Thursday, November 26, 2009

Night Photography

Irondad (Musings of an Intrepid Commuter) (<-- click link) recently asked me a question about a mannequin in a window and what settings I used to take the photo. Unfortunately I was on my way to a Ukelele meeting (as an observer and backup singer) and I was more interested in taking video and only had my small point & Shoot (P&S) and cell phone in my pocket whist I was walking towards the cafe. I am always on the lookout for Blog material so it occurred to me to take photos along the way. Back in the film days I used to burn a lot of B&W film and spent considerable time processing them in my dark room. Digital cameras are easier and more cost effective. I don't know if this will make sense to anyone who is not a photographer or advanced amateur but I do have professional grade equipment (Film based) which mostly sit unexercised in a drawer or camera bag somewhere, but I usually carry more than one camera with me. Most often my Canon G10, and to protect it I also have a small Canon SD780is which I use as a sacrificial lamb. The problem with P&S cameras is that they are disposable. When they break they are not worth fixing. I dislike the fact that plastic gears are used to open and close the lens and I do turn my cameras on and off a lot to conserve battery power so I decided a while back to have another small less expensive camera which I can turn on and off to my hearts delight and save the mechanism of my better camera. On my Nikon dSLR I am able to leave it on all night or all day without draining the battery, and there is no opening or closing of the lens except that you cannot easily pack it in your pocket.
What I am trying to say in a long winded way is that when Irondad asked me what settings I used, I cannot say with certainty as I have no control over the exposure function of that P&S which does all the thinking for you. The exposure values flash on the screen as soon as you achieve autofocus lock (half button press). I have been noticing that the SD780is shoots wide open at F3.2 and the shutter was probably around 1/8" or 1/4"sec
I don't use my Nikon very much but tonight decided to ride down to False Creek to take a few night shots using a couple of different lenses. To give you an idea of where I was and a glimpse of the light conditions (or lack of light) here is a short video which sets the stage.

This started out as a standard definition video 480p using a Canon FS200 flash camcorder but reduced to 230p for uploading to YouTube

For timed exposures you need a very stable tripod. Tonight I am using a Manfrotto 055 tripod. It is medium duty but very stable and I also use it for my Toyo View 45A (4x5 view camera) without any problems. For motorcycle use I mounted a tool tube and carry a Manfrotto 714B. It is very small and will fit completely inside of a backpack without protruding.

(Manfrotto 055 tripod)

In order to establish a baseline for comparison I first used the kit lens on my Nikon D80 and took this first shot

(Nikon D80, 18-135 AF G-ED: 4.5 sec @ F7.1)

I am still not used to the digital F stops. In pre digital days it would have been: F2.8, 4, 5.6,8,11 & 16 . The sweet spot of the lens is between F5.6 - F8, so I manually selected the midpoint of F7.1 . Your lens is generally sharpest at this setting and sharpness drops off on either side.

I decided to change the lens and took another shot of the same scene

(Nikon D80, 60mm AF micro Nikkor D2.8: 6 sec @ F8)

The 60mm AF micro is a Prime lens and outperforms the 18-135 AF G-ED. I tried to change the white balance to Incadessant from Auto WB but while in the field, I did not notice any difference on the camera's screen. There is mixed lighting in the photo

I decided to try the same shot using my Canon G10 in manual mode. The problem with P&S cameras is that you cannot select a specific focal length (except for the new Canon S90). I know that the Canon G10 is great in daylight with Iso below 200, but this is the first time that I have used it for night exposures

(Canon G10: 6" sec @ F 5.0)

I decided to photograph a section of the Cambie Bridge with the apartment buildings on the left

(Nikon D80, 60mm AF micro Nikkor: 8" sec @ F8)

Here is a similar shot using the Canon G10 with a wider view to see how it handles the shadows with direct lighting on the bridge

(Canon G10: 5" sec @ F5.0 WB set to Tungsten)

I pointed my camera to the left away from the bridge where there was less ambient light and used a much longer exposure to compensate

(Canon G10: 15" sec @ F5.0)

and to finish off this series of photos, I mounted my 20mm AF-D Nikkor for this last shot

(Nikon D80, 20mm AF-D: 3" sec @ F8.0)

Life is full of compromises. Sometimes it's not convenient to take your best camera with you because of weight, size or convenience and we end up using our cell phone camera because that's all we were able to stuff in our pocket. Remember: a fuzzy picture is better than no picture. Happy photographing to all of you. If you have any questions, just ask.


EDIT: I forgot to mention: The Nikon D80 was set to ISO 200,
the Canon G10 was set at ISO 100, & the SD780is was set at ISO 200
The Canon FS200 was on standard mode, without using slow shutter.
The D80 and G10 were tripod mounted. The FS200 and SD780is were handheld


  1. I seem to always have trouble taking night photos. But have a post planned that willrequire at least some success. I do have a plan, partially from your suggestions.
    Your photos are nice once again.

  2. I don't understand all the "photograhers technology" but the photos are fab! Wish I could take such good night shots.

    Thanks for asking Bob, i'm fine - just had "writers block" for a while! lol

  3. Hi Bob,

    Another great informative piece, you said ''any questions''....Well WHITE BALANCE, is that to do with shadows??

