Shots at Dusk

A few nights ago we finally got some nice soft light making it through the clouds. I had to wait until 8:30 and drag myself out of relaxation mode, but I haven’t shot many pictures at a time I know the light will be nice, and I was hoping to get some good results.

Setting my shots up properly is an ongoing concern, because I’m still not getting the results I want. A week ago on a similar walk (on a cloudy night) I took some fairly grainy shots with ISO set to Auto which I thought would yield reasonable results. I got some shots like this…

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And also some shots like this:

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Which at this size aren’t too bad. It definitely could use some editing, but it’s passable. At the time, though, I was not happy with the amount of grain I was getting in my shots. Based on my (little) knowledge of how things work, I assumed if I set a lower ISO I would get less grainy pictures. This is true, but upon further research and experimentation I’ve found in low light settings, the real problems come from a low ISO, and higher ISOs can actually reduce the grain you get.

So, when I went out to get some pictures of the nice light, I set my ISO to 400, assuming that it was high enough for the light conditions, and I went to work.

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I shot these with ISO 400, in aperture priority mode. I am not happy with these images for two reasons. First, they are either too dark or too bright. I lost lots of detail in the dark areas and some of them are just too bright. Some of them were very grainy. I assumed that I could get the detail back in Photoshop because I shot in RAW, but that just made everything a muddy mess. The detail just wasn’t there; I had buggered up the exposure. My favourite shot of the night…

stneots_sunset_1

Is nearly black in the bottom half. The sky is beautiful, but the foreground is solid black. This creates an interesting effect, I think, but it’s not what I wanted.

The second issue I have with these is the amount of grain in some of them. They look like they were shot in the dark with the ISO cranked way up, but it seemed like there was plenty of light when I was out and about. I have been researching the issue, and I think there are a few problems with how I’ve shot these.

Using aperture priority mode at night for shots that I have time to set up is a mistake. I should have shot fully manual and exposed for the foreground to make sure I was within a decent range. I could then check the histogram to make sure I wasn’t getting loads of pitch black parts. At very least, I could change from multi area metering mode to spot metering and pick a part of the foreground to focus on, expose for that, and then (while still holding the shutter halfway) re-compose the shot and take it. This would let me get the proper exposure and keep that precious detail.

Secondly, a tripod could help enormously. I am limited to a fairly quick shutter speed, so there are few things that I can do to get the shots I want. Exposure is all about trade offs, and if I want to have everything in focus (high aperture number), a fast shutter speed (to avoid camera shake) and a low ISO (to avoid graininess) then there is nothing that can compensate for any of these. A tripod would allow me to set a long exposure so that I can set the other settings to whatever I like (I think? I am not sure what the limits are) so that I can get clear shots of landscapes, even at dusk.

Oh, and here is a bird.

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