When you are taking night snaps, there are significant advantages of using a bright prime lens, which allows you to capture blur-free and sharp images. In the following, I will explain some professional techniques to bring out the excellent performance of the prime lens through examples of snap shots that include portrait subjects. After reading this article, I am sure you will grow to love photography with prime lenses even more. (Reported by: Ryosuke Takahashi)
EOS 5D Mark II/ EF35mm f/2/ Aperture-priority AE (1/30 sec., f/2.0, -0.7EV)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
35mm Bright Prime Lenses Highly Recommended
With light leaking from the store as the main source, I took this handheld shot using the compact and lightweight EF35mm f/2. Thanks to the bright maximum aperture, I could obtain a shutter speed of 1/30 second with only a small amount of light, and the resulting shot was free of both camera shake and subject blur. Also, with the wide background captured by the 35mm angle of view to convey the surrounding conditions, this lens is the ideal choice for night snaps. If you are using the EF35mm f/2 IS USM, which is the successor model of Canon's EF35mm f/2, you can reduce camera shake further with the IS (Image Stabilizer) effect that is equivalent to about four shutter speed stops.
Night Snaps Produced by a Bright Maximum Aperture
Step 1: Select the maximum aperture in the Av mode
Unless you have a specific photographic intention in mind, set to the maximum aperture when you are composing a handheld night snap, as stopping down the aperture slows down the shutter speed (lengthens the exposure time), which increases the likelihood of a blurry shot. So, pay attention to avoid stopping down the aperture unnecessarily without a valid reason.
Step 2: Set the ISO speed
Raise the ISO speed according to the brightness of the shooting location until you have obtained a shutter speed sufficient for handheld photography. If you are using a lens with a focal length of 35mm, the shutter speed should be about 1/30 second. While it is possible to make use of the ISO Auto feature, the ISO setting selected by the camera may become too high at a dimly-lit location. If your emphasis is on the image quality, select the ISO speed manually instead.
Tip: Set a maximum limit for ISO Auto
For most of the EOS models, you can set a maximum ISO speed limit for the ISO Auto feature. By doing so, you do not have to worry that the ISO speed would exceed the preset limit regardless of how dark the surroundings are. You are recommended to make good use of this feature, as it allows night snaps to be captured with ease while maintaining a high image quality.
Step 3: Use light penetrating from the store as the main source
To take a portrait shot, for example, the subject needs to be illuminated. Here, I used light leaking from the store as the main light source. With the Auto white balance setting selected, I utilized the red color that is unique to incandescent lamps without making any adjustment. When you are taking a night snap, it is best not to correct the color temperature of the main light source excessively in order to convey the atmosphere of the surroundings.
Step 4: Pay attention to the orientation of the face and shadow
As illustrated in the example, if you are capturing the portrait subject using light illuminated from an angle, take a shot with the face in the direction of the light source. Although the shadow may become too strong for some light sources, control the light and shadow to eliminate any difference in brightness while altering the orientation of the face. For night snaps, you have to pay even greater attention to the direction of the light and shadow.
Column: Bringing out Light and Shadow in Handheld Night Snaps
There are many themes suitable for night snaps besides portrait subjects. For example, it is enjoyable to capture streetscapes at night, or produce works with light as the main theme to bring out the characteristics of a night photo. Since there are no bright light sources similar to the sun in a night snap, prime lenses with a small aperture value, such as the EF35mm f/2, is an ideal choice. Also, since prime lenses are generally compact and light in design, it can be mounted to the camera and carried around at all times, so you can release the shutter as and when you come across any interesting subject.
Born in Aichi in 1960, Takahashi started his freelance career in 1987 after working with an advertising photo studio and a publishing house. Photographing for major magazines, he has travelled to many parts of the world from his bases in Japan and China.