poolI‘ve been taking digital photos now for about a year, and what I’ve learned more than anything else is awe for those that really know the art — the combination of aesthetic sense and technological know-how that together produce a great picture. I’ve had to settle for photos that are serendipitous and fortuitous — the result of being in the right place at the right time, such as my crow and blue jay pictures.

I’m a night person. I love to walk at night — my senses seem to sharpen and I see more and feel more than I do during the day. But I’ve found night photography extremely frustrating. The only three night photos I’ve taken that have been at all successful are this one and the two shown here. I have no idea why they worked relatively well, while most of my night shots are indistinct, overly red-shifted and lacking in clarity and accuracy. I can’t get the detail of tree leaves and fronds in the lamplight at all.

Here are the details of what I use and how I take my night shots:

  • treeCamera: Fujifilm Finepix 3800 (3.2 Mpx, 6x zoom)
  • Picture Setting: Quality 2M, Night Setting auto-exposure
  • Tripod and umbrella
  • Software: Finepix Image Viewer and several different image processing tools (Adobe, MIC, etc.)

Any hints would be welcome. I’ve read the manual and it’s not very helpful. And if you’ve taken a night photo you’re especially proud of, please link to it in the comments below and tell me how you did it!

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  1. I’m not familiar with that camera, but if it allows you to shoot manually, you might try bracketing (taking several shots of the same scene at different exposures). That way you would increase your chances of obtaining the best exposure.It’s not a good idea to judge the exposure using the camera’s display. They’re notorious for displaying images inaccurately. Take several shots at different exposures, and pick the best one once you’ve downloaded them to your computer.

  2. george says:

    i actually have your exact camera. I also have alot of troubles with night photos… haven’t figured out why yet. I see complaints about it for night shooting all over the net… haven’t found a solution yet.

  3. Kate says:

    Nice shots, Dave.Kevin’s advice is great. I have a Fuji too, though it’s the 6900. I’m very frustrated with it. I find it difficult to get good low light shots in general, though especially at night. I’ve been spoiled by my film camera, a lovely Contax G2. I’ve taken pictures in the middle of the night HAND HELD and they’ve come out beautifully. It’s hard to beat that.I expect digital cameras will continue to improve in the coming years. Eventually they will be as good as film cameras and approximately the same cost. Until then, we’ll all fool around as much as we can and see what comes. At least fooling around is cheap with a digital camera!

  4. Kevin says:

    By the way, I love the bluebird shot.

  5. Philip says:

    Dave,Not many cameras take “night” shots very well in automatic mode. There are often points of light that do not take up enough space in the scene to get properly exposed. Typically they get overexposed as in your moon shot. If you wanted a silhouette then it isn’t a bad picture composition may have been better.Your camera does not provide full manual control unfortunately you can only opt for aperature priority and even then there are only three choices. You can bracket the shot and choose to under expose the shot up to -3ev. This may not be enough control to get what you are after. Each shot will be different Unfortunately your camera does not have an autobracket mode where each shutter release takes three pictures at different ev’s.Often you have to accept the limitation of your equipment and learn to shoot with it. This means setting aside time to experiment and recording your observations. If I was to tell you many night shots can be taken with ASA 100 film at F4.5 with an exposure of .5 seconds you can’t tell your camera to take that exposure. You are at the mercy of the camera’s electronics. You have to have the right tools for the job.The fact that your camera is inconsistant may be that each picture is different. Some mixes of light an dark fit the programmed curve in your camera other pictures are off the exposure curve due to many factors (ususally composition). For best results bracket the shot, be aware of hot spots and reflected light. If the scene is not split between 50% light and dark average center weighting is going to be a problematic metering solution.Point and shoot night shots are serendipity. Yes you can take a perfect night exposure but you need control to do so. When you don’t have the control you need you can use the shotgun school of photography takes lots of pictures with different composition and subjects and if you are lucky one or two will turn out great. Trust me for most “photographers” this is how it works.Your next camera should have a full manual mode allowing you to set aperature and shutterspeed. It would be nice to have different metering options (spot metering allows you to set the exposure from a small portion of the scene you are viewing. An exposure hold would allow you to set an exposure close to a light source and then move the camera preserving the right exposure for a certain lighting situation. Auto bracketing can save time if you want to bracket.These features are found on the “prosumer” camera they also have point an shoot modes so you don’t have to think when you don’t want to.Nothing works better than practice. Great shots can be “made” but you have to know your equipment and what it can do. The camera isn’t the eye, being able to “see” with the lens of the camera takes practice.Eventually it is like any melding of man and machine (think music) when you know your instrument you can do “magic”.

  6. Reilly says:

    Use a tripod and bracket, exposing for up to several minutes.Realize that light sources will be horrible overexposed, but that can look good sometimes.Use a tripod and “paint with light,” taking the flash off the camera and walking around popping it at various places in the scene during the exposure, making sure your sillouette doesn’t get between the lighted part and the camera.To deal with uneven exposure when there is a light source in the picture, see if you can get the light source turned off: if you make a 3-minute exposure, and you can get the owner of a Coke vending machine to pull the plug after the first 5 seconds, the picture may work.For scenes with pavement, it looks good to wet it down with a hose when shooting at night.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Kevin L, Kate, Kevin C, Philip, Reilly: Thanks for the expert advice. I will experiment with different time exposures, get lots more practice, and take some notes of what I did for each shots so I have a better idea of WHY some shots worked better than others. The idea of ‘painting with light’ over very long exposures sounds fascinating though I’ll have to use a separate light source since my flash isn’t detachable. Kevin C, love the night shots with the neon-lighting — you have a great sense of composition, and rain always seems to help both the picture quality and mood of night shots.George, Kate et al: It’s encouraging to know others struggle with this as much as I do. Gives me hope that with enough practice I might get good, and with enough comfort with the technology I can stop worrying about light, shadow and exposure and start concentrating more on composition. I can ‘see’ detail in trees at night that I can only capture on ‘film’ up close, which makes me think I may be expecting too much of the camera (or perhaps getting high on the scenery and hallucinating!)

  8. Dear Mr Pollard,I really liked your image of the moon over the trees. I am also fascinated by night photography and I would like to invite you to visit my site which contains some of my own pictures, night photography notes and links.Best wishes,David Baldwin

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