Week 5: Night photography – how to use manual focus when you can’t see a thing.


So, one of the problems I had last week was using manual focus in a low-light setting where automatic focus could not cope. The shots I took could have been a lot sharper, had I been able to see properly. My increasingly poor eyesight makes manual focus using the viewfinder a lottery at the best of times – but in low-light or at night it’s a joke.

I mentioned this during class and it seemed to be a problem that a fair few of us are struggling to overcome. Fortunately, our classmate, Igor (who takes beautiful photographs, go take a look here) had a solution: Instead of using the viewfinder, use live view (which I never use normally) and magnify the image; that way you’ve a far better chance of actually seeing what it is you are trying to focus on and achieving said focus.

I didn’t get a chance to put Igor’s tip into practice this week, although I did do some night photography. But as the few pics I took were long-exposure/multiple exposure of fireworks, I didn’t have anything to really focus on. Using bulb setting and a wireless timer, I opted for a high aperture to increase the DOF and give myself a fighting chance of getting something (anything) in focus. I had planned to go up to Richmond Hill to take shots of fireworks going off across Surrey but the day ran away with me, so I had to settle for a couple of shots of neighbours’ fireworks, grabbed from my street. I held a card over the lens in between explosions to limit the amount of light hitting the sensor when nothing else was happening so that the shot wasn’t over-exposed. In this way, I’ve managed to get three completely separate fireworks into one shot. Hardly fine art, but you have to start somewhere. Next year I’ll be better prepared. I also got some shots of the Heathrow flightpath at night, which look like an excerpt from a 1980s video game.

If you want to see some more fireworks shots, go check out my classmate Razvan’s blog here.

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