Originally Posted by JimLewis
I could use some help with settings for taking night lighting photos. I've been able to take some decent photos, but I'm just getting lucky. I'm taking a ton of photos from all different angles and trying out different settings on the dial as I go. Then I just go home and filter through all the photos to find a few that actually turned out nicely. But I'd rather get some knowledge on exactly what settings I should be using. I was just hoping someone here had that same camera, or one of the similar models of Nikon D-SLR and could help me with the settings.
Congratulations on buying a very nice camera. I looked through the specs on the Nikon site and there are some great features. Here's some notes that might be helpful.
- Take advantage of the One-Touch Live View function. Before taking the shot, preview the image and check that it has the exposure you want. If the camera allows you to zoom into the preview image, use that to blow up critical areas.
- Turn off the image stabilizer function on the lens - that will lead to blurry images from a tripod.
- Set ISO to 100 and leave it there for best resolution. However, in situations where you are trying to pull detail out of extremely dark areas, you can increase the ISO up to 400 or 800 - that will allow you to use a 30-sec. exposure with an f-stop between 5.6 and 11 (best for sharpness). Stay away from the minimum 2.8 f-stop because that gives a shallow depth-of-field, less sharpness, and may result in red or blue rimming at the edge of the shot.
- Do not use automatic modes - stay with manual.
- Always use timer shutter release.
- Use "Spot" metering. This gives you a very narrow circle in the center of the frame for the camera's metering. This allows you to aim the camera at an illuminated area to set your exposure.
- When aimed at that target area, the in-camera meter shows you a vertical line that travels along a horizontal line with tick marks. With your shutter speed at 30 secs., adjust your f-stop until the meter is at the zero point on the line. After re-framing your image, take the first shot.
- Without moving the camera, change the f-stop so the meter is at -1.5 for the second shot, then +1.5 for the third shot. If I'm trying to pull detail out of utter blackness, then I shoot a frame at +2.5.
- The above point is bracketing. Keep in mind that you can move the meter line by doing any one of three things - changing f-stop, changing shutter speed, and changing ISO. If you have a choice, changing shutter speed is the best because the image stays the same. Changing f-stop affects depth-of-field and sharpness. Increasing ISO reduces sharpness and adds graininess (especially visible in black areas).
- Don't use the "Active D-Lighting mode.
- Don't use autofocus.
- don't use flash
- Learn to use the manual white balance setting. After dark, set white balance to color temp of light source.
- Use RAW image capture.
- I should add that George Gruel (the master!) teaches a method that's simpler than having to make manual changes to all settings. It involves using the aperature priority mode (set f-stop to F8 or above), pointing your spot meter at the brightest area in the scene, depressing the aperature exposure lock button (AE or AE-L), then taking the shot. The camera will set the shutter speed.
- Final point. Your camera has an excellent preview screen. After each shot, check it carefully - use the zoom tool.