    My 3 cameras here, (the most expensive being 70 USD) have trouble with shadows on a sunny day. The light here is very intense in summer, so is the light/shadow problem white balance or something else, the photos always turn out very dark...and if it is, then which way should I alter it.



  4. Nice images as usual Bob. I recently got a small tripod and am looking forward to the possibilities. These shots look similar to Portland at night. I'll copy you sometime...if you don't mind.

  5. cpa3485/jimbo:

    On most of my cameras I am able to shoot aperature priority, except for that small P&S. If you have no control over the settings, then the camera will most always shoot wide open which will make your photos less sharp and have min depth of field


    We worry about you. If I didn't see you post some comments on Dave's blog, I think I would have sent out a rescue team. Glad you are okay. If you have run out of words, then I would be alright with some of your stunning self portraits.


    White balance has to do with the colour temperature of the light, on night shots. Not shadow control in daylight. When I view your posted photos, they seem okay with me. Email me a sample to: and let me take a look at it.
    Sometimes sensors on less expensive cameras may be the problem. Also you could be shooting your subject with a lot of backlight which will fool the meter by thinking that there is enough light for the exposure when in reality it is underexposing which creates lack of contrast, which this may be what you are referring to. Once I have a sample, then perhaps I may determine the solution.


    I believe you have a more capable camera than I (Canon 5D if I recall). I purchased my Nikon D80 when it first came out over 2 years ago. Instead of upgrading to a D90 or other dSLR I decided to purchase the Canon G10 when it came out and since then I haven't used my Nikon much even though a have lenses from my film cameras. I also meant to take my Nikon 80-200 2.8 ED but in my haste I left it at home.
    When I ride, it's as much for photography as for the wind in your face. I often pull over to let traffic pass so I can meander and look at the scenery. I am always on the lookout for scenic beauty.
    By all means share your photos. I think I have some good ones of Mt Hood taken from Panorama lookout. That's the problem with riding in a group. There were 6 of us and we rode to Timberline Lodge for lunch. Under these circumstances it is hard to be stopping all the time for photos.
    There is no reason to stop photographing just because the sun goes down.

  6. Bob,
    In addition to the G10, I have a Canon 30D which I hardly use. I had a D70 and was always a Nikon guy with film but a couple of years ago I sold all of it on ebay and caved in to Canon for the CMOS sensor. Now, as you know, Nikon has it.

    I also have a Panasonic FX9 with a Leica lens. As you say, this is the sacrificial lamb. It's only 6mp but the lens is nice.

    Next time you come to Oregon with your Wee we'll ride and take plenty of photos.


  7. I'm honored that you would do a post for me! As well as taking time to do the comparison photos.

    I read the articles on the histrogram. You're right, there's a lot more depth than I realized. I had no idea of the five zones, for example.

    It looks like the Nikon with a prime lense does the best. I've been using the G11 a bit. Canon downgraded the pixel count from the G10 to 10 million on the G11. They say it takes sharper photos with less pixels on the same size sensor. I'm going to post some photos from it soon. They are pretty sharp.

    Interesting with the G10 photo of the bridge with the white balance set to tungsten. When I do that with the Nikon inside a hotel room, for example, it gives my photos a bluish tint. Must be the fact that the bridge lights are farther away.

    This is incredibly fascinating!

  8. Mike:

    I've been mainly Nikon. I had one of the first FTN's, FM, FM2, F3, 601, 8008 and still have my F100. For a few years I sold everything and switched to Canon too. Elan, Elan2, AE1, F1n, A2E, then sold everything and switched back to Nikon. I still have my AI lenses and a few non AI. I also have MF & LF stuff and some Leica M6's & LTM.


    I didn't want to mention anything until you read the articles. Basically you shoot as far to the right as possible without going "over". Set your camera to display the histogram on your preview setting so it displays after every shot. If you are 25% underexposed you could be throwing away up to half of your pixels, or introduce noise, or have lack of contrast.

    Your hotel room may have a mix of Tungsten and Flourescent, so try the flourescent setting next time, or change to B&W mode. I can't remember if my G10 has a custom Kelvin WB setting or not. It may have been the Nikon.

    I like the idea of the G11's articulating screen. They are great for LOW or Overhead shots.

    Prime lenses should yield the best results, as zooms are a compromise for all focal lengths

    Enjoy your camera and experiment

  9. Thank you for commenting on my blog! I enjoyed reading this post and looking through your blog.

    I am a very amateur photographer with a Nikon D 60 dSLR I hope to find some photography classes in order to be able to use it more fully. Right now it stays on an auto setting.

    I did manage to get some great shots using it in a few National Parks this summer (links are in my blog sidebar under "National Parks" in the Labels) It's easy when the subject is stunning!

    There is so much to learn isn't there?

  10. Dear Bobskoot:

    I though every shot in this collection was fascinating, regardless of the settings.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twiated Roads

  11. BFF,

    I am struck by our similar taste. I too own the Nikon D80 (although I've been ignoring it now that I have the D300) and I have a Manfrotto pro tripod. I have found that carrying a Manfrotto super clamp with standard stud works better on the motorcycle than transporting a tripod. I recommend it highly. It can be clamped on to anything. I even know of motorcyclist who clamp it to their handle bars and use it to take videos with the p&s. Thanks for the great pics