In this article I am going to show you how you can do amazing night photography with no tripod and not too much grain.
In this photo I was on the Academia Bridge in Venice, the place to be to catch the sunset. There were tons of photographers taking long exposure photos, so many that I couldn’t squeeze in to put my tripod down. So I put my camera at f/4, went to 1/10th of a second and shot at ISO 1250.
These settings froze the boat and the water is still nice and smooth. But the thing that I was really happy about was the light reflection in the water; it was not too strong. If I had done a long exposure the light reflection in the water would have made big blots of light which is very catchy to the eyes and creates a lot of contrast, which I don’t like.
Like on this photo below:
Let me show you in this extreme case:
For the image above, I had a zoom lens on so the widest I could open up my aperture was f/5.6. My shutter speed was 1/25th of a second at 2500 ISO, and I set my camera on high speed burst mode, which allows the camera take several shots quickly. But unfortunately at 2500 ISO there is going to be a lot of noise. So to show how noisy this photo is, let me do my basic retouching.
As you can see it is very grainy/noisy.
Even if I try to use the noise reduction it doesn’t look that great:
So what you can do in this situation is to select all the photos you took in Continuous Shouting mode, I am selecting five here. Then click on sync, Check All, and select synchronize.
Once you have done that, right-click select Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop.
Now that we are in Photoshop, you can see that each photo has its own layer. Select them all, then go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers.
You can click on auto here. If you are shooting handheld it is important to have all the layers aligned. Here you can select all the layers again, right-click and select Convert to Smart Object.
Then you are going to select your layer and go to Layer > Smart Object > Stack Mode > Median.
What’s that is going to do is Photoshop will detect the common pixels from a photo to another and then remove the noise and any people that moved from frame to frame, which is pretty cool. You can see the before and after below.
After this technique has been applied, you can see that the water is nicer on the eyes and there is almost no noise in the image.
So this is a good way to avoid noise in a low light situation where you don’t have a tripod. Let me review the important points for you:
- Set your camera on Continuous Shooting Mode (burst).
- Open your aperture as wide as you can to f/2.8 or f/4.
- Set your shutter speed to around 1/30th of a second and boost the ISO to between 2000 and 3000.
- Take at least five photos minimum.
- Take the first photo, retouch it and synch your edits to the others, using Lightroom.
- Open all the images as layers in Photoshop.
- Align the photos/layers.
- Select the layers and convert to Smart Objects.
- Got to Layer > Smart Object > Stack Mode > Median or see which setting works best.
And voila. See below for the video walk through of this technique as well.
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