Long Exposure Noise Reduction:
How this works is basically the camera takes a long exposure photo of the subject matter and then takes another long exposure, for the same length of time, with the shutter closed producing a black image. Through a piece of in-camera software wizardry it compares the two images and removes any ‘noise’ or random light coloured pixels, particularly in the black areas, that should not be there before writing the image to the card. As you can appreciate this doubles the time it takes to transfer the image from the buffer to the storage medium. If you are doing long exposures or using the ‘Bulb’ or mirror lock up facility, then it would be best to turn it off and save yourself a bit of time and correct any noise in editing software.
If possible shoot in RAW. This will produce better results in post processing unlike Jpeg’s that are part processed in the camera.
Fix the ISO at 100 as this helps to cut down on image noise/grain but again this increases the time the shutter remains open and the time images write to the storage card. White Balance I leave this on AUTO and do any adjustments in editing software.
Make sure the on-camera flash is turned off.
Always remember to wait until the camera has
finished its long exposure before you move it.
Updated: September 2016
There are no real hard and set rules, as in you must do this, that and the other, in photographing aeroplanes in the dark. What follows are the techniques that I use and have refined and developed over the last few years for the night photo shoots that I have attended.
(The settings and techniques described below should be used as a guide only as I use a Sony Alpha camera and you are advised to experiment with your own make of camera and lens so as to get the best out of your own equipment.)
Camera & Lens:
A DSLR camera or one where the settings can be adjusted manually is the preferred type to use. I currently use a Sony Alpha A7rII Compact Systems Camera with a Sony FE 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 OSS Lens.
A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for night photography as the camera needs to be kept as steady as possible for the long exposure shots that can be generated. It needs to be sturdy enough to take the weight of the camera and heavy enough to remain steady if there is a bit of a breeze blowing. As my camera has a tilt screen on the back, I don’t have to bend down to look through the viewfinder, I tend to use a smaller lightweight travel tripod. If there is a breeze blowing then you can lean your camera bag against one of the legs to steady it and I tend to use my body to shield the camera from any wind as well.
Remote Shutter Release Cable:
A remote shutter release with cable is a basic necessity, to help cut down on possible camera shake if the on-camera shutter release button is pressed. The in-built camera timer can also be used but it can take a bit longer. Even better is a remote wireless shutter release, as the camera is not touched at all. I currently have an elastic band wrapped around the top of one of the tripod legs through which I pass the shutter release cable to secure the release button and stop it hanging loose or dangling around as I’m moving from one shot to another. When I need it, I know where it is and not hunting for it in the dark.
A torch is handy piece of kit to have as well, not only for checking the settings on the camera in the dark but lighting your way should you be wandering around a museum or site that has no permanent external lighting. Depending on the time of year, comfortable and/or warm clothing, including gloves, should be worn at all times as there is nothing worse than standing around shivering on a cold winters evening as you wait for the camera to do its thing.
If your camera or lens has built in ‘Image Stabilisation’ or ‘Steady Shot’ as in the Sony Alpha range of cameras, then it should be turned off. The in-camera or lens stabilisation is designed to reduce blurring associated with the movement of the camera during the exposure of the image, particularly when hand held. Slight compensation movements of the internal sensor/lens achieve this. When mounted on a tripod there is no camera movement but the Image Stabilisation system could still twitch while trying to detect camera movement and produce soft/out of focus images, so switching it off it locks the sensor/lens in place.
Aperture Priority, or AV (Aperture Variable) on some cameras, is the preferred option that I use although shutter speed and manual control can be used. I tend to set the AP in the f/8 to f/13 range which gives a better depth of field and produces an image that is in focus from front to rear or side to side. The higher the ‘f’ numbers then the greater the depth of field, the better the detail but the longer the shutter speed. With the excellent artificial white light available at the RAF Northolt Night Photo Shoots, an AP number of f/5.6 will give a shutter speed of around 4 to 6 seconds and produce a black night sky. At f/10 the shutter speed will be around 10 to 15 seconds or even longer and the night sky will have a nice orange glow to it from the street lighting from the suburbs of London.
If there is enough light, as at RAF Northolt, then Auto Focus works very well but some events may not be so fortunate with the lightning and the AF could hunt around a bit to focus. You may have to resort to Manual Focusing using the Live View screen/function.
Auto Focus Area:
I generally use ‘SPOT’ but sometimes resort to ‘LOCAL’ if I want to get more sky into the shot with the aircraft at the bottom of the frame. With ‘LOCAL’ you tell the camera the area where to focus, in this case the aircraft as it wont be able to Auto Focus on the dark sky.