Spiral Odyssey at Night

There are two types of photos that I get the most reaction from on Facebook. The first are pictures of my kids being cute. The photographic merits of the pictures don't matter much. As long as the cuteness coefficient is high, it's going to play well among my Facebook friends. My kids are rapidly approaching the age where they're not so cute anymore, so I intend to keep pumping water from that well until it's been run dry.

The second type are nighttime shots. They are always good for ohs and ahs. They just really resonate with people. And they're usually very easy to make.

You don't need much in the way of gear. A camera and a tripod is all.

The settings are pretty simple, although I go through some extra pains to ensure that the camera is perfectly still. After all, if I'm going to go through the trouble of lugging around a tripod, I just as well put in a little extra effort to eliminate any other source of blur.

Here are the settings I typically use:
  • Aperture-Priority Mode – Since the tripod effectively makes any shutter speed viable, I'll leave that decision up to the camera and make sure the aperture is set to achieve the depth of field that I want. In the photo above I wanted everything in focus, so I went with f/11. Most lenses start exhibiting diffraction at around f/5.6 or f/8, so by f/11 you're getting some resolution loss. But you have to weigh that against your desired depth-of-field. In this case, I was willing to sacrifice a little overall sharpness to get the buildings in focus.
  • Matrix Metering – (In the Land of the Canonites, it's called Evaluative Metering.) The Matrix seems to grok nighttime shots. I'm always concerned that it will try to compensate for the lack of light by over-exposing, but that rarely happens. If it did, I'd dial in some exposure compensation or I'd switch to manual exposure mode and chimp my way to a good exposure. But with this shot, and with night photography in general, it pretty much nailed it.
  • Manual ISO set to 100 – By using a tripod that will hold the camera steady for as long as necessary, you now have the luxury of locking down your ISO to the highest quality setting. Take advantage of that.
  • Exposure Delay Mode – This is a Nikon feature that inserts a configurable pause between the mirror raising and the shutter releasing. The idea is to allow time for any camera vibration induced by the mirror slap to die down before snapping the shutter. I imagine Canon has an equivalent feature but I don't know its name. If your camera has "mirror up mode" that will achieve the same effect.
  • 5-Second Timer – For a similar reason that I use Exposure Delay Mode, I also activate a short shutter release timer. I want any vibration I cause by pushing the shutter button to dissipate before the shutter is tripped. Alternatively, I'll use my wireless remote to trip the shutter so that I don't physically touch the camera.

Not including physically setting up your camera on the tripod, all of this is less than a minute of futzing around with your camera settings, assuming you're fairly familiar with its menu system. I use these settings enough that I've programmed a custom menu on my camera to include them so I have quick access.

If you don't have a tripod, then try to find something you can rest your camera on – a table, fence, tree, etc. The effort is worth it and your Facebook friends will be duly impressed. If you want to go for the double-whammy, then do a nighttime photo of your kids being cute!