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Night Photography Tips

With our evening photowalk tomorrow evening, I thought I would share a few pointers for night photography in downtown Houston. If you have any comments or questions, you can post them on our facebook page in response to this post.

Safety First

S1. Be Situationally Aware. Pay attention where you step, back into, and swing your tripod.

S2. Be mindful of your flash. Flashing into an oncoming car, could temporarily blind someone. Flashing into a Metro vehicle is against the law. You also want to be respectful of people if taking their picture especially with flash at night.

S3. No one left behind. Get a smaller group to hang and converse with for the walk. Look out for each other to make sure no one gets left behind, or misses out on the most important point of the outing: Socializing with other photogs.


1. Camera in Manual Mode -  For night shots, Automatic mode does not work. The meter in your camera tries to make the exposure like daytime. You will need to know how to put your camera in manual mode, and be able to look at your camera meter.

2. Do not use auto-ISO -  Higher ISO adds more noise, especially in the shadows. Nighttime shooting is full of shadows, so keep your ISO as low as possible, below 800 for APC, and below 1600 for full frame.  Having your ISO fixed will also make it easier to adjust your aperture and shutter speed to get your desired exposure, i.e. one less variable moving around. I will keep mine between 200-800 ISO for my Nikon D600.

3. Use a tripod. At the lower ISOs, you will not be able to handhold your camera, and will need a tripod to get a steady shot.

4. Use a timer or cable release. The camera will shake when you press the button. The timer lets the camera settle before releasing the shutter. A cable release will actually give you more precise control if you are trying to capture that “decisive moment” on the street. I use a 2 sec timer.

5. Bring a flashlight. It will be dark, and your camera will not be able to autofocus without it. You will point the flashlight where you want to focus, and let the camera autofocus. If you use a small aperture/ high f-stop, you will not have to be too precise in your focus point.

6. Pre-focus your shot. You will want to get your shot in focus before you are ready to take the shot. “Back-button” focus works really well in this situation. It allows me to focus with my back button and then press the shutter release without affecting my focus. If your camera uses the default where the shutter release half way down does the focusing, you have 2 options. The first is to focus with your flashlight, then put your lens on manual focus, so the camera cannot change it. The second is press the shutter release halfway down, use your flashlight to get your focus, then press the release all the way.

7. Use a small aperture to get a starburst around your lights. f/16 is a good one to start with. Any smaller, and you might start losing sharpness.

8. Use Auto-White balance. The night lights are all over the place, so just set your WB to auto, and forget about it until post processing.

9. Shoot in Raw. Raw files will have more information to pull out detail in the shadows or adjust slightly blown-out highlights. You also have more control over your white balance in post processing. You will need a program to read the raw files like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Aperture. If you have the software for Raw, but still feel intimidated, shoot in Raw + JPEG mode, and start to play with raw files.

10. Put your LCD in “Blinky” mode. This is the mode that will blink the blown-out highlights on you LCD. You can then tell very quickly whether you need to reduce your exposure. The lights will almost always be blown-out, this will just give an indication of the extent.

11. Do not use long exposure NR. It takes a second shot after the first, and will just slow you down. Depend on low ISO and your software to manage noise in post processing. If you have more patience than me, then go for it.

OK, that’s it. I look forward to seeing everyone at the walk tomorrow evening.

Dee Z.

Click here to go to Meetup to see who has RSVP’ed:

HPS Outing – Evening/Night Downtown Walk

Photo Contests


Tonight we talked about some opportunities to enter some photography contests, and here is the info.

The first is a local contest by the BUZZ Magazines. Entries are due by May 15, 2013.

Another place to look for exhibitions is Call For Entry.

How to Check Your Sensor for Dust

I usually live in a shallow depth of field world shooting sports, and just about anything else for that matter. This weekend I went downtown to shoot some skylines and HDR, and boy did I find some dust bunnies in my post processing. Above about f/5.6, I could notice some dust in my images, and especially when processing HDR images at f/16, those pesky circles were everywhere!

