camera to the reflected lights in the water and adjusted my shutter speed till my light meter indicated a correct exposure. Finally I would have recomposed the shot with these parameters to obtain a dark black sky as you observed it on site. Does this make sense guys?

    • April 23, 2010 at 9:28 pm

      Christophe, I have just noticed that I forgot to reply to your comment, sorry about that :)

      I agree with what you’ve said about doing everything in camera. However, there are some things like white balance that I set in post processing, because I prefer not to waste my time setting it every time the lighting conditions change. I simply set it to Auto and if my camera picks the wrong white balance, I can change it in Lightrom later. In addition, there are some things like hot pixels and sensor dust that are very easy to fix in Lightroom.

      Thanks for your suggestions, your points are all valid and I agree with them.

  4. 6
    ) Dennis
    April 9, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for the advices, Nasim. I haven’t get the chance to return to the same spot yet. Not until I equipped myself with a tripod for this kind of shots. Will share with all again after I have tried.

    Wish you and your family a speedy recovery.

    • April 23, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      Dennis, I published my tripod article and I hope you found it useful. Please let me know if you have any questions.

  5. 7
    ) Girish
    April 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for your advise Nasim. I had similar kind of problem with the same lens while I was shooting London bridge at night. There were greenish spots in the photographs. But when I removed the UV filter the these spots disappeared. I also noticed that without UV filter the shutter speed was bit faster in Aperture priority mode.

    Is it okay to have UV filter on the lens in night photography?

    • April 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      Girish, what kind of a UV filter are you using? Always make sure that you use the highest quality filters from B+W, Hoya and Tiffen with MRC. High quality filters should have a minimal impact on lens performance. A standard UV filter should not decrease the amount of light entering through the lens and decrease shutter speed. Perhaps you are using a polarizing filter?

  6. 11
    ) George Gutierrez
    August 26, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Nasim,

    After reading this post… I also have an issue with Night time Photography. I don’t know where to send the photo for your critique. Is there is link here?? Please advise. Thanks.

    I can also sent the photo via Facebook if that helps. Thanks again.

    These are my settings.
    Shutter at 4 sec
    Aperture at f/8.0
    Shutter Priority
    ISO 200
    On a Tripod with

    • September 2, 2010 at 1:05 am

      George, you can upload your image to Flickr and send me a link, or you can simply respond to this comment via your email when you receive it with an image attached.

  7. 12
    ) George Gutierrez
    August 26, 2010 at 5:40 am

    Oops.. I forgot to write what the issue was with my photo.

    The lights in the photo appear to be really hot and they blur the photo. I have tried different settings, ISO and Exposure. I have taken about 50 photos of the same location with the same problem. Please help. Thanks.

    • September 2, 2010 at 1:05 am

      George, send me the photo and I will take a look.

  8. 15
    ) Jun
    September 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Hey Nasim,

    I just wanna ask you how to watermark photos and fix light ghostings/flares in Lightroom 3.
    Thanks in advance!

    Jun

    • October 4, 2010 at 10:36 am

      Jun, Lightroom 3 does offer some watermarking capabilities, so you should be able to do it without any problems. They even allow using images as watermarks, which is great.

      As for fixing flares – if the flares are very small, you can use the circular copy tool to copy an area from a different spot of the image to get rid of the flare. However, if the flare is big, you will have to use Photoshop. In some cases, you might not be able to get rid of the flare at all, even in Photoshop.

  9. February 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Nasim,

    Thank you for taking the time to post these case studies. As someone being new to photography I can tell you that they are beginning to be a great help to me.

    Thanks,
    Joseph Crawford

  10. 18
    ) Liene
    February 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Dear Nasim, thank you, I am so impressed with your in-depth analysis! I find your Case Study extremely helpful and probably the best in whole internet. It’s so user friendly and so easy to understand and to test re-applying your advised settings! Very education and I just admire that you take your time and share your knowledge. As well as inspirational photographer you are! Thank you!

  11. 19
    ) francis
    April 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Hi Mr Nasim.

    I just happen to get to know about your website.

    I am keen to learn from you about photo taking.

    Thanks

  12. 20
    ) francis
    April 11, 2011 at 4:20 am

    how to shot night portait with DSLR camera

  13. 21
    ) Paul Drinkwater
    June 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Mr Nasim,

    I too am looking forward to exploring your site in greater detail and learning more.

    I recently went out on a night shoot just to see what sort of images I could capture. I found that playing around with the f stop (f13-f22) I was able to produce some nice light ‘star’ piercing effects from the lights. However, I found it hard to try a keep these effects and have a natural looking tone (as to that of the bright yellow light tone). Just wondered if you had any suggestions on this (sorry if this is something you already covered, I’m still looking through the site).

    Paul

    Oh just to point out I also used a remote timer and bulb setting on my camera.

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