Street photography is a great genre of photography to practice in. If done well the images you capture can tell amazing stories. The great thing about street photography is that most people can do it without having to travel too far and it doesn’t require as much equipment as say landscape photography. While street photography during the day can be tricky, at night it becomes much more difficult. The combination of low light and handholding a camera can play havoc with your settings and the sharpness of your images. Fear, not here are 7 tips to help you capture better street photos at night.
Avoid using a flash
The first bit of advice that I can give you is to not use your flash. Unless you are experienced with using lights and have proper lighting set up, a flash will make your photos look worse. The harsh light will wash out the scene and you’ll end with photos that look like family snaps from point and shoot cameras. If you are going to use a flash, get yourself a diffuser so that it softens the light a little. You might be better off using LED lights instead of a flash. These are relatively inexpensive and can be placed off-camera without the need for triggers. They will allow a bit more creativity as to your lighting.
Get your settings correct
A big part of street photography at night is ensuring that you capture images that are not blurred. I say “not blurred” because your street photos at night don’t necessarily have to be pin-sharp as they might need to be during the day. But an acceptable level of sharpness can be difficult to achieve in night photography without a tripod. The first unavoidable thing that you will need to do is to increase your ISO. You simply will not be able to avoid doing this if you are shooting handheld at night. Depending on the scene you may need to select a very high ISO, but that will depend on the scene, your camera and your ability to hold a camera steady. You’ll also need to select a wide aperture (f/4.5 or wider) to allow enough light to come into the camera.
Acceptable level of blurriness
As mentioned above, for night street photography there is an acceptable level of blurriness that you can expect in your shots. Unless you are using models and lighting equipment, no one is expecting pin-sharp photos at night. But the level of blurriness will come down to the subject you are photographing. For example, a portrait of someone needs to be sharper than a street scene where people are walking. So try to concentrate on finding interesting scenes and compositions rather than fretting over the sharpness of your images. Night street photography is as much about capturing the mood and feeling of a place as it is about the technical perfection of the shot.
You will need some light
Your biggest challenge in night photography will be the limited light available. So try to find places where there is a source of light. That might be a street lamp, a shop window of even headlights from a car. The great thing is that in cities there are light sources everywhere so you can easily find places to compose your image around. Try to compose your image around the light source either as a focal point of your shot or as lighting for your subject. Also, be on the lookout for the colours of lights on show which can often look great at night. For example, a red glow on the ground from shop lights can give a wonderful photo.
Should you use a tripod?
In short, yes, of course, you can use a tripod. It comes down to the type of photo you want to capture. A tripod will mean you can set a long shutter speed without having to worry about the sharpness of your image. But this will give you a completely different photo than one that uses a fast shutter speed. With a slow shutter speed, you will capture light trails from cars and motion blur from people moving whereas a fast shutter speed will freeze the action. So it will come down to the type of shot you want to capture as to whether you use a tripod or not.
Shoot from the hip
This is a technique that you can use for street photography during the day as well. It involves having your settings selected and shooting without composing your shot by looking through the viewfinder. You would simply point the camera and shoot and hope that you have captured the scene correctly. If done well you can capture some great angles and shots that look completely natural and authentic. But the danger is you’ll miss your point of interest completely and focus on something in the background instead due to your shallow depth of field. For this reason, my suggestion would be to set your camera to autofocus if you are shooting from the hip. I would also recommend setting your camera to burst mode. Ensure you take plenty of memory cards as you’ll rattle through them quickly if shooting in burst mode.
Needless to say that anyone walking around with expensive camera equipment at night should be careful. Use your common sense as to where and who you photograph and try to avoid walking around with lots of gear. The more understated that you can be the safer you’ll be. If you are using a tripod, be aware of where you have put your backpack.
Nighttime street photography can yield wonderful results. But it will take patience and practice to perfect as the conditions are not easy. The main thing to remember is to ensure your shutter speed will be just fast enough to capture an acceptable level of sharpness. This will no doubt mean raising your ISO to be able to get a good exposure. Use the tips above next time you are taking night street photos and see if it helps you capture better photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.