I wanted to check to see just how bad it was before I cleaned my sensor, so I did a little google search for the best way to see the dust and oil. Since this was the first time cleaning my sensor myself, I wanted to be able to see everything. Here is what I found to work the best:

  • Aperture at f/22,
  • Shutter speed at 1-2 sec,
  • ISO 100,
  • Manual focus, and made sure the shot was out of focus: this is the secret to only seeing the dust spots,
  • Aimed my camera it at a blank notepad file on my computer screen, i.e. totally fill the screen, and
  • Move the camera around a little while taking the shot.

And Boy were there a lot of spots!

I chose to clean my own sensor for the first time using a Giottos Rocket Air Blower, V-Swabs, and Eclipse solution, which was a little nerve racking after reading the potential risks. But I wanted a clean sensor now!

If you do not want to take that risk, and want a professional to clean it for you, you can either send it in to the manufacturer, or use Professional Camera Repair on Richmond. They will charge ~$65 for a sensor clean, and a little more for a complete tune up with a faster turnaround than sending in your camera to the manufacturer.

So, check your sensor before you go out to save your time in post processing.

Dee Zunker

Time to Register Your Copyright

130106_0013_6dz8076 So, two weeks have past of the New Year. Have you broken your New Years Resolution’s yet? Well, I have a resolution that you need to make and keep.

Start regularly registering your photos with the copyright office!

I am sure this is something that you plan to get to someday, or maybe, there is just too much information out there that is confusing you. I actually heard some info a couple of weeks ago on a well-known podcast that was contrary to my understanding. I had to check my references to make sure my memory was not failing me.  Well, let me get you pointed in the right direction.

A couple of years ago, I found a book that clarified things for me, the Photographer’s Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age (Lark Photography Book)
There is a lot of useful information in this book in addition to copyright, and I recommend you add it to your library.

The website  The Copyright Zone is also a good resource.

In summary, you own the copyright the second you take the photo, and infringing on that copyright is illegal whether you register your work or not. But registering gives you more teeth in the legal system, and apparently lawyers will not take your case if you have not registered your image.

You can register your images online at the Electronic Copyright Office. Photos are registered by year and whether they are published or unpublished.

Published images are fully protected from infringement if they are registered within 3 months of the publish date. So if someone infringes one of your images in that 3 month window, it is as if you registered the image at the time of publishing. If someone infringes your image before you register, and you registered after the 3 month window, your payday for the infringement case may not be as lucrative.

An image is published anytime I sell a print or file or post something on the internet unless it is in a password protected gallery for a specific person. Tags such as “published year”, “registered as published”, and “registered as unpublished” with smart collections in Lightroom help to keep track of everything. I use a quarterly schedule to collect all my published images and register them in one batch. Oh, and just because you may miss the 3 month window from publishing does not mean you have an excuse to just not register that image. As long as you register prior to any infringement, you are still protected.

Unpublished images are collected and registered once at the end of the year.

Each registration is $35 for an unlimited number of images. So if I register published images quarterly, and unpublished annually, that is 5 x ($35) = $175/year. At a minimum, you can take a chance with the published images, and register them annually at $35 for published, $35 for unpublished, and a total of $70/year.

So there you have it. Registering your copyright is not difficult or expensive, so just start doing it!

I have been registering my images for the past 2 years, and I feel a little better about sharing my images on the internet as a result. I am still leery about the various implications of the terms of service on the social networks, especially with the recent Instragram discussions, but that is a discussion for another post.

I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting on January 22.

Have a great 2013!

Dee Zunker
President – Houston Photographic Society

2012 Houston Public Library – HPS Year-end Print Exhibition

This photo/video fusion project shows a few HPS members who volunteered to hang the 2011 winning print competitions photos at the Houston Public Library Central (Downtown). The exhibition will be on display on location through February 28, 2012. ~ Photos courtesy of HPS member Leslie Stessel.
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