A photograph is essentially a map of light. When you take a picture, you’re actually drawing up a recording of the light reflecting off the photographed object.
Shooting in the dark, without knowing where exactly to focus, can be quite a task. Shooting aimlessly would be the possible solution, but you might end up with a few dozen goofed-up pictures, especially when it involves taking portraits. Using the auto focus mode is literally of no use in the dark, for there is no light that will guide you towards your object. The best solution here, is to use the manual mode to lock your focus into the frame and then shoot.
Low light photography, and night photography for that matter, is all about trusting your instincts to get the best out of the little illumination available. The only way you can ensure a quality picture, is by keeping the shutter open for as long as possible. Remember, night photography or low light photography is about depth and dimension. It would be beneficial to avoid using the flash constantly, and ruin the photograph.
Turn Off Auto Focus
First things, first: turn off your camera’s auto focus feature. Use the manual mode to focus on your subject. The main reason to do this is because firstly, there is hardly any light for your lens to find what you want to set your focus on. And secondly, finding your focus in manual mode is relatively easier. Do remember to change the settings to manual mode, to avoid kicking the camera into auto focus at the wrong moment by accidentally pressing the shutter button.
Use Flash Pulse to Track The Focus
Flash pulse is nothing but a brief burst of light to help you find your subject in low light and night settings. The exposure time in this case exceeds the amount of flash captured by the camera. Press the shutter half-way to flicker the flash, thus illuminating the subject enough for you to focus. Remember to change the setting back to manual mode and turn off the flash, and click the perfect picture.
Use the Infinity Mode for Distant Subjects
Your camera comes with an infinity setting (the figure ‘8’ lying on its side) that allows you to focus on distant subjects. Using the infinity mode, you can set the focus on a distant source of light, thereby allowing you to find your subject easily. If you are planning to photograph the beauty of the night sky, it would be wise to use this setting, as it can automatically focus on bright objects like planets and stars.
Use Glow Sticks to Illuminate
Glow sticks or flashlights help to illuminate the subject, thus helping you to focus in low light and night settings. You cannot use this technique if your subject is relatively far away, but you can definitely use it for subjects that are in proximity to you and your camera. Once you set your focus, do remember to switch off the flash light. If need be, you can focus on your subject from a distance, thus throwing light on the subject to lend a different dimension to the picture.
Using an Infrared Beam
The IR assist beam in an autofocus camera switches on for a couple of seconds, allowing you to focus, and then switches off automatically, when your focus is fixed. Remember to purchase one for yourself, and to keep it handy in such situations. Hit your subject with the beam of light, and focus on your subject, then turn off the light and shoot your picture.
Night photography can be tricky, you can fidget with the settings and yet end up with a soft photograph. To avoid this, ensure you mount your camera onto a tripod, and place it on a sturdy, flat surface. After it is set, ensure you do not topple or touch the tripod in any way.
Last but not the least, do remember to use a lens with a long focal length, if you want to focus on distant objects. In addition to that, taking high ISO images will help you confirm your focus. You can use tapes around the rings once you have focused the lens to avoid unexpected changes.