Take Night Photos, Understand Focal Lengths, and More

Have a question about digital photography . I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can't promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus. For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from , , , and .

Taking Great Night Photos

Recently, with all of the storms that have been going through Arkansas, I wanted to shoot lighting. However, when I set my camera to the bulb setting and the ISO to 200, all of the pictures look as though I have shot them on some cloudy afternoon--they are very bright. I have tried using both my 18-55mm and the 55-200mm lens, but to no avail. I'm a very novice photographer having had my camera only about 6 months.--Layne Yawn, Jonesboro, Arkansas

By setting your camera to Bulb, you're on the right track, Layne. But keep in mind that's not an exposure setting in and of itself; Bulb simply gives you manual control over how long you leave the shutter open. And therein lies your problem: If your pictures are coming out too bright, you're leaving the shutter open too long.

Another important detail is the aperture, which you don't mention. Set your aperture to its smallest opening (which is the largest f/number) and your ISO to its smallest value as well (such as ISO 100, if your camera goes that low). Then take some test shots, experimenting with various shutter speeds. Try 5 seconds, 10 seconds, and 20 seconds, and compare them. In this way, you can find an exposure that'll give you better results for the next storm. For some more help with night photos, check out "Photographing Fireworks: Tips and Tricks."

A Homemade Flash Reflector

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