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White Night Melbourne is coming soon — Brush up on your night shooting with these helpful tips!

February 06, 2018

White Night Melbourne 2018 kicks off on Saturday 17, February from 7pm to 7am.

This huge Melbourne event is a fantastic photographic opportunity, but at the same time it presents some unique issues beyond the standard "we need to capture more light" challenges of working in the dark.

To make the most of a photographic mission to White Night you will want to consider bringing the following equipment:

  • Light Weight Tripod
  • Cable Release
  • Camera with good high ISO Performance
  • Wide Lenses (with IS if you want to also shoot hand held)
  • Fast Lenses, f/1.8 or greater
  • Small Torch (so you can see in your camera bag the dark)
  • Jumper and good walking shoes.

Try not to drag out too much gear as you will be on the move for a long night with some pretty big distances between principle sites. If you want to be more mobile and you have a camera with great high ISO performance you might want to skip the tripod and work hand held.

The key difference between shooting standard cityscape at night vs White Night are the projections. As many of the projections are animated you will end up blurring the animation if you use long exposures to compensate for the lower night time light levels.

So depending on the animation and the size it takes up in your frame, you will want to experiment around with acceptable levels of blur (review and zoom in after shooting) and start out in the 1/15th of a second range. Much longer than this and the projections most likely will turn to mush. Luckily this is a good range that is very manageable with a wide angle lens with image stabilisation.

The other thing you will find with many of the static illuminated subjects on White Night is the huge dynamic range in the scene. This is a great time to consider HDR shooting. If you are lucky and have a camera with built in HDR processing you can get a very good feel for what you can achieve with these techniques right after capture. Depending on your camera, you might even have the source frames to post produce later.

So let's dive into more of the nuts and bolts of night shooting and get a bit more technical.

A key problem with night photography is the Camera's Auto Exposure Meter has a very hard time coming up with a good setting as the scene is so dark compared to what it was programmed to deal with. So the first key tip is to shoot in Manual Mode.

The next thing to work out is a good Aperture setting - this is easy as we need as much light as we can get so we want to use our fastest lenses and open them up to as wide as they go. Low F numbers are what we need at night!

Focal length - this is a pretty easy as what we wanted to shoot for the most part on the White Night is large and we are pretty close to it!! So we need wide lenses to get the whole scene in. This is also good as most of the basic lenses are faster (let in more light at lower F stops) at their wide end.

So now we need to think about shutter speed. In general we want to have a fast enough speed to to eliminate any hand held shake.

The old rule of thumb is we need a shutter speed of 1 over the 35mm equivalent focal length to eliminate the hand held shake of the average person.

So if we are shooting at 50mm on a Full Frame Camera we would like to be a 1/50th or faster.

If we are shooting at 18mm on a APS cropped camera like the Canon 80D - we are at 18x1.6= 28.8mm full frame equivalent. So in turn we would want to be at a shutter speed of 1/30th or greater in order to minimize shake.

However, as many of the White Night Events are projections with animation, we also don't want to blur them too much. So this in turn rules out longer exposures even if we are using a tripod and we want both the buildings and the projected artwork to be sharp.

So our last variable is the ISO setting. This is where most of what we want to do to achieve a good image is going to happen if we shoot in fully manual mode. Most likely we are going to need to raise it up to the higher values (ISO 800 and above) in order to achieve our desired exposures.

Depending on the intensity of the projected light on the buildings and how bright or dark your preference is for your images, this will determine the ISO setting you are going to want to use.

Be aware of the brightness of your camera's back LCD display while shooting at night. You need to be careful about judging exposure if the screen is set very bright for example if you were last shooting in bright sunlight.

The histogram is also going to be a bit tricky to read for night time work as so much of your frame is totally black.

The key thing you want to achieve is good detail in the projected images on the buildings while at the same time still showing the building and the environment where it is placed. This is of course not always easy and if shooting RAW you can push the highlights a bit further and of course bring up them back while increasing the shadow detail in post production.

HDR shooting can help out with the capture of extreme shadows and highlights, but with projections that are animated, again blurring is going to be a problem. HDR is also hard to do handheld. Image stabilised lenses can help but misalignment of the frames is going to always be an issue for ultimate quality in any HDR post production workflow.


In camera created hand held HDR sample


Hopefully these tips will help you get ready for White Night 2018 and we look forward to seeing the michaels faithful out shooting into the wee hours! Share your best results on our Facebook We Can Help Group and let us know what worked and didn't for you.

Happy Night Shooting!