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Nighttime photography

edited December 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
I want to take some pictures at night. As a beginner, can some one give us some tips and pointers for getting the best results using a D3200 Nikon camera?

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  • edited December 2015
    It depends a little on what you want to achieve, but if you're putting the camera on a tripod, as is probably necessary, I would start by keeping the ISO as low as you can, so as to avoid excessive noise.

    There is a long exposure noise reduction feature you can enable on this camera, and when it is enabled, this can help a little. However, it does its job by taking a second picture with the shutter closed, for the same duration as the original, and this means that every shot will take twice as long. That's OK most of the time, but you need to know so as not to be surprised at the delay.

    Try for the lowest ISO you can get away with. If you're taking people at night who are lit up more than the environment, you may have to up the ISO, especially if you're trying to do it without a tripod. Shots of people and locally lit subjects will usually suffer less from noise than more scenic shots in which the dark areas are important. The noise is still there, but it's less important when it's not the subject. You may have to do a fair amount of experimenting to find what suits you here.

    If you're shooting without a tripod, you will probably have to use a high ISO and use the largest aperture (lowest F stop) you have, to avoid motion blur.

    For exposures over 30 seconds, you need to put the camera in manual mode, and there is no built in "time" exposure only "bulb" which requires that you continue to hold down the button; hard to do without jiggling. For a proper time exposure, you need the wireless remote. When you use this in "bulb" mode, the first push of the button opens the shutter, and the second closes it, making for hands-free long exposures. If you do a lot of night photography, this very cheap accessory is a must, as it's the only way this camera will do a true time exposure.

    If you use the camera's meter without compensation, most nighttime scenes will come out looking too bright, more like moonlight, as the meter tries to make an image average out to the equivalent of gray. This can be an interesting effect, but only if you want it. You have several choices here. You can put the camera on manual mode (and make sure auto ISO is off) and expose to your own taste. You can compensate the meter, or within some limits, you can go ahead and let the meter do its thing, shoot Raw files, and use View NX2 or Capture NXD to lower the exposure by a couple of stops in post. If two stops is enough, doing it in post has the advantage that it also decreases noise by the same amount. Two stops is all View NX2 can do on a raw file, but that can accomplish a lot.

    Capture NXD offers a bit more exposure latitude, and also includes further noise reduction possibilities. This program is free from the Nikon web site. It does much the same thing as View NX2 but has a few more options, including noise reduction, and more sophisticated sharpening.

    There is also a new View NX program, however some people have reported that they don't like it, and that it overwrites the View NX2 program that comes with your camera. So I would skip that one.

    Auto focus will probably not work well at all in the dark, unless you focus on some specific light point, so you'll probably have to use manual focus. If you do use auto focus, you're probably best off with single point single servo focus, which will allow you to recompose, or with back button focus, which also allows you to recompose after focusing. But because the camera has focus priority when in AF mode, if it does not find focus it will not fire. Switch to manual focus then.

    If you're using a tripod (and it's almost certain you will be) then you can also use live view and that will help greatly in obtaining good manual focus.

    Live View uses the last aperture setting for the view. For this reason, it helps to open the lens up before switching it on, to avoid a dark screen. You can set aperture afterwards, and it will shoot correctly. Subsequent viewings will use the last aperture you used again, so the view may be dark. If it's too dark, exit LV, open up the lens, and then turn LV back on.

    And as always, remember this is a digital camera, which means you can take zillions of experimental shots, and just erase them. Experiment and have fun, and don't be afraid to try everything.

    Edit to add: If you're trying to control ISO don't forget to turn off Auto ISO. Set your ISO manually, and if you're on a tripod, control your aperture with manual of A mode, and let the shutter speed be whatever is required.
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